Presenting Elliott School Research in South Korea

By Thao Anh Tran

Networking with peers at an academic conference in Seoul, South Korea. Photo: Thao Anh Tran

Between meeting and discussing with students across the globe my shared interest in East Asian affairs and seeing North Korea from the Peace Observatory in the DMZ, this past week served as an incredible learning opportunity for me.

As a recent graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs, I am particularly grateful for the financial support I received from the Elliott School Undergraduate Scholars Program. The funding enabled me to participate as a delegate in the Security workshop at the 2009 Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) Academic Conference, which was held in Seoul from August 14th to August 17th. Every year HPAIR brings together hundreds of the brightest minds, both students and experts in the field of international relations for discussion on economic, political, and social issues pertinent to the East Asia-Pacific region.

Originally I was extremely worried that I would appear out of place when engaging in discussion of complex issues with future leaders in the field of international relations. Fortunately, my mind was immediately put to ease when I realized my familiarity with the topics of discussion. I was first introduced to issues such as U.S. policy in East Asia, Inter-Korean relations, the rise of China, Japan’s Asia policy, ASEAN, and ‘comfort women’ in Professor Mochizuki’s PSC 175 International Relations of East Asia course during my junior year. The knowledge I gained from that course gave me the confidence to debate with the other participants on ways to resolve the history problem that plagues relations between the countries in Northeast Asia.

My participation in HPAIR not only helped me gain a more in-depth understanding of issues of major concern to East Asian countries, but also enabled me to engage in forthright discussions with fellow participants about the future of the Asia-Pacific region. Additionally, from my field trip to major cultural attractions in Seoul and interaction with the Korean delegation, I learned a great deal about the Korean culture and picked up a few useful Korean phrases. I also gained numerous friendships with participants from all across the globe. From now on, whenever I travel to countries as far as Indonesia, Thailand, Germany, and Israel, I know I can count on these friends to help me navigate their countries.

Taking in the sites of Seoul, South Korea with new friends. Photo: Thao Anh Tran

By the end of the conference, I could not help but felt great pride as an Elliott School alumna. The Elliott School’s reputation as a renowned institution of international affairs is indisputable and far-reaching. When fellow participants discovered I recently graduated from the Elliott School, I instantly became a ‘human attraction’ for those who plan to attend the Elliott School in the near future.

While I am saddened by the fact that I will not be able to continue to enroll in interesting East Asia-related courses at the Elliott School, I think current and prospective students can take comfort in the fact that their education at the Elliott School will give them the needed preparation and confidence to succeed in the field of international affairs.

Thao Anh is a recent graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs, where she double majored in International Affairs (with concentrations in International Politics and Asia) and Asian Studies. In 2007, she studied abroad in Hangzhou and Beijing, China and is currently on a Fulbright grant in Yanji, China conducting research on the role of the ethnic Korean community in facilitating Sino-North Korean relations. Upon her return to the U.S., Thao Anh will pursue a Master’s degree in Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

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