A journey of a thousand miles, they say, begins with a single step. Making the decision to attend graduate school is an incredibly important part of the life of every student, especially when the graduate school is in a foreign country. As the semester inches to an end and students prepare for their graduation, we invited four of our international students to share their “KDI School Journey” with us.
Alejandra (AL), Audré (AU), Sharmaine (SH), and Yankuba (YA) talk about their motivation for coming to KDI School, KDI School experience, future plans, and recommendations to current and prospective students.
Let’s start with a brief self-introduction.
AL My name is Alejandra Vásquez, from El Salvador, majoring in Foreign Languages. I worked with the United Nations International Organization for Migration for 3 years and was in charge of Latin America and the Caribbean. I also had a deployment to Africa. I’m currently in my final days of studying for the Master of Development Policy here at KDI School, specializing in Sustainable Development.
AU My name is Audré Verseckaite and I am from Lithuania. At KDI, I study Public Policy with concentrations in Sustainable Development & Trade and Investment Policy. I’m an Exchange student from a university in Belgium called KU Leuven, a partner of KDI School. Before that, I studied for a BA in International Relations at the School or Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. During my studies, I worked in Communications and Public Relations related roles and also as a Campaign Assistant for a member of the British Parliament.
SH I’m Sharmaine Dianne Ramirez from the Philippines, a Fall 2018 KDI School student studying for Master of Development Policy with concentrations in Sustainable Development and International Development. I am an employee of the Government of the Philippines Ministry of Finance. I work under the International Finance Group, which is responsible for the management, administration and the oversight of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) coming into my country both in the form of loans and grants. My undergraduate degree was in European Studies, and I specialized in International Business and Economics.
YA My name is Yankuba Touray from the Gambia. I am perhaps one of the most senior students at KDI School, having studied here for almost two years. I’m a Master of Public Policy major, specializing in Finance and Macroeconomic Policy & Sustainable Development Policy. Prior to coming here, I was a Program Manager for the National Association of Cooperative Credit Unions in the Gambia. My undergraduate degree was in Management and Finance. Before coming to KDI School, I took a one-year Korean language course at Daegu University, which was a requirement for my scholarship.
Alejandra Vasquez, El Salvador, 2018 MDP
What was your motivation for coming to KDI School?
AL Latin America is currently facing a migration crisis. As part of achieving the migration-oriented SDGs, my organization is trying to implement projects that have to do with migrants and sustainable development. So I think there will be a lot of projects regarding the return and the reintegration of migrants, and the sustainability of retention efforts. With the support of my boss I decided to come to KDI School to specialize in Sustainable Development, with a particular focus on Migration.
YA I’m someone who doesn’t follow the bandwagon when it comes to education. A lot of the people who have a similar undergraduate degree as mine usually go on to do an MBA but I decided to opt for Public Policy because I have a passion for public service. To have an impact on a lot of people in my community and country, I believed that a public policy degree was what I needed. I actually had two admission offers in Korea but I chose KDI School because English is the medium of instruction here, and, furthermore, because of KDI’s reputation in terms of policy recommendations to government and policy research: “If you want to go on a pilgrimage you go to Mecca/Rome, then when you want to study policy you definitely have to be at KDI School”. Moreover, my fascination with KDI’s role in Korea’s economic development and the prospect of applying similar policies to my own country’s development also contributed to my decision to study here.
SH My motivation was partly for upward mobility at work and my office’s close partnership with KDI and KDI School. The peculiar thing about the ODA partnerships with Korea is that they are usually in the form of consultancy services instead of the usual infrastructure assistance. Usually, these consultancy services require strategic planning, economic research, etc. This is one of the reasons why our Ministry greatly encouraged me to apply to KDI School.
AU I am interested in a career in International Development and I believe that, given my goal, learning about the Korean experience has been crucial. I first learned about the Miracle on the Han River during my undergraduate studies. I then visited KDI School in 2017 for a summer program, which left me impressed not only by the Korean story of development, but also by the quality of teaching here at KDIS. Since KDI School is a partner school of KU Leuven, I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn more about how Korea managed to achieve its development. Moreover, the opportunity to meet people from all over the world, especially people from developing countries (who understand development in practice), was a major defining point in my decision to come to this school.
Yankuba Touray, The Gambia, 2017 MPP
Can you share your KDI School Experience so far with us?
YA I have made a lot of friends from every corner of the world. My expectations in terms of academics have been met to a large extent. I sometimes get amazed when I look at the courses I have taken. During my undergraduate studies, I tried my best to dodge all mathematics-related courses but here at KDI School, I have been bold enough to take courses such as Econometrics or Quantitative Methods. Studying here at KDI School has taught me that no course is too difficult to take, so far as you put your mind to it and work hard, you can make it. I have learned a lot in terms of public policy and poverty-related issues; I even wrote a thesis on poverty and financial inclusion, a topic which is directly related to my job back home. One of the highlights of my time here was taking the Government Reform Case writing course, which gave me the opportunity to mount field research back home. I am currently working with a World Bank consultant on the case and I hope that my case study will soon be published by the World Bank. I would highly recommend this course to every student. Additionally, I had the opportunity to participate in the NASPAA Batten Competition, which involves simulations of real-life policy issues. This competition gave me a feel of the real-life consequences of good and bad policies. I believe I am fully equipped and will be going back home “loaded”.
SH I have been able to structure my courses very well. Many of the classes I have taken here reflect the realities of working in the public policy sector. I will also be going home loaded, with a lot of information and knowledge about that aspect. I do appreciate that because in my line of work we always ask questions about why developing countries rely on ODAs. However, the courses I have taken here, though they did not give me a definite answer, helped me shape how I will now perceive why my bosses would decide to go for ODA grants and loans. I can actually say that my expectations before coming here – which were to boost my professional knowledge and insights – have been exceeded. Furthermore, sitting in class with fellow professionals to discuss their problems, dilemmas, and coping strategies at work has given me a broader perspective on policy decision making. The professors are also doing a good job by leveraging their international experience to facilitate rich discussions among students.
AL Having professors who have firsthand experience of the topics they are teaching is refreshing and completely different from what I would have gotten back home. I have never worked in the government service. My work has been with private and international organizations only, however, the courses that I have taken here have given me the chance to see the other side of the coin: how policies can be applied and what the consequences of the policy decisions we make are. Moreover, having the chance to stay in this very diverse community has made me learn a lot about other cultures. One particular highlight is the buddy program. Through this program, I met a wonderful Korean friend. I also had the chance to volunteer in the talent donation program, where I shared my culture with local high school students. Earlier this year, I participated in the NASPAA Batten Competition and interestingly the theme was migration, which was perfect for me.
AU In terms of academics, I would say my time here has been very useful. As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to learn more about development from a non-European perspective. Having previously studied in the UK and then in Belgium, my vision of development was somewhat limited. Coming here has allowed me to study the subject in an academically rigorous environment, and also provided me the chance to interact with people who are working in developing countries and on development projects. These opportunities have broadened my worldview immensely. I hope that one day, if I get the chance to work in the development circles, I can leverage this knowledge to contribute to the understanding between the two groups. One important skill I have improved on is presentation. The structure of the courses here requires us to deliver presentations in most of the classes. Even though I already liked to talk and present, being at KDI has enhanced my presentation skills even further. I am really impressed with the social network I have built here; I have made many friends and had interactions with people from all over the world. This has really opened my mind and given me a broader perspective. KDI School is doing a good job in trying to foster interaction among students through events such as the food festival, the sports festival and many others.
Audré Verseckaite, Lithuania, 2018 MPP
What are your plans for your future after graduating from KDI School?
AU This program helped me to decide what I really want to deepen my knowledge in. With the broad knowledge I acquired through this program, I would like to pursue further studies to specialize in Sustainability and Environmental Policy. In terms of career prospects, I would like to work on the ground in developing countries. I believe the knowledge I have gained here would be of immense help if I get a job in the development sector.
YA This degree I’m going home with is very valuable. For me, holding a KDI School Master’s degree carries a lot of weight and will open up a lot of opportunities in my country. I believe my prospects are now very high in terms of landing a job or furthering my education. I am currently planning to pursue a second Master’s degree in Poverty and Sustainable Development. I believe KDI School has equipped me with all the knowledge and skills required to excel in further studies and my career.
AL I would like to pursue a career within my organization or in any other branch of the United Nations. Based on my inquiries, I realized that holding a degree from KDI School is much respected within the system so I am very glad to have studied here. I know this degree will give me better chances of getting a higher level position.
SH After KDI School, I will be going back to my work to apply the skills and knowledge I have gained. I believe I will better appreciate the decisions taken by my superiors and the difficulties they face. This degree has improved my opportunities for professional growth and upward mobility. Personally, I think I now have more prospects for furthering my education in Development Economics or Behavioral Economics. My success in these programs will draw greatly on the foundational knowledge I have built here at KDI School.
Sharmaine Dianne Ramirez, Philippines, 2018 MDP
What are your recommendations to current and prospective students, and to KDI School?
SH If you are really interested in public policy and public service, this should be your school. This is because the courses and the experiences of the professors are grounded in public policy. New students should take time to breathe and have fun as well. It is not always about reading or getting good grades but you should also appreciate the deeper learning of what you are getting in class. Also, see the value in what your classmates are saying because the experiences other people share are valuable pieces of information you should not miss.
YA My recommendation to prospective students, especially those from my country, is that they should have clarity in their mind of what they really want before they apply. Also, students should choose their courses strategically to satisfy their career needs. They should not just jump on the bandwagon and choose the most popular courses. If possible, get advice from your professors and peers. One important survival tip for KDI School is to keep your email engagement active; regularly check your messages so as not to miss important opportunities and pieces of information. Additionally, students should fully participate in group discussions and assignments, as these are sources of diverse information you might not get from the professor.
AU For prospective students, especially those from Europe, I would encourage them to enrich their perspectives about development by studying development-related courses outside of Europe. This is because the development experience of Korea is more recent than the one of Europe. It has also been immensely successful and is, therefore, worth studying to better understand the underlying processes. I would highly recommend KDI School for a development or public policy related course since many of the professors here have firsthand experience and were part of the teams which made the policies for Korea’s development. My advice to current students is to mix with students who are different. Your friends should not only be people from the same region or country; try as much as possible to interact with every group. My recommendation to the professors is to keep encouraging discussion-based classes. Finally, KDI School could provide more international (i.e. not Korea-based) career opportunities in terms of jobs and internships for international students, especially those who do not have a job waiting for them back home.
AL Try as much as possible to interact with a lot of people and share your stories with others. Everyone has something interesting to say and they will be more than willing to share their stories with you. This will give you the chance to also share your own culture and values. To prospective students, I would advise you to be open-minded and flexible. To those who have no background in the public sector or policymaking, you should not be worried because there are many courses which will be suitable for you and your intended career. Just be prepared to also learn things which are new to you.