Sunha Ahn is a former KDI School student who is currently a PhD fellow at the University of Glasgow researching Social and Digital Health.
Could you tell us a little bit about who you are, what your school year is, and what is happening in your career now?
I was a Spring MDP student at KDI School in 2013. In my Master program in KDIS, I was studying global sustainable value chains built upon the traditional knowledge of the indigenous who are vulnerable to climate change’s impact. Currently, I am a PhD researcher at the University of Glasgow in the UK, conducting digital health interventions among HIV+South African youths (16-24) with sociological and anthropological perspectives.
Prior to moving to the UK, I worked in both central and local governmental think tanks as a researcher getting involved in a range of public policy projects related to socio-economic development issues, environmental and climate change policies, and civic engagement. Before becoming a public researcher, I used to play the role of an MC at the Korea Economic Daily Media Group or a moderator in several international conferences.
Also, from this August 2021, I become a president who is in charge of leading roles for the UK Association of Korean PhD Students and Researchers. Briefly, this Korean Association based in the UK consists of those who are currently enrolled in doctoral or post-doctoral programs across the UK, or Koreans who are continuing their research careers after completing their doctoral programs. This association was launched in 2015, accounting for around 523 members. The primary purpose of this association is firstly to build a rapport among PhD students, postdoc researchers and professors in the UK through a range of social gatherings on-and off-line, and secondly to enhance the activities of knowledge sharing through regular academic seminars as well as public symposiums across various fields and regions in the UK.
When did you take this picture and why was that day special?
I think this was around October or November when the school had its World Food Festival. It was an amazing experience. Most of the students volunteered to make their own representative cuisine from their home countries and dressed in traditional clothing. I still remember the Ethiopian coffee they made by grinding the roasted coffee beans; it was not the ordinary coffee flavor you find in Korea. The only foods that I couldn’t distinguish between at first were the Indian and Thai curries—they looked almost the same but the flavors were completely different.
The tall guy in the picture in the chef hat is Šimon Barczi. He is from the Czech Republic. I still remember him helping me out with my calculations, which was a piece of cake for him. The two of us were also selected as model students for the school promotion campaign, which was another KDIS event that I was proud to be a part of. Guess what? Šimon is now a politician in his own country. This is why I say KDIS is a place that drives you toward many opportunities and greater potential.
What was your favorite course at KDIS and why was it memorable?
Hmm… I had several favorite professors—my supervisor, Prof. Tae-yong Jung and Prof. Dong-young Kim. However, I still remember my development policy class that was taught by Prof. Jong-Il You, who I believe is the Dean of KDI School now. His class was so interesting. He was a great communicator, so the class was never boring. I would say that it was filled with more practical knowledge than theory. He shares his lifelong experiences when teaching the class. I think everyone enjoyed that course. If he is still teaching at KDIS then you guys should take at least one of his courses!
Can you tell us a little bit about the cultural experience you had at KDI School?
At first there was some cultural shock. We met many students from around the world, especially in core courses. When you were conversing with them it was like you were learning totally new things. In Korea it is not easy to meet high-rank public servant officials, but through KDIS I was able to meet people from around the world who were from what I would like to call from “the prestige class.” As a general rule, Koreans are usually shy to interact with people they don’t know, especially with foreigners, but through programs like the World Food Festival and happy hour social gatherings we were able to communicate better with each other.
Did you find KDIS to be a competitive environment?
Yes, at KDIS there’s some competition but the good thing is everyone tries to help each other out to get good grades. I think that’s what makes the relationships we build at KDIS stronger and long-lasting.
A small piece of advice for current KDI School students:
KDI School is not like a normal university where you have initial bachelor degrees leading to a masters. It is a think tank with professional courses. The entrance standards are really high and if you get in then you are one of the fortunate people in the world. You are lucky to have gotten accepted, so enjoy every moment and connect with and talk to people, even if you only come across them once. This is more important than your studies. In fact, making connections and learning about the world through people is what made me go for a PhD. So enjoy every bit of your time at KDI School and you will eventually make the best decisions for your future. Good luck!