Being raised in a conservative Korean family while studying at a Western liberal institution has made me an odd mixture of two markedly different ideals. I was taught at home to value harmony over selfish needs, yet the books I read at school had individual liberty as the core tenets. Soon, I noticed the two conflicting identities within me; one was shaped by Oriental values from ancient Korean philosophy, while the other was created by Western philosophy from European principles.
The idea that one’s actions and words are shaped and justified by an invisible factor was fascinating; I realised that essentially, politics is a physical manifestation of invisible conflicts between varying identities trying to create what they view as ‘utopia.’ Such realisation formed the foundation of my interest in political science and international relations, because I thought it is a discipline that answers the big question: why do we fight?
The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order was one of the books that turned pure curiosity into an academic interest. Its emphasis on disparate identities as the prime cause of future conflict made me wonder whether the rise of a new world order would lead to an international conflict. Thus, I wrote a research paper on how China’s national identity influences its foreign policy, and whether such unique Chinese identity will allow its ‘peaceful rise.’ From case studies on the Diaoyu/Senkaku island dispute, I observed how the traditional Chinese identity as the ‘middle kingdom’ mixed with the traumatic memory of ‘Century of Humiliation’ made China adopt a particularly aggressive attitude towards Japan, its traditional foe.
While exploring the field of international relations, I also came across its sister discipline: political science. Although I started off studying the clash of national identities, I soon became interested in the people who constitute those nations. Politics of Good Intentions was therefore a very poignant read for me. I was particularly intrigued by the chapter ‘Who Knows Best?’, as it challenged my initial view that a crowd can’t be trusted with the power to make decisions. The distinction between the ‘crowd’ and the ‘herd’ was especially interesting, because I disagreed with the author; I believe that all crowds inevitably transform into either a single herd or multiple conflicting herds. People are too susceptible to manipulation to form an independent set of values, which is necessary to make sound judgement.
In fact, it was such belief of mine that motivated me to take a more critical approach when reading the news. I didn’t want to become a part of the herd, and let media, with inherently biased information, dictate my worldview; I wanted my thoughts to be actually mine, not just regurgitations of what a journalist wrote. Hence why I started writing a blog. The process of researching and evaluating current political issues allowed me to see the world through my own lens. Outside the classroom, I explored different ways to add my voice to the world. I mainly used both theatre and student government to express myself and share ideas. As I directed and devised seven plays over four years in school drama society, I learnt to be unafraid to openly share my ideas with others, and occasionally to defend them. On the other hand, as the chair of student government, I had to combine different views and facilitate an outcome; it therefore challenged me to not only articulate my views but also to listen to and incorporate other’s views into one coherent proposal and present it to the school’s senior management team.
I believe that I’m an individual who is unafraid to both challenge and be challenged; by studying politics and international relations at university I hope to come to understand the complexities of the world, contribute to the political scene in university and in future as a political journalist.