A recent graduate from UIC with a B.A. in International Studies, Yee Rem Kim has a great passion for history and theory. At the beginning of this year, Yee Rem took her passions to the professional field through an internship at the Wilson Center, a highly renowned think tank located in Washington D.C. After her internship, she plans on pursuing a master’s degree in History at the University of British Columbia (UBC) this coming fall. The UIC Scribe had the wonderful opportunity to interview Yee Rem about her aspirations and the process of preparing for graduate school.
Have you always been interested in History? Why did you decide to apply to graduate school?
I never imagined that I would be going into History. As my graduation approached, I had to think fast and hard about what I wanted to do for the next chapter of my life. Looking back on my college years, I realized that most of the professors whom I considered my mentors were historians. I saw that the reason for this was that I loved history courses – I had taken at least one every semester, sometimes enjoying them more than my major courses. The course on Korean history and the politics of memory that I took during my last semester finally convinced me to enter academia. Deliberating with and receiving valuable advice from my professors helped me understand myself better, including my interests and passions.
I also recognized a great need for a more meticulous study of modern Korean history, which still has an impact on current affairs. Complex yet understudied, Korean history needs to be given more scholarly attention and it is my wish to let more people, inside and outside of Korea, understand the complexity and pain of its history.
What do you want to focus on more specifically at UBC?
The focus for my History M.A. program will be on Korea, specifically the Japanese colonial era and the Korean War that ensued soon after. I am particularly interested in finding the voice of people who might not have necessarily adhered to a particular ideology during the Korean War. At UBC, I will be looking at regions near the DMZ and the people who had to cope with the constant change of power as the war unfolded.
Could you tell us about your application process? When did you start preparing and what kind of preparations did you have to make? Are there any “tips and tricks” to bear in mind as an undergraduate student in Korea?
Because I decided to apply to graduate schools later than my peers, I had to work really quickly. I made up my mind around spring 2018. I wanted to apply in the coming winter, so I had less than a year to prepare. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE), TOEFL, a writing sample, at least three recommendation letters, and a statement of purpose were the big things on my checklist. In reality, it was much more work because each document had to fit each school’s requirements. I devoted my summer to preparing for the GRE. I got TOEFL out of the way fairly quickly.
My biggest concern was my writing sample. I wrote a historical paper through which I could showcase my language skills and conduct research in a social history setting with primary sources. Writing it was a real struggle since I had to do it after graduating, outside of the UIC “bubble.” That is why I highly recommend anyone even remotely interested in going to grad school to take the senior thesis course at UIC. I really wanted to, but it didn’t work out for me due to a schedule conflict.
Instead, I stayed in close contact with professors at UIC, making frequent appointments even after my graduation. Many of the professors were really helpful and went out of their way to help me – I wouldn’t have been able to come this far without their support. My advice would be to make genuine relationships with professors earlier on in your college life and strengthen those bonds. These connections will go a long way not just during grad school application processes but also in life.
It is helpful to have both a general timeline and personal deadlines, for example, for when you want to complete a certain part of your writing sample. Keep communicating with professors and don’t be afraid to remind them of deadlines because they are much busier than us. Ask them for recommendation letters ahead of time and send them rough drafts of your writing sample and statement of purpose in a timely manner.
Could you tell us what your official position and duties are as an intern at the Wilson Center’s Korea Foundation? How has your experience been so far?
I am working as a junior scholar at the Wilson Center. Occasionally, I help staff interns and research assistants at the Korea Foundation with logistics, which vary from participants registration at an event to room reservations and even taking notes for events. The largest portion of my internship, however, is made up of my research project, in which I spend most of my time going into archives and reading secondary sources to work with. I’m very thankful for this opportunity because it allows me to visit National Archives and work with very valuable and rare materials, such as the North Korean documents retrieved from the Korean War. My project is built around the personal writings of soldiers in the beginning of the Korean War. I am focusing on the perception of the “other” by North and South Korean soldiers and prospects concerning the ultimate goal of reunification. I also have been a part of a research project for the Korea Foundation that all junior scholars were able to contribute to.
The Wilson Center is unique, as it is one of the few think tanks that bridge academics and public policy by conducting research on historically relevant issues as well as current affairs and developing solutions to the nation’s problems. It has been quite an experience to come at an exciting period following the Hanoi Summit in February, the Kim-Putin Summit, and North Korea’s recent provocations.
How has UIC assisted you in preparing for grad school? Are there any resources at Yonsei University that you recommend utilizing?
I think the biggest support you can find at UIC comes from its fantastic faculty – the ones who have been through the same process of applying to grad school or venturing on a career path. I have always valued maintaining a good relationship with professors, since the gleaning knowledge and experience handed down from them have been some of the greatest takeaways for me at UIC.
To anyone who is interested in Korean history, I encourage you to take advantage of the resources available in South Korea alone. I know it’s more difficult to access some North Korea-related materials in South Korea, but there is still an abundant amount of resources I wish I would have used more while I was there, including those at the Yonsei University Library.
Please feel free to share any last comments or words of advice for aspiring grad students.
I would like to tell students not to be afraid to try something that they never would have imagined doing. And that it’s never too late. I might love grad school or hate it, but I will have the experience to judge for myself whether or not I want to commit to a career in academia. History has always been something I enjoyed very much but was afraid to pursue because of the values society has tried to instill in me. With support and encouragement from my mentors, family, and friends, I chose to do what makes me the most happy. Preparing for grad school wasn’t easy. There were times when I would sit in front of my laptop for days and not be able to write anything because I was so overwhelmed with everything I had to do. But I kept going, believing in myself and seeking help along the way. Once I showed my determination, my mentors, family, and friends stood by me, being of help in any way they could.