Interview with UIC Alumni, Ga Young Park and Esther Hong

May 30, 2019 by Ye Eun Jeong


Former UIC students Ga Young and Esther both had majored in Economics. After graduation Ga Young went on to the Graduate School majoring Economics in Yonsei, and Esther got a job at a law firm. However, despite their accomplishments, neither stopped there. They dreamed of even further achievements and made the decision to go to Duke University in the United States in order to continue their studies.

What made you decide to go to Duke?

Ga Young: I’m going to Duke to for the Economics Ph.D. program. During my junior and senior years, I took several Economics classes related to laws and game theories and found out that economics is intriguing. Doing my own research in economics classes, I discovered the joy of conducting research and wanted to elevate my skills to a professional level. That is why I decided to go to graduate school at Yonsei University and enter into the Ph.D. program in the U.S for a broader experience.

Esther: I am going to Duke University School of Law. I have always wanted to study law since I was little, and I had initially planned to go to Law School in South Korea.  While in law school and after graduation, I wanted to gain more rigorous expertise and experience in the public interest law sector. However, while contemplating on my options, I thought such public interest law is a relatively underdeveloped field here in South Korea. So after spending a few vacations in the U.S. with my sister and by gaining manifold indirect experience either through books or through meeting people, I decided to pursue my career in the U.S.. In this regard, I thought Duke would be the right choice because Duke offers in-depth career consulting and various programs.

Why did you choose Duke specifically?

Ga Young: If you apply for a Ph.D. program, you should consider the ‘research fit’, which means to explore if there are professors whose research topics match your interest. Since my interest lies in Health Economics, I applied for universities where there are professors who have an interest in this topic. There are quite a number of professors at Duke University whose research interest matches mine, such as analysis on health insurance or health outcome after a certain event. Moreover, I chose Duke because it offered much more funding than other schools.

Esther: My case is similar to Ga Young’s. I was searching for universities with strong public interest programs.  Public Interest, defined loosely, deals with the interaction between the law or institution, such as the legal system, and the constituents - mainly those who are marginalized and underprivileged, and tries to implement policies that are more geared towards advancing the public interest on ‘not for profit’ terms. I assisted my sister’s volunteer works in Englewood, Chicago and I thought it would be really worthwhile to work for children and juveniles in those underdeveloped regions. After graduation, I aspire to work in the field to directly use my knowledge to advocate for the rights of clients who are voiceless and marginalized and help them navigate through the complicated legal system. Moreover, just as Ga young said, I mainly chose Duke’s Law School because they offered more scholarship fundings than other law schools that I had been admitted to. For me, minimizing my financial burden was one of the most important factor in deciding where to attend.

How was your undergraduate college life?

Ga Young:  As a freshman, I hung out with my friends a lot rather than spending much time studying. After I decided to go to graduate school as a junior, I put in more effort to get a good GPA. I took math courses to apply for the Ph.D. program, and I think I studied harder than I did as a senior in high school in my final undergraduate semester.

I also joined the Academic club called JSC (Junior Scholar Club) in the Economics Department and read and discussed Economics papers. The students I met in JSC were thinking of taking similar paths to mine, and I received a lot of help from them. On the contrary, my friends from UIC all have different majors, and  I could broaden my perspective and get motivated by their passionate lives.

Esther: During my college years I mainly concentrated on studying. I was planning on going to law school in South Korea and maintaining high GPA was very crucial. It had been academically rewarding to study in Yonsei and UIC. The CC courses and discussion-based lecture style proved very helpful for law school admission where English language skills are important. During my vacation months, I was able to recharge by reading many books and travelling abroad. One of my insecurities was my lack of work experience, so I worked at a U.S. law firm for about a year after graduation. As for extracurricular activities, I participated in the law school academic club in Yonsei Business School. In that club, most of the students aim to go to law school so we would conduct  preliminary legal research and hold debates on various topics.

What’s your plan after graduating from Duke?

Ga Young: I want to stay in academia, which means continuing my research as my career if possible. One other aim is to work at an international organization such as WHO (World Health Organization), as I plan to major Health Economics. I want to get some field experience in the organizations.

Esther: I want to undertake legal clerkship and work under judges in the court. But this is extremely competitive so I would need to have a very high GPA while in law school. Then, I would like to work in a public interest law agency with a focus on children and juvenile delinquency.

One of the most meaningful experience during my college years is my volunteer works with Saeteomins (North Korean refugees). Likewise, I would like to help those in need of legal assistance to access the legal system and help them speak up for their legal rights.  Even though I would become a lawyer in the U.S and work there, one day, if I could, I want to come back to South Korea and use my expertise in the family and children law.

What do you want to achieve in your life?

Ga Young: I consider myself to be lucky. I could come this far because I was in an environment where I could fully focus on studying, and received so much support from other students and professors. Therefore, I wish to pay back this support by contributing to society with my research.

Esther: I agree with Ga Young. I also think that I had received so much from the society and I would like to contribute to the society through spreading good influence.

Ga Young and Esther’s TIPS for studying abroad

Ga Young: If you are planning to apply for the Ph.D. program, you can show your academic strength by taking Mathematics courses, including Analysis. In my case, I took Mathematics courses and got a minor degree in Applied Statistics. Moreover, I highly recommend submitting a writing sample to show your research ability and knowledge. Important aspects to focus on are GPA, taking Mathematics courses, and having good writing samples.

Esther: There is a saying: Law school admission is a number game. Your GPA and LSAT scores are pivotal in deciding which law school you can enter. However, looking back, you need really strong soft factors as well. You would have to prepare a coherent personal statement that reflects your strengths, recommendation letters from professors, and resume (extracurricular activities). In regards to the recommendation letters, you need to be close to professors and let them know you well. I was quite shy to use office hours and talk to professors, and I regret not having used the office hour as often.

For a high LSAT score, to break the 170 mark, reading books has been really helpful as the test requires good reasoning and reading comprehension skills. Moreover, I continuously read the Economist magazine and non-fiction books in various topics. Even though I haven’t really studied the law in depth, I believe both law and economics have concrete logic structures to induce an optimal and rational answer. Majoring in economics was actually very helpful in preparing for LSAT.

I took the 6 months of gap year to prepare LSAT. To get high score in LSAT, you need to practice until finding the logical structure of the questions’ arguments (between the premises and the conclusion) where reaching the answer thereof becomes almost natural and reflexive to you. Ga Young: As what Esther has said, getting recommendation letters is also important when you apply for the Economics Ph.D. program. As each university requires three recommendation letters, you need to have acquaintance with more than three professors. Therefore, I recommend keeping in touch with professors so that they have some time to get to know about you.

The UIC Scribe was founded in 2006 as the official student-run newsmagazine of Underwood International College. It celebrates diversity of thinking, excellence in writing, and the freedom of self-expression.