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Jihye Jang, MPP '18

HOMETOWN: 

Seoul, South Korea

UNDERGRADUATE:

Bachelor of Law, International Politics / Bachelor of Economics, Peking University

Jihye Jang knows there are a lot of ways to change the world and she hopes to make the world a better place through a long-term commitment to studying public policy. She is in her second year of studies at Harris, an avid traveler, and a committed conservationist, but she’s laser focused on her post-graduation goals.

Why public policy?

It’s really easy to forget and ignore what’s happening in the world around you. We often see tragic news; you read it, experience it, and you are consumed with this feeling of sadness, but then you move on. I wanted to do something about it. I thought, “If I can make even the slightest change so that I don’t see this kind of news anymore (or at least see less of it), then my life is worth it.” So that’s why I came to public policy.

Why Harris at UChicago?

I came to realize that passion alone is not enough. You need a skill set to reach your goals. If you don’t have that skill set, people aren’t going to hire you and it will be harder to reach out to resources you need to accomplish your goals. I came here to build those skill sets. UChicago has a very quantitative program, so it also aligns with my initial goals of building that skill set.

You came straight to this program from your undergraduate program at Peking University. Do you have a unique perspective on the program, coming from another place?

Being surrounded by students from different countries is definitely a unique feature of Harris, and I think it’s good. But it’s not just about studying with people from different places. Harris also has a lot of different international programs (for example, they offer a Japan trip or a Latin America trip), where you can actually go and experience that culture. It’s kind of an eye opener. If there were only American students, you wouldn’t know what’s happening around the world.

Do you have specific career goals?

I want to pursue a PhD in Economics or Public Policy because I want to work in academia. It’s an ideal job for me. I’m so happy when I’m in school, reading books, talking to others about theorems, books, and ideas. That’s something that I think I can do very passionately for my whole life.

You’ve had a lot of really interesting internships and research assistant positions, including Greenpeace and the United Nations. How have those experiences shaped your time at Harris?

There are a lot of ways to make changes in this world, so I’ve tried to work in a lot of different types of positions, in different sectors: Greenpeace is an NGO and the UN is in the public sector. I really enjoyed my time there, in each of those positions, but I’m not sure that those positions are right for me in the long term. My experiences there reinforced for me that I want to pursue a PhD and have a career in academia.

What is the most meaningful thing that you’ve done in recent years?

I travel a lot, whenever I have the time. Last December I went to Kenya. I’m interested in development economics—especially in Africa—but I had never been to Africa before. I just decided to go for it over winter vacation. I went there to volunteer for two weeks in refugee camps and in one women’s shelter. I’m really glad that I went. It was a very short trip and I wasn’t able to reach out to as many people as I wanted to, but I was able to see and experience a lot of things that I had so far only read about. I’ve traveled a lot and volunteered a lot in many different places (including in South Asia). It reminds me why I am studying so hard, why I’m doing what I’m doing right now

If not policy, then what? What would you do with your time if you weren’t here?*

I would probably own my own company related to environmental conservation. That’s something I’ve wanted to do but didn’t because I’m not brave enough. I’ve always been interested in the environment. It’s so hard to make people consume less (for example, fast fashion or disposable chopsticks). But I would have to do something revolutionary in technology or something. I think conservationism is something we can achieve not through moral constraints but through new technology.

*This question appears as part of our new “Pay it Forward” Question Series. Each person profiled will pose a question for an as-yet-unknown future interviewee.

Do you have any advice for incoming students?

Live your life. When you’re at UChicago, it can be hard to keep up with the course work, there’s tons of pressure from peers and from yourself. It’s so easy to be fixated on getting As in course work; it can feel like if you don’t get an A you can get left behind. But in the end, those grades don’t really matter. It’s easy to forget your goal, your vision, your reason for doing this. Write it down and put it on your desk. Don’t forget why you are here.