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Photo: Courtesy Yonghak Roh CC’17

From College Walk to South Sudan and Back

“It was a great fortune that I was able to find students with the relatively specific passion that I had for natural resources and conflict.” Yonghak Roh CC’17

Yonghak Roh CC’17, from Seoul, South Korea, began his studies at Columbia College in 2011, enjoying campus life for three years before his interest in national security, international development, natural resources and conflict led him to temporarily leave the College to join the South Korean military.

Roh’s decision to fulfill South Korea’s compulsory military service before graduating was influenced by his desire to continue his studies in graduate school, a transition he felt would be easier if he completed his service before completing his undergraduate studies.

In Fall 2014, Roh took a leave of absence to serve 21 months in the Republic of Korea Army Logistics Command, eight months of which he spent as a peacekeeper and translator between government officials on a United Nations mission to South Sudan.

“That was a great experience in terms of getting firsthand experience and knowledge about what’s really going on with the security situation there,” he said.

Roh credits classes at the College with preparing him for the complex issues he faced during his military service. He offers Data Analysis and Statistics for Political Science Researchwith Robert Yale Shapiro, the Wallace S. Sayre Professor of Government, as an example; the course taught him how to use and analyze data, and under Shapiro’s guidance he learned more about the relationship between natural resources and conflict. This helped him “recognize a lot of potential sources of problems” while translating between on-the-ground officers and government officials about fluctuations in oil prices in South Sudan.

Upon returning to the College in August 2016, Roh interned at the Center for Sustainable Investment, where he looked at contracts between governments and private companies that invest in energy commodities and natural resources.

“That experience has been one of the highlights of my year,” he said.

Roh, who is majoring in political science with a concentration in Latin American and Caribbean studies, is also part of a dual program with the School of International and Public Affairs, where he is working on a master’s focused on global energy management and policy with a specialization in international conflict resolution and Latin American studies.

In His Own Words

“It was a great fortune that I was able to find students with the relatively specific passion that I had for natural resources and conflict. I actually had a chance to lead a lecture at Columbia as part of SIPA, on energy, natural resources and conflict. It was more of an informal discussion, but I was able to bring in different panelists, including myself, to share their experiences on this specific topic. And the fact that I was able to do that was enabled by the diverse Columbia community. You can’t really find people with that specificity of interest elsewhere, and it was really enlightening to see that I was able to make that happen with the help of other students.” —​Yonghak Roh CC’17


Corinne Lestch SOA’18 is a freelance writer based in New York City. She has worked for the New York Daily News, where she received a Front Page Award from the Newswomen’s Club of New York, and is currently getting her M.F.A. in creative writing at Columbia's School of the Arts. She received a B.S. in journalism from Northwestern University in 2010.

Last updated Monday May 22, 2017

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