Alumni Spotlight: Sung Bae Park '14

Friday, February 20, 2015

My name is Sung Bae Park and I graduated in December 2014 with a double major in International Comparative Studies and Economics with a minor in History. This year, I will be joining J.P. Morgan’s investment banking team in Hong Kong. As a Korean national who grew up mostly in Singapore, ICS was a natural choice for me while exploring different options as I was keen on learning about different cultures and transnational issues.  

As a college freshman, I did not know that I wanted to be an ICS major. I had always been interested in Economics, but it was only later that I decided to pursue ICS as my major as well. At first, I became interested in ICS for the prospect of exploring cultures and languages that were new to me. Beyond mere exposure, however, I feel that one of the hallmarks of the program is how it can change the way one views the world.

Economics tends to rely on numerical analysis to look at various issues, while this is useful to bring to the table tools applicable for evaluating efficiency and equilibrium, it often leaves out other issues like justice and fairness. ICS fills this void perfectly. Entities that occupy merely a variable or two in economic analysis take on entirely new significance and become the focal point of discourse in courses offered by the ICS program. ICS helped me to see how relationships among governments, corporations, NGOs, and individual citizens can be identified and reconfigured in various discursive contexts and the importance of having this understanding, which I have learned to apply in research projects in my classes.

I cannot overstate the usefulness of the ICS program in honing skills applicable outside of academia. I had previously assumed that Asian countries share similar backgrounds and hence that the issues and challenges they face would be similar. As an ICS major with concentration in East Asia, I learned that couldn’t be further away from the truth. By comparing and contrasting situations faced in different parts of the world, I learned to grasp a more nuanced understanding of an issue. This is of particular importance for investment banking, where there is no "black and white" when looking at strategic options for a company, just as there is no such clear cut answers for many of the critical issues discussed and analyzed in courses under the ICS program. The ability to grasp the nuances in a company or an industry is a valuable asset that must be developed over time, so I am grateful that I decided to pursue ICS as a major.

One thing that surprises me is how fast the ICS curriculum has been growing over the past few years. When I returned to campus in the fall of 2013 after a 2.5 year hiatus for military service, I was surprised at how the list of approved classes had grown compared to the spring of 2009 when I took my first ICS class. The wide array of courses now available makes ICS a truly attractive major that can foster variety of interests and career paths. The growth in curriculum also makes it much easier to complement the major with a minor by taking cross-listed courses as I have done to graduate with a minor in History. I recommend those who decide to major in ICS to explore as many options as possible to make the most out of the opportunities that are offered in this fast-growing program, a program that exposed me to new ways of understanding the world and equipped me with tools that I will continue to leverage in the future.