Friday, April 26, 2013

Student Spotlight: Abigail Trenhaile

For today’s installment of the Student Spotlight series, we’ve interviewed Abigail Trenhaile, first-year M.A. student and Rangel Fellow.  Abigail is concentrating in Korean Studies at SAIS, and she received a B.A. in economics from the University of Hawaii in Manoa in 2011.
Can you tell us about your concentration, and why you chose it?
I am concentrating in Korea Studies, which requires me to take three Korea-specific classes and three Asia-specific classes. Because I am from Hawaii, I was naturally inclined toward studying the Asia Pacific region, and I studied Japanese in high school and during my undergrad at the University of Hawaii. Despite my previous language background, I ended up participating in student exchange in Seoul, Korea, where I came to appreciate the accomplishments and the dynamism of Korea. When I was choosing a graduate program, I knew I wanted an education where I could continue my study of Korea and the greater Asia Pacific region plus a strong economics program, and SAIS excels in each of these areas.
How has language study at SAIS complimented your study of international relations?
The language program at SAIS was a determining factor in my decision to attend. Other schools I considered offered Korean, but only through classes through their main undergraduate program. SAIS offers a Korean program which is tailored to your level. Classes only have 3-5 students in them, so we are given an opportunity to sharpen our language skills. The professor who runs the Korean program is dedicated as well. In terms of how studying Korean has complimented my study of IR, through SAIS, I have learned Korean vocabulary associated with current events, economics, politics, etc., and so that has enhanced my ability to conduct research and has given me a new perspective when listening to views on Korea-related issues, especially North Korea.
You went on a Korea Studies-sponsored trip over your Thanksgiving break this year.  Where did you go, and what were some of the highlights of the trip?
The trip was in tandem with a research paper students produced for the U.S. Korea Institute’s annual yearbook. I wrote about the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and its relation to the Trans Pacific Partnership. While in Seoul, we were given the opportunity to meet with government officials, researchers, academics, etc., who were able to offer insight on our research projects and U.S.-Korea relations. Perhaps the highlight of the trip was when we made kimchi and delivered that kimchi to some of the Korean comfort women, an event organized through Dr. Suh, our professor. Through such a personal, moving experience, I feel like it added another layer of understanding to my understanding of Asian history and of modern Korea, because so much of what drives politics today in East Asia stems from historical memories.
What do you hope to do after graduation, and how has SAIS helped you prepare for your future career?
Because I am part of the State Department’s Charles B. Rangel Program, when I graduate from SAIS, I will join the Foreign Service, in which I hope to become an economic officer. SAIS has increased my understanding of economics, but also international relations and security studies–two added dimensions which I hitherto been unexposed. Of course, these new frameworks have been difficult for me to learn (and very much a work in progress), but the ideas proposed by professors, as well as discussions with other students, have given me new analytical tools, both qualitative and quantitative, which I believe will enhance my ability to serve effectively as an economic officer.
What are your plans for the coming summer?  Will you be doing an internship?
This summer I will be interning at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul in the economics section. Because of my interest in trade policy, I am looking forward to learning first hand how the the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement is being implemented, as well as witnessing the developing economic policy of new Korean President Park Geun Hye.
Thanks for reading!
– Erin Skelly Cameron, Associate Director of Admissions