Q&A with Schwarzman Scholar Jinwan Park

Jinwan ParkUW–Madison senior Jinwan Park will join a highly accomplished cohort of scholars and leaders as a Schwarzman Scholar.

Schwarzman Scholars is a prestigious international scholarship program designed to prepare future leaders by providing them with a one-year master’s degree at Schwarzman College in Tsinghua University, located in Beijing. Focusing on leadership and international understanding, the program works to develop new generations of global leaders. Only 150 were selected for the latest cohort from more than 4,000 candidates applying from 43 countries and 114 universities.

Awa Maiga, master of international public affairs candidate and IRIS project assistant, connected with Jinwan to learn more about his time at UW, being selected as a Schwarzman Scholar, and goals for the future.

AM: Can you share a bit of your personal, educational, and professional background?

JP: I grew up in South Korea, where I spent my formative years through high school before starting my collegiate journey in Japan. After two years there, I made the shift to UW–Madison, where I’m currently completing my bachelor’s degree, majoring in political science with a minor in East Asian studies, and poised to graduate this semester. My academic path has been a prelude to my aspiration in foreign policy and law, which I plan to pursue post-graduation. Professionally, my career has been in the realms of foreign policy and international affairs. I’ve had the privilege of contributing to esteemed institutions like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and the U.S. Consulate in Busan, among others.

AM: Could you elaborate on your journey at UW–Madison and discuss how this experience has equipped you for furthering your education?

JP: I transferred to UW–Madison in the spring of 2022 and am set to graduate this semester after a two-year journey. My first encounter with Dane County Airport left a stark impression due to the extreme cold and gloominess. However, this initial unease quickly dissipated as I engaged with diverse professors and students who welcomed me into the community and pushed me academically. Each class presented its own set of challenges, from the daunting number of assignments to stimulating discussions with my peers. Being in the Midwest, often called the ‘Heartland’ of the United States, was particularly enlightening. It allowed me to understand American perspectives that are often overlooked in foreign media.

AM: What was your initial reaction upon learning about your acceptance into the Schwarzman Scholars program?

JP: Following my interview in New York with prominent figures and CEOs, approximately two weeks elapsed before the announcement of the official results. On a Monday afternoon, I received a call from an unfamiliar number, which I initially mistook for spam, only to discover it was a notification of my acceptance into the program. The initial surge of excitement stemmed from my success in standing out among more than 4,200 applicants. This was coupled with a sense of relief, considering I had been contemplating alternative programs in case of non-acceptance.

AM: What motivated you to pursue a master’s degree through the Schwarzman Scholars program, particularly in the field of international law?

JP: When I transferred to UW–Madison, my initial intention was to progress directly to law school without any gap years. However, during the spring 2023 semester, several courses profoundly influenced my career aspirations. These included Professor David Fields’ course on U.S.-East Asia relations, Professor Scott Mobley’s Theories of International Security, and Professor Thomas Popkewitz’s International Educational Knowledge. These classes reignited my ambition to become a foreign policy maker and expert in international law. Inspired by this renewed vision, I decided to apply for the Schwarzman Scholars program to deepen my knowledge in international law and other areas before pursuing a law school education.

AM: How do you envision this program shaping your future goals and aspirations?

JP: As an aspiring foreign policy scholar and international lawyer, I understand the potential of a harmonious Sino-Korean partnership for a stable regional and global future. A lasting solution lies in fostering genuine person-to-person connections grounded in mutual cultural and societal appreciation. Becoming a Schwarzman Scholar at Tsinghua represents this ethos of civil diplomacy. It offers me an unparalleled platform to deepen my comprehension of China while connecting with other prospective leaders poised to influence their spheres. I’m resolute in my mission to bridge this gap through my insights and leadership skills. Envisioning a future role as a key foreign policy decision-maker for South Korea, I believe that my experience at Tsinghua as a Schwarzman Scholar will set me on a path to create lasting ripples in the global fabric.

AM: Could you tell us more about the founding and mission of Education Empowerment Korea?

JP: Education Empowerment Korea (EEK) is a nonprofit dedicated to assisting underprivileged South Korean students who aspire to study abroad. A lesser-known fact is the significant resource disparity between students in South Korea’s capital region and those in rural areas, despite the increasing number of South Korean international students. To bridge this gap and support underrepresented students, I co-founded EEK with a distinguished colleague from Rutgers Law School. Our initiative concentrates on linking students who are keen on international education with mentors educated abroad. This connection aims to offer vital educational resources that assist these students in navigating the complexities of the admission process and succeeding in their academic pursuits.

AM: How has your experience with your non-profit influenced your academic and career path?

JP: Founding an organization such as EEK has been a profound affirmation of the core values I hold dear in both my academic and professional journeys. Addressing global-scale inequities and challenges will remain central to my future endeavors. I am committed to advancing non-profit initiatives, including the continued development of Education Empowerment Korea, as part of my ongoing commitment to these principles.

AM: What aspects of the Schwarzman Scholars Program attracted you, and how do you think it aligns with your personal and professional objectives? Are there specific elements of the program that you are particularly excited about?

JP: The foremost benefit for me lies in the opportunity to deepen my understanding of China. Studying in Japan during a tense period in South Korea-Japan relations, I found debating with Japanese peers invaluable for understanding different perspectives. This taught me that open dialogue is crucial for truly grasping the nuances of another culture and lays the groundwork for meaningful international relations. The Schwarzman Scholarship aligns seamlessly with these goals, offering a platform to engage with China’s complex landscape and a diverse scholar community, making it an ideal environment for my personal and intellectual growth. Furthermore, the chance to interact with the accomplished faculties and guest speakers hosted by the Schwarzman Scholars program, including several former presidents and secretaries, greatly excites me as it offers insights into their experiences and learnings.

AM: Can you share a moment or accomplishment that you are particularly proud of in your academic or non-profit endeavors?

JP: Among the numerous scholarships and honors I secured during my undergraduate years, the achievement I cherish the most is obtaining my bachelor’s degree itself. Deciding to transfer to UW–Madison was a significant challenge, particularly as our family was still grappling with the aftermath of financial fraud committed by a close friend of my parents. My college journey was laden with burdens beyond what many others face, and I am genuinely proud of myself. I also owe immense gratitude to my parents for their unwavering and invaluable support under these difficult circumstances. Being selected for the Schwarzman Scholars program and completing my degree are profound affirmations for both myself and my family, demonstrating that perseverance in the face of adversity can lead to great outcomes.

AM: How do you think your international perspective, shaped by your experiences, will contribute to your studies at Tsinghua University and interactions with fellow scholars?

JP: Studying in Japan during a tense period in South Korea-Japan relations, I found debating with Japanese peers invaluable for understanding different perspectives. This taught me that open dialogue is crucial for truly grasping the nuances of another culture and lays the groundwork for meaningful international relations. With these experiences of interacting with individuals from varied backgrounds and life experiences, I am eager to both learn from and contribute to the scholarly community at Tsinghua.

AM: What advice would you give to fellow students aspiring to pursue similar paths in international education or non-profit work?

JP: Although I don’t consider myself an expert in giving advice, my simple suggestion is to persistently keep trying. Over four years, I’ve applied to hundreds of internships, scholarships, and various other opportunities, and I’ve learned that perseverance is the key to success. Embracing rejections and failures as strengthening experiences is vital. They teach you resilience and prepare you for success in future attempts. As the saying goes, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

AM: How do you think your acceptance into the Schwarzman Scholars Program reflects on UW–Madison, and what role has the university played in your academic journey?

JP: My two years here, filled with challenges and triumphs, inspired me to aim higher and pursue opportunities I had never before considered. UW-Madison played a pivotal role in my decision to apply for the Schwarzman Scholars Program. The mentorship and guidance I received from Dr. David Fields at the Center for East Asian Studies since I took his course on U.S.-East Asia relations were instrumental. He not only encouraged me to apply but also supported me throughout my academic and professional journey here. Sarah Linkert from IRIS was also a great help, assisting me in preparing for the program. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Laurie Dennis from CEAS, as well as to all the professors and colleagues who have supported me along this journey.

AM: As you prepare to embark on this new chapter, what are your expectations for the Schwarzman Scholars program, and how do you foresee it shaping your future endeavors?

JP: I anticipate that my experience will be not only engaging but also push me to new boundaries, both academically and professionally. Immersing myself in China and exchanging thoughts with other aspiring leaders is expected to spark my curiosity and drive me to challenge myself further.

Read more about Jinwan Park and Schwarzman Scholars: news.wisc.edu/senior-jinwan-park-receives-schwarzman-scholarship-to-study-in-china 

Students interested in learning more about the Schwarzman Scholars Program can contact Sarah Linkert, the assistant director for awards and fellowships at the Institute for Regional and International Studies (IRIS) or visit the IRIS Awards Office website