Despite initially choosing chemistry as his major in college, Heesung grew to understand and appreciate economics during his third and fourth years of university. So much so that he went on to receive the Rackham International Students Fellowship, a Fellowship that benefits highly competent international graduate students, for the economics PhD program at the University of Michigan. As preparation for the Rackham Fellowship and his PhD, Heesung conducted independent economic research from Korea. Heesung had received a significant amount of support and advice from his economics professors during his undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan which is a major reason why he applied for the Rackham Fellowship.

During his first and second years of undergraduate studies, Heesung took several natural science classes, which were at Taylor’s University in Malaysia. Then he transferred to the University of Michigan to complete the last two years of his bachelor’s degree. One of the first economics classes that he took at the University of Michigan was a game theory class and that was when he decided that he wanted to alter his focus from the sciences to economics. Heesung began to see the impact that economics could have on people’s lives and that is what led him to ultimately pursue a PhD in economics.

During his undergraduate years at the University of Michigan, two of the courses that he enjoyed the most were his Game Theory class and Honors Thesis course. Heesung enjoyed how Professor David Miller engaged with his class by playing games with monetary incentives involved. One of the games that they had played was “Guess ⅔ of the average” which is a game that uses a player’s strategic reasoning process while also taking into account the mental process of other players. This game sparked Heesung’s initial interest in the logical deduction required for game theory. Heesung also gained valuable insight while working under his advisor, Professor Tilman Borgers, to complete his honors thesis paper. These were the two professors that had the greatest influence on Heesung as he completed his undergraduate studies with a degree in economics and mathematics. In addition to his academic interests in game theory and research, Heesung was heavily involved at a local church, where he enjoyed meeting and connecting with other international students.

After completing his Bachelor’s degree, Heesung worked as a Research Assistant for the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis. This real-world experience allowed him to expand his economics knowledge into the macroeconomics field. Due to the mandated military service in Korea, Heesung served the Korean Air Force by transporting and providing supplies to many soldiers. During his time in the military, he continued to work on independent economic research. After conducting independent research, Heesung was reminded of why he wanted to pursue a PhD in the first place. He began to alter his perspective on how research was going to impact people’s lives and the world. This deeper connection also continued to shape his current interests in development economics and labor economics. Since Heesung migrated several times between Korea, Malaysia, and the United States, he began to gain interest in migration and its impacts on a country’s economy. His past experiences and upbringing in Malaysia are also contributors that molded his topics of interest in economics to specifically development and labor economics.

Currently Heesung is taking field courses in both development and labor economics. He is also working on research projects about Filipino international workers and how their income impacts their home country. Moving forward, Heesung would like to focus more on migration, such as the credit constraint on migration and migration workers, specifically their mistreatment. Heesung is excited to study how migration may have a long-run impact in the development of the poor households, and how migration may affect other households in the network of the migrants. Heesung hopes to stay in academia and would like to contribute to society by uncovering economic mechanisms surrounding the topic of migration to help inform policymakers.

To learn more about the Rackham International Students Fellowship, please click here.