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Alumnus Abroad

A Q&A with Ho-Seung Lee '95

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    Outside the Reves Room    Courtesy photo.
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    With Professor T.J. Cheng    Courtesy photo.
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    With Professor Sue Peterson    Courtesy photo.
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    At Namdaemun, the “Great South Gate” in Seoul, Korea.    Courtesy photo.
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    At the Office of the Minister, Ministry of Science and Technology Nay Pyi T  (L to R) Director General Dr. Khin Maung Latt, Ho-Seung Lee, HE Minister of Science and Technology of the Union of Myanmar Dr. Ko Ko Oo, Deputy Director General Dr. Lei Lei Oo, Deputy Director General Dr. Theingi Maung Maung.  Courtesy photo.
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Ho-Seung Lee '95 is Programme Management Officer for the Asia and Pacific Region at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

Where were you born? What do you consider your hometown?

I was made in Korea but manufactured in Sydney, Australia. My mother was pregnant before she flew to Australia. Home, in my interpretation, is where I grew up. There are two for me. One is Thailand, where I grew up as a kid in elementary school with childhood memories of running around and eating look chin. The other is Korea, because I am Korean, and importantly my middle and high school years as well as my years after college in Graduate School and my first working years were all in Korea. I would consider Seoul as my hometown. My base camp is my favorite rice cake (tteokbokki) place I go to in Dongbu Ichondong named Smile Tteokbokki. That is the first place I go to once I touch down at home in Seoul.

Where is home for you now?

I live in Vienna, Austria, and have been since 2002. My home looks out over the historic Danube River that flows through Vienna, Budapest and eventually Belgrade. The water and air in Vienna are second to none in the world!

Why did you choose to attend William & Mary?

I was a transfer student, and in my opinion, I was lucky to get into William & Mary. I believe my sister (Soyoung Lee ’92) being a good student there helped pave the way for me. As I was not such a diligent student in high school, I worked hard to at least try to upgrade my profile during my early college years, so I could have a chance to transfer to a better school like William & Mary. I was lucky to be accepted to the royally chartered university.

What was your major at W&M?

I majored in International Relations (Theory). Being influenced by my father, who worked in promoting Korean trade as well as for the UN for international marketing and trade, from a young age, I wanted a career in diplomacy or international relations, possibly with the United Nations.

Did you have a favorite course or professor while you were at W&M?

It’s been a while since I graduated. But the two professors that I vividly remember are James Bill and Tunjen Cheng.

James Bill was a larger-than-life professor to me. Bill was not only the author of The Eagle and the Lion: The Tragedy of American-Iranian Relations (1989), but also a teacher who taught as if we were in his living room and just talking politics, and about the way things were, and how things were not what they seemed to be. True brilliance with ease. A very deep understanding of the Middle East, and a true love for that region. How can you not learn from that kind of teacher? James Bill’s passion not only translated to the classroom. His energy spilled over to the legacy of the Reves Center for International Studies, which I believe was the initial impetus for W&M internalization efforts, not only academically, but more so communally, with Reves (International) Hall dormitory, where many students had the privilege in living, including me. The rooms were spacious with air-conditioning!! The kitchen and showers were clean. And many friendships and memories emanate from his legacy.

Tunjen Cheng, with his strong Taiwanese accent succeeded Chonghan Kim, who had been a professor at William & Mary since 1964!! Legend succeeding legend in Asian Political Economy at William & Mary, in my opinion. Tunjen Cheng was a great teacher, willing to discuss why and how the Asian economies were so successful in the ‘80s. I can still hear him say, “We can debate about this….” A great writer as well, his works were easy to read, lucid and informative. I was able to visit him a few years back and realized how much time had passed! I always appreciated his interest in teaching us students all that he knew. He taught with such enthusiasm and inspired us to understand why Asia was such a success in that era.

William & Mary made the right decisions to recruit such fine professors, who have become institutions themselves. Both James Bill and Tunjen Cheng represent the pinnacle of William & Mary teaching!

Honorable Mention goes to Sue Peterson! After graduation and when I was in graduate school, Sue Peterson was kind enough to submit a brilliant article entitled “Representation without Taxation: US Attitudes towards the United Nations” to the journal of which I was editor, called Peace Forum, The Crisis of UN Legitimacy (1996).

Did you pursue a postgraduate degree?

After W&M, I decided to go to the Graduate Institute of Peace Studies at Kyung Hee University in Korea. I acquired a master’s in political science focusing my research on UN Peacekeeping. After a few years working in Vienna, Austria, I decided to initiate my pursuit of a PhD (in political science) at the Universitaet Wien. This pursuit has been ongoing for more than 10 years as I have not been good at hunkering down and finishing it. Maybe this year could be the year (or next).

What are you currently doing professionally?

I am a project management professional, who is currently providing some expertise in developing technical cooperation program strategies in nuclear science and technology for a few countries. I am taking this time to improve my long overdue German competencies as well. My work experience has been mainly in international organizations such as the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Do you have any current projects or passions you would like to tell us about?

Not wanting to sound boring, but my passions are in the routine things we can take simple pleasures in. For example, an improving golf game, intermediate tennis, and Sunday school teaching at church.

Golf is golf. You walk. You de-stress. You detox. You build friendships.

Tennis is tennis, with lots of cardio and lots of love. Always doing whatever it takes to get the ball over the net and inside the lines. Tennis is the ultimate sport, and my weekly priority on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Lastly, I serve as the Sunday school teacher for high school students, and this role has challenged my faith and knowledge of the Bible and of God. I try to teach in a way that can inspire them to be grateful to God. And in so doing, my personal faith has grown as a result. Trying to ensure that I practice what I preach has become so important. Also, it is important to express your love through the time and resources you are willing to spend with them. Positive routines will yield positive outcomes. Being a reliable player in sports, being a reliable teacher at church--all help in nurturing a less-stressed, healthier and more compassionate person.

PS: And if I said I had a passion for fantasy sports would my ratings go down? I make it a daily habit to check the box score and see how my fantasy players performed, and importantly who I need to scavenge from waivers. FYI, my team names are Nukes, Mosquitoes and Mongoose (smile). For my fantasy football teams I do favor players coached under classmate Mike Tomlin and alum Sean McDermott. Not too shabby. I’m proud of you guys.

Do you have a favorite memory or memories of your time at W&M?

I can count specific memories, like directing the William & Mary High School Model UN, and really enjoying the role of mentoring high school students to think about the broader issues and the respective positions one needs to consider when representing a delegation.

Another is the initiation of the Chusok Festival, to celebrate specifically the Korean culture (as opposed to other cultures), as there was so much to share in Korean flavors, music, sports and entertainment! I take pride in being one of the founders who masterminded this yearly autumn event. I’m not sure if it continues today, but I hope so.

The Taste of Asia. I remember emceeing this event with my good friend Sridevi Nanjundaram in March of 1994. The event was a smash hit compared to years before. I suddenly became more recognized in Williamsburg after that event.

Daily life at Reves Hall was an amazing time. There was a nice blend of international and American students, with the common denominator our mutual interest in exchanging views and experiences. One vivid memory was the decision among the Reves boys to streak in the Sunken Gardens! I remember our congregating at Tyler Hall and being so amped up and nervous about the fact that we were going to do it. Frankly, this was a group of international boys that probably all had nudity insecurities to boot. Nevertheless, the group muddled through, and before we knew it, we were placing our clothes on the far side of the Gardens and trotting back to assume our positions. The combination of fog and cold elevated the adrenaline and excitement. We sprinted like free men, liberated from the stresses of William & Mary academics. A shout out to my brothers Sorin and Jesus; good memories, my friends!

How do you think your experience at W&M has affected your life and decisions you have made?

Living in Williamsburg and being a student at the William & Mary is something anyone should be proud of. One cannot ignore history, as you walk past the Wren building and walk along the Sunken Gardens. Take pride in being part of the green and gold. The royally chartered education will help guide you to maybe not all the right decisions, but decisions which are based in honor. The honor code is the moral foundation of William & Mary. Whoever graduates from William & Mary I believe innately has that foundation of the honor code intact.

Is there any advice you wish you had received or would like to share with current students?

I am writing this under the assumption that one is reasonably managing his/her academics.

I wish that I had a mentor or big brother influence, who could have helped me see the joys of being associated in other clubs and activities. I was too lazy to go out and do more things. Even though, when others see me, they probably saw me as an active student.

I regret not studying as much as I should have. Nor did I really know how to study properly. But I did think that William & Mary in my years, was unnecessarily too cut-throat. Learning didn’t need to be like that. But I think it had to do more with my inadequacies as a student.

Although I focused my passions on select projects that I enjoyed, I could have been more diligent about going to church on Sundays. I could have been more courageous in relationships. I should have taken full advantage of the possibilities that college had to offer.

One of my regrets is that I should have taken the chance to go to China. At the very minimum, my Chinese fluency would be so much better than it is today.

To current students: Go out and explore, and make new relationships, and never fear learning. Be diligent in the activities that matter to you. Regularity is the strongest indicator of your commitment of being a better person in what you are doing.

Do you think international experience as a student is helpful in future life and career?

Absolutely. Even though the USA is still the most powerful country in the world, one needs to graduate from the ‘hegemonic stability’ attitude that makes the world view Americo-centric. The world is vast. Perspectives and opinions are diverse. And in order to contribute to making this world a better place, we need more compassion and understanding of others, so we all can grow together. An international experience initiated at the collegiate level will broaden that vision at an early stage, combined with an education that you would never be able to get at any other time.

Anything else you would like to add or tell us?

Wisdom and Action Harmonized as One.

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This is my motto in life.

Please be people who walk the talk.

Take action.

Implement.

Lip-service is cheap.

Be persons of integrity and make that royally chartered William & Mary education mean something.

Be an honorable person, and God will bless you.