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Nick Nam ’13


Name: Nick Nam
Class year: 2013
Major: Diplomacy and World Affairs
What made you decide to pursue the UN program?
-A lot of it was by coincidence. I know that there are a lot of students who come to Oxy specifically for the DWA major and the UN program but I started Oxy as an English Lit major and made the switch only after taking Professor Chu’s communism class. To be honest, I applied to the UN program on a whim. It was a really hard decision for me because I had to decide between the study abroad program in Fortaleza, Brazil or the UN. I chose the UN because I remember writing an expository essay in high school about how I’m going to live in New York someday spitting rhymes like Jay-Z and trying to make it in the “concrete jungle where dreams are made of.” I figured I owed it to my 15 year old self that the future me would come to fulfill a dream. It was really that simple of a reason why I applied.
What sort of work did you do at the UN program?
-I was interning for UNICEF and more specifically the Post-2015 Development Agenda Unit. The UN is in a process where they are trying to figure what comes after the Millennium Development Goals in 2015. Their process is more inclusive trying to reach out to various stakeholders such as governments, civil society, academics, media, students, disenfranchised groups, and anyone who wants to voice an opinion.

Our unit was in charge of facilitating a dialogue on inequalities. My duties would include using social media platforms (twitter, facebook, tumblr etc), synthesizing e-discussions on our outreach website, researching, blogging, writing articles, reaching out to different people, writing emails, building websites, attending meetings, taking notes, synthesizing those notes into minutes, and helping with whatever else was needed.  

I learned so much from my co-workers. They truly were like family to me and I really miss them. 

What was the most difficult part of your semester at the UN?
-There are those who come to New York City and fall in love with it immediately and then there are those who come to New York City and struggle a bit. I belonged to the latter. New York was still in the heat of its very humid Indian summer until late October and these first two months were brutal for me especially after having lived in the West Coast all my life.  Everywhere I looked, I would see chic New Yorkers with only a very thin layer of perspiration on their faces, almost as if they had just sprayed moisturizer, and then there was me sweating buckets looking like a used tire salesman. Of course, there were a lot of days when I was so tired and exhausted that I just wanted to go home. I’m never going to forget when I had stomach flu my first month in New York. I was in so much pain but I just put on my big boy pants, took some Advil and would show up to work early and try to hide the fact that I was having major gastrointestinal issues from everyone. I never missed a single day of work or class. I guess you can call me stubborn but a lot of it was from the fact that I wanted to prove to myself that I’m a tough cookie and that if I can’t push through this episode, I won’t be able to make it in the real world. Because y’know, shit happens and you just have to roll with it and try to do your best.

Also, I had never missed my parents more than I had during this semester at the UN. Unlike back at Oxy where you have your friends and a strong support system, we were thrown into a fast paced environment (yes, New York indeed lives up to its reputation as the city that never sleeps) and equally fast paced work atmosphere where 40 hours a week was standard on top of three classes. I’ll admit, I was homesick. It really hit me when I was writing my personal statement for a Fulbright grant to teach English in Korea when I talked about the struggles my family faced when they immigrated to the America from Korea. I felt like I really grew up and learned to respect my parents and what they have sacrificed for me. I called my parents that day and told them that I missed them and that I loved them. Everyone should do that more often. So next time you get a chance, call your parents and tell them that you’re doing okay and that you love them!
What was the most rewarding? (if this is the same answer as the above question, answer What surprised you the most? or What was the best part of your semester at the UN?)
-I can say that I am not the same person coming out of the program before I started it. As shallow as this may seem, I wanted to go corporate and drive Bentley’s and Maseratti’s, sip and spit expensive whiskey, and have a flat in the Meat Packing District and beach front real estate in Malibu. I was that kid who would always say “corporate law” when everyone else would say “public interest law” whenever a representative from a law school informational session would ask the group what kind of law we were interested in.

One night I was coming home from a bar after meeting up with a friend from high school. A homeless man asked me for change and I just passed him. I don’t know what it was but I walked into a CVS and bought a turkey sandwich, a gallon of water, a blanket, and a pair of socks with all the money that I had left in my debit card and went back to the man and gave him these things. He called me an angel and thanked me.

Later that night when I was sitting in the kitchen thinking about my night, I just felt wrong. I had so many abstract thoughts in my head that I just started typing into my computer what I was feeling. After I was done typing, I read what I had just written. A lot of it was incoherent but I do have to say I did connect some complex thought trains together about inequality, competition based market economics, welfare dependency, and class and race segregation. I think that was my AHA! moment when things clicked for me.

Something inside me came alive and I really enjoyed the work that I was doing at UNICEF to the point where I got a little obsessive. My career goals did a complete 180. I’m not implying that I want to work for the UN. Or maybe I do someday but what I want to do now is to go into social entrepreneurship or entrepreneurship with transparent policies, emphasis on worker/employee wellbeing and safety and the likes. I am now more interested in the change market forces, company culture, and the private sector can work with citizens, governments, and other stakeholders to work towards a better world. Globalization has brought chaos but has also brought us an opportunity to make things right. I mean, we the kids from the 90s are the generation who grew up on really good television programming so we’re destined to be the generation that set things straight. Am I right or what?

And to of summarize how I feel about progress, here is a quote that I really like:

“Utopia lies at the horizon. When I draw nearer by two steps, it retreats two steps. If I proceed ten steps forward, it swiftly slips ten steps ahead. No matter how far I go, I can never reach it. What, then, is the purpose of utopia? It is to cause us to advance.” –by the brilliant Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano

And fittingly, after interning for the United Nations Children’s Fund, I really want to be a good dad to some beautiful kids someday. I think so much of the world’s problems begin because kids don’t get enough love. I’m going to make sure my kids, whoever they turn out to be, get plenty of love so that they can share it with all the people they will have the great fortune of meeting in their lives.

What kind of student do you recommend goes to the UN?
-First and foremost, whoever is deciding to apply to this program needs to have a thick skin. The UN program is truly one of Oxy’s gems and is an amazing program but there are days where you will want to cry or punch a wall. There will be times where you will do things that you don’t want to do.

But the most important quality about someone who should be in this program is the willingness to open themselves to new thoughts and perspectives. Had I been closed off and just really intent on finishing my work, I would not have learned or grown and ultimately, evolved.

Also, I think having a sense of humor is key in making the UN experience or anything else for that matter more enjoyable for yourself and those around you. There were some people in the program who were always just so serious and I wanted to just shake them and tell them to wake up! Smile! Lighten up you look so angry!!! Some people really just need to loosen up. Oh, and I guess having a bit of humility wouldn’t hurt either.

I mean as a person studying Diplomacy and WORLD AFFAIRS (or those interested in diplomacy and world affairs all you other non-DWA majors), you have to be at least have some adventurous tendencies.  Maybe because I’ve always been a naturally curious person but I explored New York City like no other visiting the restaurants, museums, and checking out Chekhov plays (I freakin love 19th century Russian lit and I freakin loved the Chekhov plays that they performed. And the food! New York truly is a food lover’s paradise.).

Yes, the UN program is a very exciting but also very stressful. I think people who know how to let their hair down once in a while are best suited for this program. Everyone works differently but at least for me, after working really hard in the office all week, I need to blow off steam. I have always been that way: put all my energy into work during the week and then come Friday, put all my energy into having fun. It’s a delicate balancing act really. (The Blind Barber in East Village has really delicious cocktails just FYI. Try the Sweeney Ted if you like Jameson.)

What are you most looking forward to for your last semester at Oxy?
-Oh thanks for reminding me that this is my last semester before I have to become a “young professional.” I’m kidding. What am I looking forward to? I don’t know. I guess trying to be with my friends as much as I can before we graduate and go our different paths. These people have been here for everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly. These are life-long friends.

I’m also excited for the next chapters in my life. I’m really humbled by the fact that I have options. To borrow from the words of the great economist Amartya Sen, poverty is the deprivation of opportunity. I am so thankful for the people who I have met in my life, the opportunities that I have had, and the opportunities that will come. The next step is in someday helping others have these same opportunities.

I don’t know where I will be in 5 years, 10 years, or 50 years. A mixture of serendipity and goal planning has led me to where I am today and my life will flow just the same. I do know that I am different. Not different in terms of better or worse than other people but I have always known that I am different and that my life is going to be different. I know that there is something inside of me that hasn’t manifested yet into something concrete but when it does, I will know I have done something worthwhile throughout the course of my life. I’m just excited to live each day of my life. Life is beautiful when you have purpose and conviction.
What are you writing your comps about?
-I’m writing my comps on the normative paradigm shift from using Gross Domestic Product to measure growth to a country using Gross National Happiness. I stumbled on this topic while at the UN. Bhutan is the 8th poorest nation in Asia but it is also considered one of the happiest countries in the world. Did you know that Bhutan measures growth and development by factors such as sustainable development, conservation of the natural environment, good governance, and happiness and general well-being of citizens? Now that’s the kind of world I want to live in.

Madi Tsuji is a former Campus Correspondent for Her Campus Occidental. She is originally from Seattle, WA and now lives in New York City, where she works in PR. 
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