David Kim, MA COEX'22

David Kim, MA COEX'22

From Kenya to South Korea to Nepal, David Kim, MA COEX’22, has seen firsthand the impact of conflicts on local populations. That’s what led him to Heller, to gain the skills for a career in peacebuilding and diplomacy.

“I was always interested in development because that was the sector my parents worked in,” says Kim, who spent most of his childhood in Kenya. “Within development, what I’m interested in most is peacebuilding: how to bring conflicting communities together.”

In Kenya, he experienced major periods of instability. Each election brought violence, forcing people to stay in their homes for safety. 

“Though as Westerners we were shielded in a way, people we knew were caught up in the violence, and seeing that firsthand was a shock,” he says. “That experience made me want to get into mediation, to build peace.”

He returned to the U.S. for college, attending Vassar. Each summer, he interned in Seoul, South Korea, for various organizations that worked to change U.S. and South Korean policy toward North Korea, as well as directly to aid North Korean refugees.

“For a lot of North Koreans, it’s hard to resettle in South Korea,” he says. “I helped them with their English, took them out bowling or to the river walk, and just helped them feel more comfortable in South Korean society. I think a lot of Westerners pity them, but they’re just normal people who are struggling. We shouldn’t treat them as pariahs.”

The experience further fueled his desire to work in diplomacy, particularly to resolve tensions on the Korean peninsula.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Kim briefly returned to South Korea to teach English before joining the Peace Corps in Nepal where he served as a food security volunteer, improving agricultural practices, early childhood nutrition and water conservation.

“What really got me interested in COEX was the civil war in Nepal that few people knew about in the West, between the communists and Nepali government,” he says. “They have now successfully integrated the communist party in the government system. Seeing how the two warring parties came together and can now live harmoniously, it changed my direction to focus more on negotiation.”

Kim chose Heller for its MA in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence (COEX) program, particularly its field-experienced faculty. After he graduates, he hopes to work for the United Nations peacekeeping division, following the footsteps of his sister, who works for the UN World Food Programme. 

“Peace Corps provides you with people skills, but now I’m looking for the hands-on and analytical experience from the COEX program,” he says.