The University of Iowa

From South Korea to Iowa: In her father’s footsteps

May 11th, 2020
Sojeong standing in the same spot on campus where her father, Dr. Sangin Nam, posed over 30 years prior

Sojeong standing in the same spot on campus where her father, Dr. Sangin Nam, posed over 30 years prior

Sojeong Nam is a PhD candidate in the counselor education and supervision program at the University of Iowa. The inspiration to attend the UI may have come from her father, Dr. Sangin Nam, who, over 30 years earlier, graduated from the same doctoral program at the UI, holding the distinction of being the first international student from South Korea to do so.

During Sojeong’s junior year of high school, she had the opportunity to visit her father’s alma mater when he was invited to conduct research at the University of Iowa for one year. “I enrolled in the Iowa City School District to continue my studies. After my father completed his sabbatical, I planned to return to South Korea to finish high school. My goal was to pursue a law degree at a university in South Korea. I never considered studying abroad for college,” shares Sojeong.

During her time in Iowa City, Sojeong learned the South Korean government was reforming their law education programs, shifting the professional education from an undergraduate to a postgraduate degree program. “South Korean universities were benchmarking the U.S. legal education system. Because of this, it made sense for me to stay and pursue my studies in the U.S. My parents were very concerned about my decision; they felt I was too young to stay in the U.S. alone. But we found a wonderful roommate, and eventually they supported my choice.” Sojeong graduated high school in Iowa City the following year, and subsequently entered the University of Iowa, pursuing a double major in international relations and psychology with a pre-law designation.

It was during her third year of studies at the University of Iowa, while researching human rights of North Korean refugees, that Sojeong came to a realization, “I understood that having good law systems and policies in place will make people’s lives better, but if the people are not being taken care of, in terms of their psychological well-being, the system, no matter how good it is, seemed less important to me. This is when I changed my plan and decided to pursue a graduate degree in counseling psychology, believing it more relevant to people in need.” 

Sojeong graduated from the UI in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and international studies and a minor in Spanish. She continued her studies at Columbia University in New York, where she obtained a Master of Education in counseling psychology. 

Sojeong Nam, doctoral candidate, counselor education and supervision

Sojeong Nam, doctoral candidate, counselor education and supervision

When considering PhD programs, Sojeong had several options, but immediately knew she wanted to return to the UI. “Once I left the University of Iowa, I realized the instructors here are very good. I wasn’t as aware as an undergrad because I had nothing to compare. Also, the counseling program at the University of Iowa is very well-known and respected, even in South Korea.” 

Sojeong has achieved many academic successes during her PhD studies, including several published works and professional presentations. She has also been a strong advocate for fellow students, serving as a board member on both the International Student Advisory Board (ISAB) and the University Counseling Services Student Advisory Board. She enjoyed participating in the UI Camerata Choral Ensemble during the first year of her PhD program, which she considered part of her self-care.

Sojeong plans to defend her dissertation this summer but explains it may be postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions causing data collection delays. Ultimately, Sojeong’s goal is to secure a career in higher education.