International Experience Sparks a Career
Benjamin Young’s visit to North Korea six years ago inspired his academic journey.
When Benjamin Young ’12/’13 finished his undergraduate studies at SUNY Brockport in 2012, he knew he wanted to be an academic. He also knew he wanted to continue studying history. But that’s about all he knew. So he decided some traveling might help him figure out the rest.
“I didn’t want to do the usual thing and backpack around western Europe,” said Young, a history major, “and I had always been very interested in Cold War history. I knew North Korea was going to continue to be a problem for a while. So that’s where I went.”
Young joined a Canadian non-governmental organization (NGO) that sought to foster academic exchange with the North Koreans and spent a summer in northeastern China and North Korea. Six years later, he’s in the final stages of earning a PhD in modern Korean history from The George Washington University.
“I’ve always been interested in radicalism, extremism, and ideology, and there…it’s so intense. That makes it an inherently interesting place for me to study and think about in terms of its past, present, and future,” Young said. “I think it’s a country that young people should be interested in and study. The best way to study a foreign country is to visit and learn the language.”
Young hasn’t yet returned to North Korea (the Trump administration has banned Americans from traveling there) but has visited South Korea three times. The first trip was to teach English, the second was to study Korean, and his third visit was as a Fulbright Scholar as part of his dissertation research.
His analysis of the political standoff between the North Koreans and the United States has been published twice by The Washington Post. The first piece examined how the US invasion of Grenada in 1983 motivated North Korea to develop nuclear weapons. The second looks at President Donald Trump’s efforts to defeat North Korean propaganda.
“Ben is destined for a spectacular, productive future in the field,” said Brockport’s Meredith Roman, an associate professor of history and one of Young’s mentors. “The fact that he has already reached both academic and popular audiences with his research is impressive.”
Young is currently monitoring the rhetoric out of both Washington and Pyongyang related to the proposed summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
“I don’t think a Trump-Kim Summit is actually going to happen,” he said. “One reason is security. Where would this meeting take place? The Secret Service wouldn’t let Trump go to Pyongyang, and the Trump Administration wouldn’t want the image of Kim visiting DC. Could it take place in Beijing? That also is problematic, because China would be playing a huge role in it.”
But Young’s immediate focus is the next phase of his career. After earning his doctorate next month, he plans to teach. The form in which he teaches is still to be determined.
“I don’t necessarily have to teach courses, but I want to educate people in general. I’m interested in professorships or government jobs. I want to do some form of research — research that not only offers interpretations of the past but bridges the gap between scholars and policymakers.”