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How Alumna MinJi Koo Transitioned from Law to Journalism with Columbia’s American Language Program

Completing a law degree in her home country of South Korea, MinJi Koo had a vision—to advocate for victims of domestic violence. After seeing many people still considering domestic violence as a family affair, not a crime, she searched for more powerful ways to raise public awareness about domestic violence. When she asked her professor for guidance about what she could do next, he suggested she go to the U.S. So, MinJi applied to Columbia’s American Language Program (ALP). Today, she is an Associate Producer at VICE Media and plans to eventually return to South Korea to “change public opinion around domestic abuse” through journalism. Here, she speaks about how Columbia’s ALP helped her to pivot in her career.

What did you discover when you applied to Columbia’s ALP program?

I took the Advanced Academic Preparation course as well as several certification courses. This allowed me not only to improve my English but to explore a lot of majors and take both undergraduate and graduate courses. I took anthropology, sociology of law, psychology, and creative nonfiction writing. It was in the creative nonfiction writing course where I met a journalist who was a contributor to The New Yorker Magazine. After learning more about her career, I had an epiphany. I realized that journalism provided broader opportunities than the law to influence thinking around the subject of domestic violence. This was a lightbulb moment for me.

What did you value most about your experience?

ALP is an outstanding program for students preparing for graduate-level education. While I was there, I accumulated a very diverse network of like-minded friends from all over the world: Brazil, China, Denmark, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Japan—all corners of the globe. I still maintain those connections, and even though we’re all located in different cities throughout the U.S. and the world, when one or more of them are in NYC, we get together.

How did your instructors influence your career path?

When I arrived in the U.S., I knew I’d attend graduate school here. The time I spent in ALP became my foundation for graduate school. Not only did I upgrade my English skills, but I also was able to explore where my career would go. ALP gave me the time to look at all the majors and see where each one led. For me, it was a future in journalism. One of the ALP faculty members, Frances Boyd, became my mentor. She helped me with this important decision. I also leaned into the wisdom of ALP lecturer Brittany Ober. When applying to journalism school, she advised me about the things I’d need to do to achieve success, such as internships. The help from Columbia’s ALP faculty and advisors was outstanding. I decided to stay in NYC where I live today with my cousin who is pursuing her Ph.D. 

What are your career plans?

Today I am an associate audio producer at VICE Media. I research topics of interest, track sources, work closely with senior producers to make outlines of podcast episodes, and help to conduct pre-interviews on the people we are covering. As a versatile journalist, I distill complex stories into digestible styles across multiple media platforms. This requires sophisticated communication skills. I credit my Columbia ALP experience with helping me to develop these skills.

My long-term goal is to finish my doctorate in journalism. I’d like to be a professor and go back to South Korea one day to teach the next generation of journalists. It will take a long time to change public opinion around domestic abuse, and I cannot do that alone. But with my hands-on experience and diplomas in journalism, I believe I can make a difference. 

Do you have any advice for friends or colleagues who may be thinking about the ALP program?

A few days ago, a friend from South Korea asked me how I successfully changed my career. I asked her ‘Do you have any idea where you want to go for the next step?’ She wanted to go abroad. In that case, I advised my friend that she needs time to think about her future. “To build your skills and to get a broad look at a wealth of courses, Columbia offers a wonderful opportunity to international students,” I added.

Learn more about the Columbia University American Language Program.