• February 2019
    M T W T F S S
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Just a small personal update on everything that’s been going this past month!

As I’ve mentioned before, econ PhD programs require students to pass these comprehensive, qualifying exams (at UCLA, we call them “comps”). Comps are pretty much the bane of any first year PhD student’s existence. These four-hour exams determine your fate and whether you get to stay in the program or not. You only have so many chances to re-take the exams to get that coveted PhD-level pass. In my program, it’s two strikes & you’re out. There are three subjects we have to test at a PhD-proficiency level - microeconomics, macroeconomics, and quantitative analysis (statistics and econometrics). I failed to attain a PhD-level pass for all three exams my first time around.

You can imagine how nerve-wrecking the second half of my summer was after I found out my exam results. I could have left with a Master’s degree, which isn’t bad by any means - especially at 22 years old. But I knew I wanted to get a PhD eventually - having a PhD is really the only way that I can do my own original research and study the topics I’m most interested in. So after putting in the work at UCLA, I really just wanted things to pay off so I could continue my degree and take advantage of the opportunity I had been given to study at a great school. I told myself that if I didn’t pass my exams at UCLA, it would just be a sign that I wasn’t meant to finish my PhD here. I would work, then return to school a few years later.

All of August, I studied extremely hard - basically 24/7. I took the last of my exams in early September. Sadly, I think I cried after every exam, just doubting myself and questioning if my abilities were enough. Then followed a gut-wrenching week of waiting for my results. When that fateful Friday came around, I was almost too scared to check my email. Luckily when I did, I got great news: I had passed all three exams at the PhD level!! I was so ecstatic that I cried a little bit. Then I called my parents, sister, and grandparents to let them know the good news and thank them for their support and prayers.

(So thankful for them :) we went to Yosemite National Park after my first round of exams to relax and have some family time. It’s getting more and more rare now that both my sister and I have been out of the house for a while.)

Anyway, ever since then, I have been in such a happier state than I was this entire last year. Now that I’ve started the new school year, I am finally taking my field courses, attending seminars, and teaching UCLA undergrads :P ! I’m busier than ever, but at least I’m happy and having fun with it. Now, my homework consists of reading papers and learning techniques to help me do the research I’m actually interested in. I finally feel comfortable with my program and like I’m working towards the career I want to have in research. And honestly, it’s the best feeling.

So that about wraps up my personal update. I also wanted to just talk a little about this advice my grandma gave me the other day. She told me that when good things happen to us, it’s important to give to someone else - to pay your good luck forward. Like karma, I guess. It made me wonder if some of the blessings I have experienced in life are a result of good karma. Either way, I thought it was a nice idea and wanted to share. I think it’s important to always do your best to help others, whether you are struggling yourself or feel on top of the world.

On that note, I’ve been learning a lot about how valuable improvements to health are - especially in developing countries. UNICEF works hard to help end the preventable deaths of children. Please consider learning more about how important this work is and how you can make a difference:

Becker, Philipson, & Soares:“The Quantity and Quality of Life and the Evolution of World Inequality”
Learn more about UNICEF
Donate to UNICEF USA


It’s World Humanitarian Day and in honor of that, I’m asking for your guys’s help. Some of you might remember I did my honors thesis at Cal on HIV/AIDS programs in Uganda. One of the people who helped me the most with my project was this man Moses Kigozi. He is from Masaka, Uganda and coordinates all the HIV/AIDS programs in his district through a center called MADNASO. He recently founded a non-profit CHEDRA to help women and children affected and left vulnerable by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

I emailed him recently to see how he is doing and he asked for my help. He has the kindest heart and I want to do everything possible to help him and his non-profit because I truly believe in them. CHEDRA is locally-founded and locally-run, so I think it’s very important to help support them - it’s goes beyond just giving outside aid. Here are people from their own community helping one another - I find it truly inspiring and as a development-economist-in-training, I think it’s very important to help these community-based non-profits thrive.


Moses needs our help publicizing CHEDRA and securing donations so that they can earn a permanent place on the Global Giving website. Global Giving is an online marketplace that connects donors with grassroots projects in the developing world - they will give CHEDRA more exposure to potential donors and a way for potential donors to give monetary support securely online (you can pay by credit card, PayPal, check, and even stock transfer).

I ask of you just two things:

(1) Please visit the website, read more about their cause, and click the Facebook share button. The project that gets the most shares on Facebook will receive a $300 bonus from Global Giving - that’s enough to send THREE orphans to school. Who would have thought social networking sites could actually make an impact like that!
Here is the link to the website: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/water-and-education-for-500-hiv-victims-in-uganda/

(2) Please at least consider giving up something small to donate - make a PB&J sandwich for lunch instead of eating out, walk to the store instead of driving, etc. - even the smallest donation will make a difference. So far, they only have two donors: myself, and my friend Moses. They need at least 48 more donors to raise $3,540 to earn a permanent place on Global Giving. I know that it is difficult to give when you don’t have a lot - believe me, I just checked my bank account and I am in the double digits…(I know =/). But even if it’s just $5 or $10, it will make a difference.

Also please feel free to forward this email to others and help publicize in any way that you can - Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. Thank you guys so much for reading this and helping me. It really means a lot.


Hi! Sorry I haven’t updated my blog in forever… I took a long vacation after I finished my exams and now I am back at school again. So busy! But I wanted to write a quick blog entry in hopes that someone will read this and decide to help. I promise I’ll update again later with some more personal news!

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before - I used to work very closely with UNICEF when I was an undergraduate. UNICEF is still an organization that is very dear to my heart. I truly believe in the work that they do.

As you may know, there is an emergency situation currently going on in the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti). Over 2 million lives of children are at risk due to drought (the worst Somalia has experienced in 50 years), rising food prices, and armed conflict. These children are severely malnourished and left vulnerable to violence and disease. It has gotten so bad that in the UN-declared famine zones of Somalia, almost 10% of ALL children under 5 die EVERY three months. Ten percent of all children under 5 dying from preventable causes. It is truly heartbreaking.

A child who has arrived at the refugee camp in Kenya, after walking for 17 days.

A severely malnourished child - the circumference of her arm is only 9.6 centimeters.

And it is only going to get worse if we don’t do everything we can to help. Here is an excerpt from UNICEF’s full humanitarian action report:

UNICEF’s work is a race against time. The United Nations has warned that if immediate action is not taken, famine could spread to all eight southern regions of Somalia in two months. Across the Horn, the magnitude of the suffering and loss is tremendous in this ”children’s famine.” Life-saving actions from UNICEF and its partners are urgently needed to prevent the deaths of an estimated 480,000 severely malnourished children and to help an additional 1,649,000 who are moderately malnourished. Over 10 million people are threatened by the drought and the resulting food insecurity as circumstances have triggered enormous refugee outflows to Kenya and Ethiopia, thus amplifying an already severe humanitarian crisis.

I know that when it comes to charitable giving, people often think, “What difference am I going to make? I’m sure someone else will donate the money.” As someone who has experience fundraising for a humanitarian organization, who has worked very closely with UNICEF, and who is studying to be a development economist, I can only say this: even the smallest act of kindness makes a difference.

Thanks to many generous donations, as of July 21, UNICEF has raised over $85.6 million for the Horn of Africa Crisis. However, there is still a funding gap. UNICEF estimates a total need of $300 million through 2011, in order to accommodate the influx of Somalian refugees who need food, shelter, and medical care.

Just $10 will feed a child for ten days. The main reason I love UNICEF so much is that their humanitarian efforts are smart, cost-efficient, and well-researched. If you want to learn more about how UNICEF helps, please check out their website here for a wealth of information. You can also read the full humanitarian action report here.

Please consider learning more about the famine crisis and how you can help. I understand that most of us are not rich and it is not always so easy to give. Believe me, I am living day-to-day on a grad student’s budget. But please, just consider giving up something small - try making a PB&J sandwich instead of eating out for lunch and donate that $10 to help save a child’s life.

You can text FOOD to UNICEF to donate $10, or go to their website here (and as always, donations are also tax-deductible - woo hoo!)

For those of you who took the time to read this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.


This was interesting segment on the TV show, “What Would You Do?” about attitudes towards interracial dating. They hired actors to portray the interracial couple as well as antagonists who publicly denounce the interracial relationship. The point of the segment was to examine how people react when confronted with negative attitudes towards interracial dating.

Unfortunately, the video’s all chopped up but this is the only version I could find to embed. Anyway, for me the most interesting case starts around the 6:20 mark…

So this is not going to be a typical post but it’s on my mind & I feel like writing about it. Not exactly “happy thoughts” on my latest Hello Kitty purchases, but whatever.

I spent my evening catching up on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills - which, by the way, is amazing. In the “Dinner Party from Hell” episode, Camille calls Kyle’s friend “the morally corrupt Faye Resnick” - so clearly, I needed to get more background info via Wikipedia. This led to me reading about the OJ Simpson trial for quite some time. And somehow that led to me reading about the Rodney King trial for quite some time. And then that led to me reading about the 1992 LA riots for quite some time. And so here we are…cue background music:

Korean-owned businesses were the primary targets during the 1992 riots for many reasons, including the death of Latasha Harlins, cultural differences and tensions, and the perception of economic competition and exploitation in an impoverished community. People of all colors were suffering from extreme economic hardship, creating a highly-combustible environment. The publicized cases of racially-fueled injustice lit the flame that blew up into the LA riots. When I think of the conflict between African-American and Korean-American communities, I immediately go to this scene (which is one of my favorites) from Spike Lee’s film, Do the Right Thing. My eyes tear up almost every time I watch it.

Sonny: “I no white! I black! You, me, same! We same!”

The message is powerful. Why do we turn on each other? In a 1992 NY Times article, Seth Mydans quotes Korean security force member Carl Rhyu: “Why did it happen? That’s a good question.” Rhyu was amongst a group of armed Korean-Americans who defended Lucky Electronics from its rooftop during the riots. This excerpt from Mydan’s article does a good job of summarizing the tension between the two communities.

“I think the black people are jealous of the Koreans,” [Rhyu] said, voicing a gut feeling that many Korean residents express privately but are too careful to state in public. “They’re lazy; we are working hard. They’re not making money; we are making money.”

In the South-Central area, where Korean shops have become the object of resentment even as they provide what is often the only retail service to residents, some shopkeepers climbed ladders to remove the Korean lettering from their signboards. At the Korean consulate, where National Guardsmen stood watch, an identifying plaque had been covered up by tape.

Yumi Park, the former director of the Korean American Grocers Association, said about 600 Korean-owned retail outlets had been damaged in the South-Central area and about 200 in Koreatown.

Lawrence Aubry, a member of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission, said Korean merchants had become a lightning rod for the discontent of some black residents. Many blacks in Los Angeles have remained poor as, one after another, immigrant groups have arrived and climbed past them to prosperity.

“It’s illogical, but it’s convenient to target the Koreans,” he said. “Why were they burning the businesses that serve them? Why has that anger not been vented at the educational system that has failed them? Why weren’t the employment offices burned to the ground?”

It’s sad how economic circumstances can lead to bitter segregation in a community of minorities that should be working together. These attitudes become racially-colored when individuals come to represent their entire race or ethnic group. Thus, the success of some Korean-American businesses creates the false image of a model minority, while the failure of some African-American youth cements the illusion of a perpetually lazy and impoverished black community. These stereotypes persist even today and are all too apparent when one signs online and simply reads comments to any news article, YouTube video, etc. mentioning race relations.

Ultimately, I agree with Aubry. We cannot place blame on other groups within the same community. Instead, we should work to improve that community as a whole, from the roots. That is the only way to move closer to a world where we truly view ourselves as equals - “We same.”

While researching the LA riots was quite depressing, I did see one kernel of hope amidst the violence - the Korean armed resistance. The police abandoned them in a time of need, but rather than stand back and watch their lifetime work go up in flames, many Korean shop keepers carried out an act of agency by deciding to defend themselves against the mob violence.

According to Ashley Dunn of the LA Times, Korean marine veterans spearheaded the movement by sending out a call for volunteer security guards over Korean-language radio stations. The community security forces stayed up for days after the Rodney King verdict, guarding their livelihoods - guarding their interpretation of the American dream. Over a decade later, their actions inspire me to be thankful for the privileged life I’ve been blessed with and to practice my own agency when fighting for my dreams.

And yes, I know that sounds corny, but this was an interesting find for me and I felt compelled to write down my thoughts. And with that I return to catching up on my RHBH.

Links to the original news articles:
LA Times
NY Times

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