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From KDI School to a Fulfilling Career at the Korea's Climate Sector: Alumni Spotlight on Axel Lemus

  • Date 2023-08-30 09:39
  • CategoryStory
  • Hit1104

At KDI School of Public Policy and Management, we take pride in the achievements of our talented alumni who go on to make significant contributions in their fields of expertise. Today, we shine a spotlight on Axel Lemus, a graduate student from KDI School of Public Policy and Management who has found success and fulfillment in his career in Sejong, South Korea. With a passion for international cooperation and environmental resilience, Axel's journey exemplifies the impact of KDI School's interdisciplinary programs and the opportunities that arise from a global perspective. Let’s delve closely into Axel’s story.

Can you please introduce yourself and share your academic background, the program you pursued at the KDI School?

My name is Axel Lemus. Growing up in between American and Guatemalan cultures, I was very interested in international cooperation from an early age. While living in Guatemala, I got to know the local Korean community and became captivated by Korea’s remarkable development story and the potential it had for countries like Guatemala. Fast forward to now, I have been living in Korea for over nine years. It all started when I received a scholarship to study international studies at Chonbuk National University. Since then, I have worked in different organizations promoting cooperation with Korea and globally, including the UNDRR Office for Northeast Asia and Global Education & Training Institute (UNDRR ONEA & GETI) in Incheon. 

Wow, that's impressive, could you tell us about your impression of working at UNDRR?

The lasting impression I got while working at UNDRR led me to look for graduate schools where I could study the nexus between public policy and environmental resilience. With the MPP program including quantitative methods and courses that aligned with my interests, such as Urban & Regional Development, Smart Cities, and Policies on Climate Change, accepting my offer at the KDI School was an easy choice to make. I graduated from the MPP program in 2021.

(Facilitating an international resiliency workshop at UNDRR)

What motivated you to choose a career in Sejong, South Korea, after completing your studies at the KDI School?

After graduating from KDI School, I was eager to find opportunities in the climate/environmental sector where I could utilize the research skills I strengthened during my master’s degree. I interned with the Resilience Team at the UNDP Seoul Policy Center right after graduation. Even though I had worked in Korea before, I had not yet had a full-time position at an organization where the main working language is Korean. So, when I was presented with the opportunity to work in Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS), an emerging technology seeking to lower emissions from industrial facilities, I took it. 

As Associate Researcher in the International Cooperation Team at the Korea CCUS Association, I monitor and write reports on global energy trends, support Korean government R&D projects with international partners in Australia and the Netherlands, and cultivate global partnerships with international organizations like the International Energy Agency and the International Maritime Agency. 

What have you gained from your time at KDI School and have you been able to use it at work?

My time at KDI School allowed me to delve deeper into my interests in DRR, environmental policy, and environmental resilience. Furthermore, the exposure to quantitative methods and R that I got through courses with Professor Inbok Rhee has been very useful while conducting research on CCUS/global energy trends.

Though it may seem like the focus of my studies at KDI School differ a bit from my current work in the energy sector, I believe a professional working in environmental resilience and sustainable development should have a multi-disciplinary approach. Ensuring a just energy transition should, after all, involve local considerations of how a certain project might impact the local disaster risk profile and the environment.      

After graduation, I also had opportunities to use my R skills to develop visualizations for a UNDP publication on Korea's use of green space for pandemic recovery and reports in my current role. I plan to further develop my interests in R and working with data that I got while at the KDI School. 

Could you share any memorable experiences from your time working or studying in Sejong?

I arrived at KDI School right in the middle of the COVID pandemic in Fall 2020. With classes being mostly online, I remember quite vividly when classes started to go hybrid. It’s true that KDI School had a great online system to support virtual learning, but there really is nothing like face-to-face lectures! While living in the dormitory and attending mostly online lectures, I also hiked quite often at Koehwa-san, the mountain behind the dormitory. It’s very scenic throughout the four seasons, but I especially like hiking through the autumn leaves. My room in the dormitory also had a mountain view that I enjoyed quite a lot. It was great to be very close to nature, I’m sure it provided a lot of relief to many during those uncertain times. 

One of the most interesting parts of my current role is getting to meet various energy companies and research organizations from around the world and Korea. For example, my organization works closely with the Geological Survey of Korea, the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, and I also visited the Bureau of Economic Geography at the University of Texas Austin to learn about core sampling and their open access research facilities.

(Meeting at the International Energy Agency Headquarters in Paris, France)

One of the most memorable of these occasions was with the International Energy Agency (IEA) in Paris. Last fall, my team was planning a business trip to meet our partner organization in the Netherlands. Given the distance, we were looking to make the most of the trip and it so happened that I was able to establish contact with the IEA, and they accepted our request for a courtesy meeting. It was a valuable experience to foster a mutually beneficial relationship and share information on CCUS developments in Korea and globally. 

As an alumnus of KDI School, how do you continue to stay connected with the institution and its network of alumni?

I check my school email regularly to see what sort of initiatives KDI School plans for alumni. For example, I recently participated in the 2030 KDI School International Alumni Essay Contest. Living in Sejong, I also signed up for the KDI Central Library’s alumni service which gives access to the library and to check out books. I really appreciate the service since the library has the largest selection of books in English nearby and it lets me address my backlog of books. I also got the chance to connect with current students through the Hiking Club and ALPHACA, the Data Science Club. I’m always keen to meet other alumni and current KDIS students to exchange ideas and learn from each other.

(Reaching the summit with the KDI School Hiking Club)

What advice would you give to current KDI School students or aspiring professionals who are considering pursuing a career in Korea after graduation?

This may sound simple, but it’s also difficult at the same time: learn Korean and practice, practice, practice! I wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now if it weren’t for studying and trying to focus on Korean from early on. You’ll be able to drastically expand what you can accomplish professionally with a solid grasp of Korean. 

It’s also important to take it easy. With language learning, it’s far too easy to set unrealistic expectations for ourselves. You have to accept that you will not understand everything and that it’s okay to ask for clarification. Learning a language is a process and I’m also learning every day! 

Axel Lemus's journey from KDI School to his impactful career in Sejong showcases the transformative power of interdisciplinary education and the doors it opens for graduates. 

As an active alumnus, Axel continues to inspire and contribute to the KDI School community. We celebrate his achievements and look forward to witnessing the positive change he continues to bring to the field of environmental resilience and sustainable development. 

If you’d like to connect over a cup of coffee, you can reach out to Axel by his email (alemus@kdis.ac.kr) or Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/in/a-lemus/

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AIBEK KYZY, Elina

2023 Spring / MDP / Kyrgyzstan

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