Passion for the past leads grad to future

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While Sanghun (Justin) Kim was busy digging up the past, he was looking forward to the future.

Pursing both a bachelor’s degree in Medical Sciences and a major in Classical Studies, Kim has an appreciation for how the two naturally intersect.

“I appreciate modern medicine,” he said. “But I like the old – be it history or people – and that’s why I’m focusing on geriatrics.”

On June 19, Kim will join more than 300,000 Western alumni living around the world as a newly minted graduate and member of the Western Class of 2020.

This fall, he begins his graduate studies at Oxford University where he will pursue a master’s degree in Global Health Science and Epidemiology.

Kim believes it was his experience at Western’s Vindolanda Field School that clinched his acceptance into the prestigious program.

“When I was doing my interviews for admission into the program, I felt like it was my love of antiquity that helped me stand out from other candidates,” he said.

The 2019 Vindolanda Field School was Kim’s first international experience. It was marked by an unprecedented stretch of warm, sunny weather, which led to less mud but far more insects.

“The biting, blood-sucking bugs seemed to love me best,” he laughed. “I was uncomfortable at times, but excavating a Roman shoe was worth any amount of scratches and sore muscles.”

No matter the conditions, Kim saw the work as part of a larger focus.

“There is a special link between classical studies and geriatrics, as both invest time in learning and understanding perspectives often ignored or hard to relate to,” he said. “The speed of technology means that we’re used to things becoming obsolete within a few years, if not months.

“Think about what that means, especially for older adults. The world can seem so foreign, so fast. In this context, it’s all the more important to learn to widen your view.”

Kim’s grandmother taught him the value of different perspectives.

“When we immigrated from Korea, my parents worked long hours and it was our grandmother who essentially raised my sister and me,” Kim said.

Witnessing her struggles as she ages fueled his drive to pursue a career in geriatrics health care.

“Canada is one of the ‘super-aged’ countries, with more than 20 per cent of the population over 65. In 10 years, it’s estimated that more than 30 countries around the world will be in that category.”

In 2019, Kim published two studies – an examination of neighbourhood walkability near Ontario retirement homes and an investigation of health outcomes for older adults with dementia.

“It’s my hope to continue to do research and contribute to this field so future health-care policies better support older adults in our communities.”

After Oxford, Kim is leaning toward completing an MD in addition to his graduate studies with the goal of becoming a clinician-scientist.

He hopes the current pandemic teaches compassion and perspective, especially in younger populations.

“When this started, the conversations seemed to be, ‘It’s no big deal. It’s only affecting old people.’ Old people are bunched together as a faceless mass and not as individuals with value. I am hoping that changes,” he said.

“As the pandemic continues, we must think about how much we need one another. Even if we develop an effective vaccine, there will always be something else that will come along. At this point in human history, some threats can only be faced collectively. We’re learning it now.”