【International Scholar】An Eight-Year Academic Relations: An Interview with Minjae Choi, Postdoctoral Researcher from Partner University, Korea University

Publish Date:2024-04-05 00:00:00

When entering the College of Public Health, one is greeted by meticulously landscaped gardens surrounding the building. For Minjae, accustomed to the stress of Seoul, this serene environment offers a welcome respite, fostering relaxation and comfort. After completing his daily tasks, he puts on his sports attire, walking through the garden to jog in the neighborhood of the College of Public Health. His boundless energy and vitality exude a youthful aura, and he looks like a college student. On the day of our interview, Minjae, in a striped shirt paired with round-frame glasses, warmly welcome us with a big smile. His journey with Taiwan began in 2015, marking the inception of his connection with the country.

From the initial visit to being a visiting scholar

In 2015, Minjae made his first trip to Taiwan, accompanying friends to explore the country's allure. Despite limited interactions with locals, Taiwan's beauty left an indelible impression on him. Eight years later, he returned, this time as a visiting scholar collaborating with Professor Shu-Sen Chang. Alongside his work commitments, he eagerly seized the opportunity to delve deeper into Taiwan's cultural and natural wonders, immersing himself in temple visits and scenic landscapes. The breathtaking beauty of Taroko National Park particularly captivated him.

During his Master's studies in Public Health at Korea University, Minjae first encountered Prof. Chang through his research paper. While revising his thesis on "the analysis of social epidemiology,"Minjae found resonance with Professor Chang's research, sparking admiration for his achievements. Surprisingly, during Minjae's doctoral studies, his advisor, Prof. Myung Ki, invited Prof. Chang to share his research at Korea University. Seizing the opportunity, Minjae volunteered to pick up Prof. Chang from the airport. During the journey, Minjae enthusiastically shared his research with Professor Chang, initiating a profound discussion. Impressed by Minjae's initiative and dedication, Prof. Chang promptly shared several research papers with him as soon as returning to the hotel, leaving a lasting impact on Minjae.

In 2023, Minjae proactively reached out to Prof. Chang expressing his desire to collaborate on research in Taiwan. With his expertise in suicide prevention research in South Korea, Minjae joined NTU's College of Public Health as a postdoctoral researcher, eager to contribute to their shared research interests.

What Factors Impact Our Mental Health?

Growing up in the South Korean countryside, Minjae experienced a significant shift when he moved to Seoul for his studies. Amidst the academic pressure and societal expectations prevalent in the capital city, Minjae grappled with thoughts of self-injury, a struggle not uncommon in South Korea. As evidenced by its high self-injury rates within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), South Korea faces significant challenges stemming from academic pressures and workplace environments. Recognizing that mental health issues, including self-injury, often stem from socio-economic factors such as social isolation and economic hardship, Minjae embarked on a mission to address these issues during his Master's studies.


During Minjae's years of research in South Korea, he witnessed the country's efforts to allocate resources for suicide prevention. Recently, the South Korean President delivered a speech emphasizing the government's commitment to suicide prevention. This marks the first time a South Korean President has addressed the issue of self-injury prevention in a national address. However, Minjae believes that preventive efforts require more support from epidemiological empirical research. Minjae finds that Prof. Chang's utilization of trend analysis and spatial analysis, approaches less commonly employed in South Korea's research, aids in revealing the potential inequalities inherent in the phenomenon of suicide.


Joining Prof. Chang's research team, Minjae was initially impressed by their collaboration with Taiwan Lifeline International (台灣生命線). Concerned about the rising rates of teenage self-injury in Taiwan, Taiwan Lifeline International established the “Adolescent Mental Health Online Support Platform (青少年心理健康網路支持平台).” Prof. Chang conducted case studies on users' experiences with this platform, evaluating its effectiveness in providing assistance—an entirely new concept for Minjae, who hopes to introduce similar initiatives in South Korea. Additionally, recent developments in Taiwan include the Ministry of Education (MOE) recommending that higher education students can apply for up to three days of mental health leave per semester. This policy leads Minjae to believe that South Korea, where students face immense academic pressure, could benefit from similar policies and research initiatives. By learning from Taiwan's diverse support approaches for teenagers, the South Korean government could better address mental health challenges among students.

Apart from differences in research environments and methodologies, Minjae noticed numerous stress-relief approaches available in daily life in Taiwan. He observed the abundance of temples, which he views as beneficial public spaces where individuals gather to pray and engage in discussions to alleviate stress through the power of faith. Additionally, he was impressed by the vibrant sports culture at NTU. Despite busy schedules, many students participate in jogging, playing sports, and engaging in various activities on campus, creating an energetic and lively atmosphere throughout the NTU campus.

For Minjae, jogging gradually became a favorite interest. It provided him with moments of self-reflection, a break from the hectic pace of life, an opportunity to appreciate the city's beauty, and interaction with his surroundings. Over time, jogging evolved into a stress-relief outlet, and he developed a deep affection for the sport. During his stay in Taiwan in late 2023, Minjae participated in the Taipei Marathon, experiencing the encouragement of spectators and the vibrant energy of the city as he ran alongside fellow participants through the lively streets of Taipei.


Growing together with NTU faculty and colleagues

Stepping into Minjae's office reveals a clean and organized desk, with journals and research papers adorned with highlighted passages on the left, while books on research methodologies and self-injury prevention occupy the right. Following a meeting with Prof. Chang, Minjae promptly projects a spatial analysis diagram about his research, initiating a discussion. Minjae eagerly shares his findings, while Prof. Chang offers personalized insights drawn from his extensive professional experience. The interaction exemplifies the mutual respect and affection between these two scholars.