Seijin Tranberg enrolled at Georgia Gwinnett College with no clear direction, but thanks to the inspiration and support of faculty and some deep soul searching, he is now on a mission to affect international change.
“After high school, I took a step back to accept my faults and immaturities, realizing they weren’t conducive to a sustainable, happy lifestyle,” Tranberg said. “I knew I wanted to be happy. Who doesn’t? But to do so, I felt that I had to be a more conscientious and selfless person with purpose and direction.”
Ready to pursue a college degree in 2009, he enrolled at GGC because it was close to home, where he was helping raise his younger brothers.
“I planned to transfer after two years, but I found a lot of hidden gems at GGC,” he said. “I realized I could be a ‘big fish in a small pond,’ and help develop the campus community, so I decided to stay.”
Tranberg’s rigorous schedule included an off-campus, part-time job, serving as one of the college’s first resident assistants, and later jobs as a sushi chef, a waiter and a retail salesperson.
Despite his hectic schedule, Tranberg was inspired to take on leadership responsibilities through the support of his professors in his freshman year, notably Drs. Jessica Damián and Jen Wunder, both then associate professors of English, and Drs. Keith and Amy Erickson, both associate professors of mathematics.
“Having accomplished professors who saw potential in me helped me believe in myself,” he said. He was an influential leader in the Greenlight Activities Board, founded the International Affairs Society and started discussions about establishing honor societies. Reaching ever higher, he was elected president of the Student Government Association for 2011-12 and re-elected the following year.
By Tranberg’s sophomore year, his interest in global leadership came into sharper focus.
“Until then, my major was undecided,” he said. “But with the help of Dr. Damián and Dr. Anthony Pinder, the college’s first director of Internationalization, I earned an alternate position for a prestigious national fellowship that selected only 20 students. Being that close to winning convinced me that I had potential in political science.”
With a clearer academic vision, Tranberg, who is Japanese-American, incorporated study abroad programs into his education. He spent a summer at the University of the Virgin Islands in a global leadership program. He also spent a semester in China in an intensive Mandarin Chinese language program that included courses in foreign policy, culture and sociology.
GGC selected Tranberg to attend the annual Student Conference on U.S. Affairs at West Point Academy. There, he met Rhodes Scholar finalists, as well as Truman and Fulbright Scholars who encouraged him to apply for these highly-competitive programs. Realizing his strong desire to examine international problems and work towards their solutions, he applied for a Fulbright Scholarship in 2013 and won.
Tranberg opted to spend his Fulbright year in South Korea because he believes the Koreas and China will play larger political and economic roles in the coming decades.
“I think unification of the Korean peninsula will happen in our lifetimes, and it will be one of the greatest opportunities for international cooperation and conflict resolution,” he said. “The U.S., China and the Koreas have an exciting future, and I hope to be involved in solving some of the social and developmental challenges that lie ahead.”
Conversational in Korean, Mandarin Chinese and Japanese, Tranberg has continued his academic career’s fast pace while in South Korea. He spent his first semester teaching English to high school students. During the 2014 spring semester, he began studying for the GRE, preparing a student team for the U.S. Embassy-funded Youth Diplomacy and Activism Conference (YDAC), assisting in the YDAC diplomacy program, and leading weekly tutoring sessions.
He recently earned yet another honor by being selected as an orientation coordinator for more than 70 incoming Fulbright Scholars, and will help develop an intensive six-week summer program to prepare them for their South Korean Fulbright experiences.
As if Tranberg’s schedule wasn’t busy enough, he also is independently researching the social dynamics of South Korean millennials regarding increasing acceptability of tattoos and other traditionally taboo topics – a sign of a changing society.
“I’ve found that each generation is markedly different from those before,” he said. “In three generations, South Korea has gone from a war-torn, farm-based society to having the world’s 12th largest GDP. I’ve found millennial South Koreans to be much more progressive, curious and open about societal shortcomings, while eager to enjoy the fruits of their rapid development and hard work. I’m interested to see where this generation will lead their nation in coming decades.”
Looking toward the future, Tranberg plans to do management consulting for two years before enrolling in an MBA/MPP program.
“By that time, I hope to have gained enough financial, policy and general professional acumen to simultaneously solve social and developmental challenges using market methods,” he said.
With such a vision, Tranberg has come a long way from the disillusioned, directionless young man of only five years ago. He gives strong credit to GGC and its professors for the intense focus he now has on his future.
“As a student who didn’t know how to apply to colleges and had no real career ambitions, GGC made all the difference,” Tranberg said. “Coming from a family that scraped pennies to get by and didn’t have much experience with higher education, I have a lot of mentors and professors to thank for providing a great support network. If my life had a theme song right now, it would be ‘Happy,’ by Pharell Williams.”