Alumni Profile

James Kim-Russell

Kia ora,

My name is James Kim-Russell and I am a New Zealand Diplomat posted to South Korea.

I attended Middleton Grange School from year 9-13 (2003 to 2007). My favourite subjects were lunch-time, P.E. and cooking class (because we got to eat what we cooked). I knew the detention room pretty well and loved sport. I was not a top student or a prefect, but MGS was an amazing launching pad for me. I made friends that remain some of my best friends today. I saw teachers put their faith into action and I was given the space to explore who I was and who I wanted to become.

I had four ‘gap years’ between school and university where I continued to explore who I wanted to be and what I might do with my life. I built railway tracks through the desert in Western Australia, drove cranes and lashed cargo ships at the port in Lyttelton, built roads with City Care, and volunteered at faith based organisations such as YWAM. It was an amazing time of fun, adventure, and exploration. A big part of this was realising that the God I had heard so much about growing up was real and knowable.

During this period, my mother died of cancer, and I was forced to confront whether I would continue to pursue a relationship with God or not. I am really glad I decided to turn to God for help at that time rather than trying to chart my own course. This experience became foundational in my faith, and I am grateful God led me through it.

When I was 21, I decided to give university a go. I had seen enough poverty and suffering in the world to want to try do something that might make it a better place. I felt that I would never be world-class at something I didn’t enjoy thinking about in my spare time, so did a Bachelor of Arts to explore what I might like. I settled on History and International Relations for a Double Major, then completed my Honours Degree in Diplomacy at the University of Canterbury.

In the summer before I started my honours, I volunteered at an NGO that did poverty alleviation work with the ultra-poor (people living on less than 20c a day) in the Philippines. This sparked an interest in International Development, so I applied for an internship in the international development section of New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT). Surprisingly, I got the role, and I moved to Wellington for what became an 8 month internship overseeing health, climate change, energy, and transport development projects in the Pacific.

This experience placed me well for a permanent role in MFAT. Since then, I have overseen the delivery of approximately $100 million of New Zealand’s development assistance to Kiribati (a small developing state in the Pacific), worked as the Acting Deputy High Commissioner to Kiribati (where I lived for a period), completed full-time official language training for two years in Korean, and I am currently the Head of the New Zealand Embassy in South Korea’s Political Section. This involves leading New Zealand’s political engagement with South Korea, explaining security and political issues in this region (including North Korea) to our government and providing advice on how New Zealand might respond. I will be moving back to Wellington soon to take up a new role in headquarters as a trade negotiator.

It has been an amazing ride. I could not have imagined the plans God had in store for me when I was a student at Middleton. If you had known me back then, you would know that it is only by His grace that I am here.

I hope my story encourages you to see potential in yourself and those around you. It is amazing the adventures you can have when you pursue the dreams God has for you with everything you have got.