On a sunny and clear day such as today, and especially in the evening, the Seoul skyline is a truly spectacular sight. A dazzling outline of South Korea’s largest and capital city is formed by mountains, hills, skyscrapers and other modern high-rise business and apartment buildings – including the recently opened Lotte World Tower, now the fifth-tallest building in the world, and the Seoul Tower, the iconic communications and observation tower located high on top of Namsan Mountain. On the ground below, the Han River, Seoul’s most defining landmark, intersects the bustling city streets where cars, buses and taxis zoom past Starbucks and other coffee shops, contemporary shopping malls, convenience stores, chic boutiques, old-world markets, museums (Seoul has more than 100!) and grand palaces, several of which reside on sites dating back to the 14th century.
All of this reflects the continuing historical, cultural and economic importance – and the recent global rise – of South Korea, one of the fastest-growing, developed nations in the world, the third largest economy in Asia and the 11th largest on the planet. It is also among the world’s most technologically advanced and digitally connected countries, a leading exporter in the consumer electronics industry, as well as one of America’s most vital economic, political and military partners in the region.
South Korea increasingly looms large over geopolitical affairs, as evidenced by today’s events. As members of the Indiana University delegation embarked upon their first series of meetings in Seoul, South Korea President Moon Jae-in was preparing to sit down on Tuesday with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong-un, at a three-day summit meeting in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. There, the two leaders were expected to discuss denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, U.S.-North Korean relations and the possibility of declaring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War. The conflict ended with an armistice that has left the Korean Peninsula technically still at war.
News of another inter-Korean summit underscored the critical importance of the university’s continued engagement in East Asia toward facilitating greater understanding of the people, political forces and pressing issues impacting this strategically important part of the world.
The IU-Korea connection
An urgent need for graduates with genuine international and intercultural skills and competencies has led, in recent years, to IU’s commitment to expand and enhance its longstanding, deep and extensive ties to Korea.
Case in point: More than 8,000 international students are enrolled at IU. Of that number, over 700 students are from Korea, making it the third-leading country of origin for international students at IU, and they continue to make vital contributions to the academic and cultural life of the campus.
Over the past several years, IU has seen a dramatic increase in the number of its students – now more than 50, up from 14 just four years ago – choosing to study abroad in Korea. Students from IU’s Kelley School of Business, for example, travel to Korea to learn about emerging economic markets. Groups from IU’s top-rated School of Public and Environmental Affairs have also traveled to Seoul to study the effects of globalization on Korea’s government, business and nonprofit sectors. In 2015, student members of the IU Chamber Orchestra in IU’s world-renowned Jacobs School of Music traveled to Seoul for a series of unforgettable and high-profile concerts, culminating in a performance at the Seoul Arts Center, Korea’s foremost art and culture complex.
Many IU faculty members have extensive research collaborations with faculty members at institutions in Korea, and IU’s institutional partnerships with Korea’s leading universities are among our strongest international research and educational partnerships. For example, IU’s partnership with Yonsei University is now more than three decades old (more on this in a bit), and the university has agreements in place with Ewha Womans University, Seoul National University and Sungkyunkwan University, among others in Korea and many more throughout Asia.
What’s more, today there are more than 5,100 IU alumni affiliated with Korea, and they include successful business leaders, government officials, faculty members at Korea’s leading universities and members of the diplomatic core. Our Korean alumni, who make up the highly active Korea Chapter of the IU Alumni Association, are among our finest, most passionate and most enthusiastic international ambassadors. In 2009, the university held its International Alumni Conference and Reunion here in Seoul, with alumni coming from around the world to participate. In a few days, IU will hold another such alumni celebration, “IU Is Global 2018,” which it expects to be equally successful, in Beijing.
The Midwestern hub for Korean studies
In 2016, the university took a major step forward in committing itself to greater engagement in Korea and, more broadly, in East Asia by formally inaugurating a new Institute for Korean Studies, which is housed within the IU School of Global and International Studies.
The program, one of the only such academic institutes of its kind in the U.S., is off to a rousing start, as it rapidly advances IU’s bold mission to become the Midwestern hub in the U.S. for the study of contemporary Korea.
To this end, during its first year of operation, the institute won a Core University Program grant from the Academy of Korean Studies, a five-year award totaling close to $1 million that is allowing the institute to strengthen Korean studies at IU as well as across the Midwest at four partner institutions: Purdue University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.
In more recent months, under the able leadership of Seung-kyung Kim, director and inaugural Korea Foundation Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, the institute has added faculty expertise across various aspects of Korean studies, including inter-Korean relations. The institute has also begun revitalizing a graduate student program; launched a scholar-in-residence program with inaugural scholar and IU Jacobs School of Music graduate Young Ju Lee from Daegu National University of Education; and led various conferences, colloquia and special programming, such as a film screening at IU Cinema this year.
On Monday morning, IU President Michael A. McRobbie, Vice President for International Affairs Hannah Buxbaum, Director Kim and their fellow IU delegation members traveled to a satellite city just outside Seoul to meet with representatives of the Academy of Korean Studies – including new President Byung-ook Ahn – to thank them for their support of the institute and discuss future funding opportunities. The IU contingent also provided their counterparts at the academy with a well-received update on other recent progress demonstrating IU’s leadership in international education, foreign languages and area studies. Included in the update was last month’s announcement that IU had received 18 separate grants – more than any other U.S. college or university – under the Department of Education’s prestigious Title VI program.
A day of reinvigoration at Yonsei
The IU delegation would spend most of Monday at Yonsei University, widely considered one of Korea’s most prestigious teaching and research universities and one of IU’s closest international partners. IU and Yonsei have participated in student and faculty exchanges since 1986.
The trip to Yonsei, with its beautiful ivy-covered buildings and lush green campus grounds, provided the IU group with a chance to reconnect with some old and quite successful friends, including IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs alumni Yon Seob Ha and Tae Joon Lah, both of whom teach public administration and occupy high-ranking positions at Yonsei. Both spoke enthusiastically about the number of IU alumni on the Yonsei faculty (around a dozen) and the number of IU students (eight) taking courses this fall at Yonsei, a campus that continues to rise in global stature. Both also talked excitedly about coming back to Bloomington in the coming years and checking out new developments on campus, such as the highly anticipated new International Center, which will soon serve as the heart of international programming and student activities on campus.
Happily, President McRobbie squeezed in a quick meet-and-greet with IU’s eight students studying at Yonsei, who took time out of their busy schedules to share a bit about their studies and time in Seoul.
Next, McRobbie and members of the IU delegation were escorted to the President’s Office, where they met with Yonsei President Young-Hak Kim and Ban Ki-Moon, secretary-general of the United Nations from 2007 to 2016. Ban currently serves as honorary chairman at Yonsei University’s Institute for Global Engagement and Empowerment, which is directing various university expertise and resources toward addressing major challenges such as climate change, poverty and inequality. A positive discussion ensued about reinvigorating the partnership between IU and Yonsei, seeking new opportunities for collaboration and cooperation, and working collectively to build – to borrow from Ban – “better global citizens.”
Finally, at the end of a nonstop day of meetings in Seoul, it was great to catch up and unwind at dinner with some of IU’s most distinguished and accomplished Korean alumni. Among those we were able to see once again were Young-Jin Kim, chairman and CEO of Handok Inc., and William Joo, chairman of MediaWill Co. Kim’s and Joo’s financial generosity helped make possible IU’s first endowed chair in Korean studies, the first such position to be established at IU’s School of Global and International Studies, now held by Seung-kyung Kim. It was also great to see Jae Ha Lee, dean of the SKK Graduate School of Business at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul and current president of IU’s Korea Alumni Chapter.
Together, this group of proud graduates demonstrated that there truly are no better global citizens than IU’s international alumni, who bring their best selves to IU as students, go on to serve as the university’s greatest ambassadors wherever they choose to live and work, and keep all of us closely connected to the people and places that are having an impact all around the world.