Korea Delegation Visits Campus
From fisheries to foreign policy, a number of issues were on the table recently when a South Korean diplomatic representative came to Bowdoin to meet students, faculty, and staff.
Sangkil Lee is counselor for oceans and fisheries at the Korean Embassy in Washington, DC. He visited campus last week accompanied by an official from the US State Department and a representative from the Korea Economic Institute (KEI), a US policy think tank dedicated to promoting ties between America and the Republic of Korea (a.k.a South Korea).
The visit was part of KEI’s “Future of Korea” program, which aims to encourage economic and cultural engagement between the two nations. Before hitting campus, the delegation took part in a roundtable discussion in Portland on Wednesday, February 1, exploring trade ties between South Korea and Maine. (Korea is an important trade partner for Maine, with exports totaling more than $800 million in the last decade, says the World Affairs of Maine, which organized the event.)
Moderating the panel was former World Bank economist and Bowdoin Asian studies lecturer Bradley Babson, who played a key role in organizing the visit. “This trip was a great opportunity for deepening understanding and dialogue regarding recent developments on the Korean Peninsula,” said Babson. “It also demonstrated how vital our economic collaboration, alliance commitments, and cultural and educational attachments are to the long-standing relationship between the US and South Korea," he added.
The following day, delegates had lunch with a handful of Bowdoin students, along with some faculty and staff, giving all parties a chance to informally discuss a range of issues. “We not only got a real insider perspective on all the exciting work that is being done on the geopolitical front,” said Assistant Professor of Asian Studies John Kim, “but the delegation also provided students with a concrete sense of what a career in diplomacy, foreign service, or international relations might entail. I think the representatives were also quite impressed by the questions and experiences that the students shared with them.”
Math major Edwin Sanchez Huizar ’23 spent a semester of his junior year studying at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. “It was an honor to attend the lunch with Counselor Lee and the other representatives,” he said. “It was wonderful to share experiences, celebrate South Korean culture and identity, and learn about sustainable practices in coastal communities.”
"We not only got a real insider perspective on all the exciting work that is being done on the geopolitical front, but the delegation also provided students with a concrete sense of what a career in diplomacy, foreign service, or international relations might entail." Assistant Professor of Asian Studies John Kim.
Junior Aden Ho said it was inspiring to hear from the delegates about their experiences and pathways that led to where they are today, which opened his mind to a potential career in foreign affairs. “Their passion for Korea was contagious and made me want to visit even more.”
Ho’s classmate Ciara Tran said that, as a prospective government and Asian studies major interested in east Asian international relations, she relished the occasion. “It was fascinating to be able to synthesize these international perspectives within the state of Maine and gain a new understanding of the intersections between policy issues facing both Maine and South Korea, particularly those pertaining to the environment and fishing industries.”
The issues of fisheries management and the environment were revisited after lunch when the delegation met with Holly Parker, director of the Schiller Coastal Studies Center. Parker delivered a presentation in which she talked about the economic importance of Maine’s lobster fishery—it makes up about 85 percent of the state’s fisheries—and the threats that are presented to it by climate change.
Parker also discussed efforts to grow the state’s burgeoning aquaculture sector, a subject that resonated with Sangkil Lee, who, before coming to the US, managed South Korea’s aquaculture industry. It’s an industry that’s now twice as big as the caught fishery, he explained, and he was encouraged to see the efforts being made at Bowdoin and in Maine generally to promote sustainable aquaculture. Lee was especially excited to learn that Bowdoin operates its own kelp farm, which supplies ingredients to Bowdoin Dining Services. Seaweed is an important part of the Korean economy, he said, and it’s growing in global popularity—in part thanks to the spread of K-Pop culture!