Northern meets South with Korean exchange

China’s stock market plummeted 9 percent Feb. 27. The resounding crash sent shock waves throughout the world and caused billions of dollars in losses across the globe, including the United States. Last October, North Korea’s tyrannical dictatorship detonated its first nuclear device.

These events demonstrated that Asia “will play a huge role” in the world, according to Northern Kentucky University professor Dr. Kenneth Rhee. Rhee also added that it is important for students to understand what that role will be.

“Things happening here impact things in Asia, and vice versa,” Rhee said. “It doesn’t matter where it starts.”

That’s why he and Dr. Michael Klembara, director of International Programs, have collaborated to set up a student and faculty exchange program, which focuses on leadership in the digital age, with Hansung University in Seoul, South Korea.

“It puts them in the middle of Asia,” said Dr. Kevin Kirby, an NKU professor of computer science who taught at Sogang University in Seoul from 2000 to 2001. “It’s very cheap and easy to visit China and Japan. It’s a short flight to Tokyo, a short flight to Beijing.”

Kirby is one of several professors who, before the ink had even dried on the contract, expressed interest in the exchange. Dr. Carol Medlicott, a geography professor who specializes in Korea, is another. She points out that Korea is “the only place in the world where the Cold War is still going on.” This makes it a “crucial” part of our national security, and therefore a place that “Americans should be concerned about.”

So, with this in mind, Klembara and Rhee worked with one of Rhee’s colleagues at Hansung University to set up the exchange. Located in a trendy central Seoul neighborhood, it sits on Tae Ha Ko, which translates as University Street. A campus of 7,000 students, it will be exchanging only two students with NKU under the agreement.

Students will still pay their home institutions, according to the agreement, but will have to obtain money on their own for necessities, including health insurance. However, Klembara tells NKU students not to fret over funding.

“There is money available,” he said, provided students are willing to earn at least 12 credit hours while there. “These are academic expenses to be given to students who have the academic motive.”

Korean students coming into NKU have to pass the TOELF, a standardized test that gauges their skill with English. The contract mandates that Korean students must score at least a 500 (paper-based) or a 173 (computer-based).

NKU students have no language-proficiency requirement. While both Klembara and Rhee encourage students to learn Korean, it isn’t necessary.

“Hansung has assured me that there’ll be sufficient classes in English,” Klembara said.

Students would have the option of living in Hansung’s dorms or off-campus, possibly in the surrounding area, which is already full of students.

But this is only the first step in the contract, according to Klembara. NKU and Hansung are hoping to take it a step further, allowing 20 to 25 Korean students to study at NKU for a semester. NKU would then send 10 to 15 NKU students for a summer sojourn. However, this part of the agreement is still in development.

Still, Klembara and Rhee are pleased with the current contract. They feel that Hansung is an appropriate partner.

“We have a similar history, a similar set of aspirations,” Rhee said. Kirby echoed his view, saying that Hansung “is comparable to NKU.”

Also, Kirby said, Korea is a very welcoming country, a fact Elizabeth Groeschen, a Northern Kentucky native who resides in Seoul, found when she arrived there.

“I was most surprised by the general hospitality, extreme friendliness and feeling of safety, even in this huge inner-city sprawl that is Seoul,” she said.