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Diaries from Seoul
This September, Human Freedom Manager Jieun Pyun, Leadership Programs Manager Chris Walsh, and Human Freedom Fellow Victor Cha led select Liberty and Leadership program alumni on a week-long training program in Seoul. The scholars took home lessons about South Korea’s democratic transition and economic growth. Below are daily team check-ins from Jieun and Chris.
Day 1: (9/16)
Our 15 scholars arrived in South Korea today and are ready for an exciting week. We started things off by introducing them to the sites and culture of Seoul with visits to Choson Dynasty’s Gyeongbokgung Palace and Insa-dong with its network of traditional teahouses and Korean art galleries. We finished the day hiking to Namsan Tower that rises high above Seoul where we had dinner at the very top. What a view! Then it was off to bed... we’ve got a full week ahead.
Chris and Jieun
Day 2: (9/17)
Our first full program day set a good tone with a visit to the Museum of Korean Contemporary History, providing our scholars with historical and political context on the post-World War II Korean peninsula and South Korea’s transition from dictatorship to democracy. We also enjoyed a conversation with the museum’s director, Mr. Chu Chin Oh, and took a fantastic picture at the top of the building with Gyeongbokgun Palace, Korea’s Blue House (the “South Korean White House”), and mountains in the background.
Afterward, we went to the Asan Institute (our gracious hosts for this trip) for an in-depth discussion with various experts on South Korea’s democratization and economic growth, including Dr. Hahm Chaibong, Asan’s President. One of the most interesting parts of the conversation was the feeling that South Korea’s entrepreneurial class was the true engine of the country’s democratization.
Lastly, we toured Myeongdong Cathedral, a center of democratic activism during the country’s transition. Very inspiring!
Chris and Jieun
Day 3: (9/18)
We finished up a busy but good day in Seoul. Started off this morning attending the CSIS conference on "Reconnecting Asia." We were able to stay for the first panel, which was a very interesting discussion on a potential railway system that would integrate North and South Korea, spark greater economic development in North Korea, and also connect the Korean Peninsula to Europe. With President Moon Jae-In (of South Korea) arriving in North Korea for talks with Kim Jong Un moments before the discussion started, lots of attention was paid to the issue of denuclearization. The scholars enjoyed it and appreciated South Korea’s forward-looking vision for the development of such a railway system, even though it seems unlikely in the near to medium-term.
From there, we took a bus to Suwon to visit Samsung's Digital City. It's an impressive complex. We started by touring the Innovation museum, which the scholars loved. Every exhibit was interactive and engaging and did a good job of showcasing where Samsung started (as a general store) and how it developed into a global brand name. After the tour, we had a good conversation with Mr. Won Kyung Kim, Samsung's Vice President of Global Public Affairs. He talked about some of Samsung’s corporate social responsibility projects in Burma, and the scholars were eager to ask about Samsung's development as a company, its interest in Burma, and how it balances profit with giving back to the community. The scholars even offered some recommendations on things Samsung could do to improve their outreach to the Burmese people.
We finished the day having dinner with Dr. Jaehyon Lee of the Asan Institute, where the scholars got to know him and ask questions.
Sending hugs from Seoul!
Chris and Jieun
Day 4: (9/19)
Day 4 went really well. We visited the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), which is similar to the U.S. Agency for International Development. While there, we met KOICA’s president, Ms. Lee Mikyung, and learned about South Korea’s transition from an aid recipient to a donor country. Dr. Cha was impressed by our scholars’ thoughtful (and tough) questions.
After enjoying some Korean barbeque with a Wall Street Journal reporter, we had a great visit at Seoul City Hall. Things kicked off with a historical tour, including going beneath the building where they have preserved the remains of an old Choson Dynasty building.
The Mayor had to join President Moon for the Pyeongyang summit, and so the Vice Mayor graciously met with us. We had a terrific conversation about effective city management in a democratic society.
We miss you all!
Jieun and Chris
Day 5: (9/20)
Everything went well today! Good discussion at Asan Institute on civil society. The scholars really enjoyed it. It focused on Korea’s educational system (during which we compared South Korea and Burma), tolerance in society, and challenges for civil society in South Korea. Then we continued the conversation with the panelists over lunch. We got to talk with Sehyek Oh (a North Korean defector who now works in South Korean civil society). He shared his incredible story and was really excited about our North Korea scholarship program and thanked the Bush Institute for doing it.
Afterward, we had a good reflection session with the scholars – got a lot of good thoughts from them regarding the program and how they planned to share the experience when they get back home.
The day concluded with a visit to the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Again, our scholars had lots of insightful questions that I think gave our hosts new perspectives on engaging with Burma.
We finish up tomorrow at the National Assembly.
Chris and Jieun
Day 6: (9/21)
Today was a good day! We spent the morning at the National Assembly and met with Representative Na Kyung Won. She was inspiring for our scholars and offered valuable perspective on public service in a democracy.
We went back to the hotel afterward so the scholars could complete their evaluation surveys and brought them to the airport to say goodbye. It was no surprise that during the ride, the scholars filled the bus with traditional Burmese singing (and even a few verses of “We Are the World”). Overall, it was really rewarding to see it all come together. Thanks to everyone for making the Seoul program pilot something of which we can all be extremely proud!
Chris and Jieun
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- Instagram users: Check out more highlights from the trip!
Jieun Pyun is a Manager for Human Freedom Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. She is primarily responsible for development and implementation of the Liberty and Leadership Forum, an innovative educational and training program that equips young leaders with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed during a democratic transition. The program currently engages young leaders from Burma (Myanmar).
Prior to joining the Bush Center, Jieun was the communications director with the John G. Tower Center for Political Studies and a fellow of the Sun & Star Program on Japan and East Asia at Southern Methodist University.
Jieun currently serves as a council member of the National Unification Advisory Council of the Republic of Korea and the Dallas/Fort Worth Association of Korean School Principals. As a proud member of the Korean Women's International Network, Jieun works to promote women’s leadership in local, national, and global politics and society. Jieun is a writer and presenter who has brought to light the many urgent issues suffered in North Korea.
A native of South Korea, Jieun is a graduate of Southern Methodist University with an M.B.A and B.A. in Corporate Communications and Public Affairs.Full Bio
Christopher Walsh serves as a Manager for the Human Freedom Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. In this role, Christopher manages communications, evaluation, and public policy research projects that advance freedom and democracy in the world. He also develops and implements efforts to make the Bush Institute a welcoming place for today’s generation of dissidents and democracy advocates, overseeing visits for training, inspiration, and insight.
Prior to joining the Bush Institute, Christopher worked with the International Republican Institute in Washington, D.C. As IRI’s program officer for Central and Eastern Europe, he coordinated political party building and civic advocacy programs in the Balkans and Turkey.
A native of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Christopher is a graduate of American University with a B.A. in International Studies. He currently lives in Dallas with his wife and three young children.Full Bio
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