Written by Henry Sirgo, Senior Lecturer ’07-08
Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, memorably noted that “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Well, since arriving at Incheon International Airport on 30 August 2007, I have always depended on the kindness of Koreans in what has been a wonderful opportunity to serve as 2007 -2008 Fulbright Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Science &. Diplomacy at Yonsei University.
Underwood International College, the Graduate School of International Studies and the departments of political science and public administration have afforded me with numerous opportunities for international collegiality and intellectual exchanges. Early in September I attended a seminar on “Constitutionalism and Administrative Discretion.” There I met Professor M. Jae Moon of the Department of Public Administration. He fairly rapidly recruited me to participate in one off-campus program and one on-campus program.
The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development Asian Centre for Public Governance (OECD) sponsored the off-campus program. In my capacity as Resource Speaker I gave a Powerpoint presentation titled “Executive Branch Reorganization and Innovation in the United States, to The Second Multi-country Study Mission on Public Governance for Asian Public Servants” which was held at the Ramada Seoul Hotel on November 20-21, 2007. Elements of the presentation included “STATE LEVEL REORGANIZATION” and “HURRICANES KATRINA & RITA.” Before the semester was over I would also chair a student panel on leadership which featured Vietnamese students.
The OECD which was established in Seoul in May of 2005 has also enabled me to participate in luncheons with the Ambassadors of Indonesia and Denmark, and numerous other embassy officials. I spoke with the Indonesian Ambassador for the second time at a function sponsored by the Graduate School of International Studies of Yonsei University in New Millennium Hall. Earlier the same day I was able to reminisce about the late Nelson W. Polsby with Professor David Brady of Stanford University who was speaking on the topic of partisan polarization in the United States. The thrust of Professor Brady’s talk was that the amount of it in the present-day United States is exaggerated.
We had first met in 1986 when he along with Professor Nelson W. Polsby of the University of California-Berkeley were both working at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences which is located on the Stanford University campus. I was visiting Professor Polsby at the time. Professor Polsby wrote a letter of recommendation on behalf of my Fulbright appointment and sadly passed away due to congestive heart failure during February of 2007.
Professor Harold F. Bass, Jr, Dean of Social Sciences at Ouachita Baptist University and President of the Southwestern Social Science Association, delivered the eulogy at Professor Polsby’s memorial service. Dean Bass was also the last Ph.D. stu dent of Professor Avery Leiserson, who had served as department chair to Dr. Young C. Kim at Vanderbilt University. Dr. Kim delivered an address titled “Japanese Policy towards North Korea: Koizurni Diplomacy and Politics of Abduction, Nuclear Weapons, and Normalization” to the Underwood International College QUAD Lingual Forum 2008. Dr. Kim was touched when I asked him about Professor Leiserson who had counseled the then-young visiting professor on how to make the use of his impressive language skills and secure a publication in the American Political Science Review.
Professor Youseop Shin of the Yonsei University Department of Political Science has guided me through intellectual exchanges, as well as to the top of N. Seoul Tower and to fine dining in Insadong. Victor Cha, retired from the Korean Broadcasting System perhaps deserves the most praise or blame depending on one’s perspective for keeping me alive in Korea.
I managed to hike up Mount Dobongsan in Bukhansan National Park. At least I managed to do so by, at least on three occasions, being kindly pulled up by kindly Koreans. A current day Blanche Dubois, I depended on the kindness of Korean strangers. Being a resident of the lowest of the fifty states, the “Bayou State” of Louisiana, I was exhausted by the excursion and ably assisted back down by Mister Cha, who has also seen that I have been well-fed on three different occasions since then.
Having been directly affected by Hurricane Rita and observed the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, as well as having frequently driven guests down the Creole Nature Trail in Southwest Louisiana to observe migratory waterfowl, and in order to gain a comparative perspective on the protection and restoration of wetlands, I excitedly accepted an invitation from Ms. Namue Lee of the United Nations Development Programme/Global Environmental Facility Korea Wetland Project (KWP) to participate in the Wetlands Conservation in Asia Symposium which focused on regional cooperation. Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian and Thai presenters dealt with topics including Byung Goo Go’s “Wise use of agricultural fields in Korea.” Sansanee Choowaew’s “Rice paddies and biodiversity in Thailand.” Yoshito Ohsako’s “Restoration of wetlands and agriculture for the stork reintroduction in Japan.” and Mashhor Bin Manser’s “Biodiversity in Malaysian rice agroecosystem.” The National Museum of Korea was the host site for the symposium which also included a field excursion of the Hangang Estuary.
Unfortunately I missed the latter due to somewhat of a scheduling conflict with a seminar on the geopolitics of Korean security which was hosted on campus by the Department of Political Science & Diplomacy of Yonsei University. Oh well, at least the National Assembly elections are over and the flowers are in full bloom. Professor Christoph Bluth of the School of Politics and International Studies of the University of Leeds gave a presentation titled “The geopolitics of North East Asian Security and the crisis on the Korean peninsula.” Yonsei University graduate students asked insightful questions.
The Ministry of the Environment has a task force which is preparing to host the 10th Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Ramsar Convention in Changwon in late October and early November of 2008. I will not be there, but rather will be sharing my Korean insights with McNeese State University students in Lake Charles, Louisiana.