The Road to World Citizen via South Korea

Isabelle Foster (left) speaks to Lieutenant Commander Daniel McShane (right) at the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Photo by Nicole Feldman.

By Isabelle Foster, a first-year student in FSI’s Ford Dorsey Master’s Program in International Policy.

With the perpetual discussion of North Korea in the news, there has never been a more opportune time to visit South Korea. As my first expedition to Asia, this trip has not only sparked an interest in the continent but also has allowed me to reframe what I have learned in the classroom. Since coming to Stanford, my goal has been to become a more “global citizen.” To do so, I need to explore the world. Moving across the country to come to Stanford was my first step. Seeking opportunities to travel with the university was next.

Isabelle Foster (left) and the other students talk with Choe Sang-Hun (right), a correspondent to The New York Times, over lunch. Photo by Nicole Feldman.

Visiting South Korea over spring break as part of the Ford Dorsey Master’s Program in International Policy study trip has been an important milestone in not only achieving my aforementioned goal, but also to make me think more critically about international development, the area in which I am concentrating. The concept of development itself is large and encompasses many topics. With an economic, political, and social dynamic, it can be hard to fathom how all these pieces come together. Seeing Korean development firsthand helped me better understand the interplay of these topics. Everyday, I witnessed something that helped me understand the trade-offs and competing priorities that inevitably come about as a country develops. Constructing new skyscrapers was juxtaposed with walking through an ancient palace, making it clear to me that the balance between culture preservation and economic growth requires significant consideration. At the same time, encountering the choking smog as we walked out of the airport was another reminder of the side-effects of rapid expansion. It begs the question: how does a nation manage its environmental concerns with the desire for industrial growth? All of these observations elevated what I have learned in my classes and demonstrated how the topics we discuss have very real applications and consequences.

Just past the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History sits Gyeongbokgung Palace, the first cultural stop on the students’ trip through Seoul. Photo by Nicole Feldman.

Traveling it is not only about the where but also the who. One of the particularly unique aspects of this trip was the privilege of traveling with our faculty advisor, Ambassador Kathleen Stephens. Hearing her stories enhanced the experience and brought a greater historical dimension to our journey. As we walked through the gallery of the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History, she pointed to a student protester and explained how she had met with him several times. Hearing her explain the story from a first-person perspective made me realize how history is not just something that is written on a wall, it is something that is lived and made by people everyday.

Kathleen Stephens, FSI’s William J. Perry fellow, tells the students about her experiences as U.S. ambassador to South Korea from 2008 to 2011. Photo by Nicole Feldman.

Seeing the country in person, wandering through the city early in the morning, and hiking up Seoul Tower made Korea tangible to me. It imbued a greater interest in the region as I now feel more emotionally connected and attached to the political topics, culture, and people that I have met. Exploring the country — throughout the day and in different regions — provided me with an understanding that goes beyond reading a textbook or discussing policy in class. My exploration exposed me to the multifaceted nature of development and the real-world challenges and considerations that come about when it is implemented.

Sunset over Seoul. Photo by Nicole Feldman.
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