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Professor Kim Sung-han of Korea University & Professor Cha Heewon of Ewha Womans University: “Every Citizen Becomes an Ambassador in Public Diplomacy”

People > Professor Kim Sung-han of Korea University & Professor Cha Heewon of Ewha Womans University: “Every Citizen Becomes an Ambassador in Public Diplomacy”
Professor Kim Sung-han of Korea University & Professor Cha Heewon of Ewha Womans University: “Every Citizen Becomes an Ambassador in Public Diplomacy”

Diplomacy used to refer to the relations between nations and between governments, but now this notion is changing. The era of public diplomacy is opening with citizens, students, and all members of the general public displaying their own influences, both great and small, in everyday life. But how familiar is the concept of “public diplomacy” to those who were born and educated in Korea? The KF and seven universities in the Seoul metropolitan area will begin regular courses on public diplomacy in September, sharing the need to expedite awakening in this area. For this interview on public diplomacy, the KF invited Professor Kim Sung-han of the Korea University Graduate School of International Studies and Professor Cha Heewon of the Ewha Womans University Department of Communication and Media, who share the belief that public diplomacy is not only an academic subject that can be taught and learned but is the foundation of mutual understanding for smooth communication in the global era.

The term “public diplomacy” is quite widely used these days but it still is not easy to define it. How would you explain the term?

Kim Sung-han: The term “public diplomacy” may be misunderstood as a concept countering “private” diplomacy. To put it simply, public diplomacy is the activity of publicizing Korea’s attractive qualities to non-Koreans from all walks of life. The targets include politicians, journalists, officials, and other opinion leaders as well as students, citizens, and non-Koreans living in Korea and overseas. The government may play a leading role, but diverse sectors of society—local administrations, private organizations, educational institutions such as colleges and universities, businesses, and civic groups—can also take part in the selection and systematic rendering of cultural and historical elements of Korea that greatly appeal to foreigners.
Cha Heewon: My ideas are mostly similar to Professor Kim’s. All diplomatic activities of the government and non-governmental organizations are public diplomacy. It is an act of approaching peoples of other countries, departing from the traditional ways of government-to-government diplomacy. It is not a one-sided argument or persuasive propaganda, but it means forming a true bond of sympathy and building trust on such a basis through communication. It is important to enhance the image of Korea, but, fundamentally, it is imperative to form a positive relationship with the target country by understanding it better and getting closer to it. If we define public diplomacy as popular diplomacy based on such soft powers as beliefs, values, policies, systems, culture, and tourism, it will be easier to understand.

Are there any small things you always make sure to do for public diplomacy apart from your research or public lectures? Do you have any basic public diplomacy guidelines you try to keep when you go overseas or meet foreigners in Korea?

Kim: I have a policy I stick to for overseas academic conferences or policy consultations on diplomacy, politics, security, and national defense: not showing conflict within the Korean delegation at public forums. And I abstain from regional and political remarks, even jokes that may flare up into controversy. I have my own political beliefs and values, but I think I can maintain balance and observe etiquette by not showing them in public settings. While I have heated debates with Korean experts, I try not to look or sound partial to one side when I speak to foreigners or have meetings with them. For instance, when the government’s policy or stance is different from mine, I don’t criticize it in my talks to foreigners. It is good to present diverse views, but foreigners may easily misinterpret such views as lacking in ivism, as polarizing or inviting conflict. For me, diplomacy is something that must value balance more than anything.
Cha: Unlike Professor Kim, I do like to talk about things in daily life. Wherever I go, I try to learn and understand the atmosphere, culture, way of living, and the situation of the government and the nation. I sometimes express my interest and hope to get close to them. I listen carefully when the locals talk and I watch closely how they behave. While there, I want to live exactly like them. When my intentions are true and sincere, people seem to open their hearts and become comfortably close to me. It’s like being absorbed.

There may be many people who find teaching public diplomacy at universities rather unusual. How have Korea University and Ewha Womans University come to conduct public diplomacy education with the KF? Would you tell us about the background and goals of the programs?

Kim: There were few foreign students at Korean universities in the past. About ten years have passed since the rush of foreigners at institutions of higher learning began here. Globalization and internationalization were emphasized in the 1990s, but international students were hard to find on campuses then. Under such circumstances, few felt the need to educate students about public diplomacy. However, things have changed dramatically. Do you happen to know that Korea University alone has over 5,000 international students? In a word, the significant numbers of international students in Korea are the major target of our public diplomacy. Young men and women of different nationalities and backgrounds have come to our schools with cultural curiosity and intellectual inquiry, and we need to give them accurate, comprehensive information and strive to be friendly with them. In a country like Korea that depends heavily on foreign trade, it is essential to form a favorable atmosphere for foreigners, and Korean students should have systematic education to such an environment naturally.
Cha: A few years ago, I did research on communication, media, international relations, and public diplomacy at Syracuse University in the United States as an invited scholar. Syracuse had a joint degree program linking international relations and international public relations that offered two master’s degrees to majoring students. I thought such an interdisciplinary program conferring double degrees was very important for students and that it was worth trying at our university’s master’s program, as it would bring forth lots of synergy among the involved parties. Later, I opened the Public Diplomacy and Communication courses at the graduate level focusing on media with special emphasis on national image and branding. I taught media diplomacy and Internet diplomacy as a way of public diplomacy utilizing media. When Ewha and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs co-founded the Public Diplomacy Center on Ewha’s campus, I worked as a member of the steering committee.
  Ewha has a good many international students. Some 30 percent of the students in almost all the departments at the undergraduate level are Chinese. They study as hard as their Korean counterparts and are outstanding in academic performance. As I communicate with them, I learn a lot, too. A variety of public diplomacy projects are under way in China, and the students are conducting research in various ways, comparing similar examples and working out plans. Public diplomacy is an academic subject and an activity that may develop both professors and students, and Ewha hopes to promote it more under a long-term plan.

At the Public Diplomacy Academy, where do your universities pay keener attention in terms of choice concentration?

Kim: Korea University should not function simply as a place for public diplomacy education, but it can be a stage for public diplomacy in itself. All the professors and students can carry out proper public diplomacy on campus and outside. In the fall of last year, we opened the Korean Diplomacy Colloquium and invited former ambassadors, providing international students with the opportunity to learn varied diplomatic examples by region and theme. Students exchanged information and opinions on how Korea views other countries and how other countries see Korea, conducting actual public diplomacy. Many foreign students gave favorable feedback on the meeting, saying that they had come to understand Korea better, and some students suggested that it would be beneficial for Korea and China to include such discussions in their diplomacy. Korea University will provide international students with the chance to naturally enhance their understanding of Korea, aiming to contribute with its own know-how and experience to the systematization and development of Korea’s public diplomacy.
Cha: There are great and small differences of orientation and approach in international relations and political diplomacy, and in communication and media. We would like to programs that combine two academic subjects properly and bring up experts who are well-versed in public diplomacy theory and practice and are capable of carrying it out. We pursue a public diplomacy of scalability that truly understands and respects other cultures and interacts with people of other countries through non-unilateral communication. Young students of today are all good at using social media, and we want to expand their accessibility to public diplomacy by using diverse online channels in helping them access public diplomacy with interest and sharing examples. We will study how the general public can upgrade a nation’s image and value through social media and the Internet. We will take the lead in spreading the value of soft power diplomacy and promote, at the same time, the introduction of double degrees for related subjects.

Would you brief us on your major classes and activities for the 2018–2019 academic year?

Kim: Korea University has prepared classes and activities with the aim of training public diplomacy specialists through hands-on education. We will train undergraduate and graduate students interested in public diplomacy to become practical experts. We will produce and make public in-depth K-MOOC lectures as a way of opening the door to public diplomacy to citizens and stimulating their curiosity about and interest in the field. Our classes and activities for the second semester of 2018 and the first semester of 2019 are focused on practice and action, training of professional manpower, and production and distribution of content for public lectures.
Cha: Ewha Womans University conducts a program introducing collegians as well as younger students at elementary and secondary schools to public diplomacy. By showing them various examples and enabling them to think that “In a sense, this can be a public diplomacy activity,” we try to promote their understanding and recognition of public diplomacy. If our education infuses them with the belief and value that each one of them can serve as an ambassador, all Korean youths will be able to respect and sympathize with foreigners from an early age and will ever broaden their fields of diplomatic activities.
  In addition, we have prepared classes and activities that teach how to maintain the proper attitudes and ways of conduct towards foreigners in Korea and abroad. When Koreans know the history and culture of other countries, they can comprehend more easily what the foreigners like about Korea and what they find uncomfortable about the country, and their communication with foreigners will become easier, too. Our programs encompass a variety of classes and activities from basic courses for the public to intensive hands-on training of personnel. They also include the mentor-mentee program in which KF officials participate and the expansion of research through the Korea-Germany Forum.

What would you expect the students to do after completing the public diplomacy education? Please give them some words of encouragement and a piece of advice.

Kim: I expect them to work as public diplomacy experts or as supporters. For Korea, public diplomacy relates to everything from peace and security to international trade, development, and cooperation, and Korean Studies. We hope to produce many students who can give appropriate introductions and explanations about Korea-related topics to foreigners even if they don’t major in such subjects. We want to give them lots of homework and food for thought. The classes will not be easy.
  As for students who take other career paths than diplomacy or related jobs, we hope to bring them up as supporters who are capable of conducting public diplomacy activities in their everyday lives. We frequently see students who undergo an identity crisis at the Graduate School of International Studies, and I think public diplomacy can be a means of changing their thinking positively by cultivating their ability to publicize fascinating things about Korea. Today, we can see everything in the world as the target of public diplomacy. I believe we have a great opportunity to carry out public diplomacy projects with concerted efforts of the students, professors, and staff members, making all the involved parties into winners.
Cha: I, too, hope all the students in our classes will grow into public diplomacy experts, but my greater hope is to see their thoughts about diplomacy develop during each and every class, and to see their attitudes and ways change accordingly. If a person believes that he or she can contribute to foreign relations, the person will become an adult who cares and respects foreigners and sympathize with them. I hope young men and women of today will keep that in mind and carry out wonderful public diplomacy by making the best use of their superb online and social media skills.

Interviewed by Kim Daniel


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