From staying at a remote Buddhist temple to learning how one of the world’s largest cities functions, students from Indiana University are getting a close up look at life and government in South Korea.
The students attend IU Bloomington’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) and are participating in the Seoul Metropolitan Government internship in Seoul, South Korea. The program, an example of IU’s robust and expanding presence in South Korea, is now in its fourth year. It has welcomed about 20 SPEA undergraduate and graduate students who are assigned to a variety of city offices in Seoul depending on the needs of the government at the time.
This year’s cohort from SPEA includes five students interning in offices ranging from Urban Safety to International Relations. Conner Sullivan and Taylor Cagle are undergraduates and Kamil Khan, Patrick Gower and Taylor Jordan are graduate students.
Sullivan, a SPEA undergraduate majoring in Management, is assigned to the Seoul Welfare Foundation, a nonprofit that conducts research and provides social services. He has analyzed programs for the Foundation, including its innovated “Hope-Plus” initiative that’s aimed at helping impoverished Seoul residents save for education, housing and business start-ups.
“The experience in Seoul has been terrific,” Sullivan says. “This will serve a wide-range of possible career options including the fields of social welfare, politics and public administration. Equally as important, the program has offered me an opportunity for personal growth and development as I experience a new culture, perspective and way of life. It truly has been a fascinating ten days, and I look forward to the remainder of the internship.”
That initial impression is echoed by students who have already completed a Seoul internship.
“This was the most amazing experience abroad that I have had yet,” says Nikki Ashkin who interned in Seoul in the summer of 2012. “Seoul is an incredible city with countless things to do. Some of my favorite memories include participating in a Buddhist temple stay, attending a traditional Korean wedding, hiking up a mountain in JeJu during a monsoon and creating friendships that will last a lifetime.”
The internships offer more than just memorable overseas adventures. Joseph Franza worked with several government divisions in Seoul. “I wrote policy reports on best practices for emergency management, park and landscape management a report for the Mayor of Seoul analysis regional economic development plans in Chicago and in his city,” Franzwa says. “Working in an international office provided a different perspective on work habits and culture in other nations.”
The Seoul-Bloomington connection was forged by SPEA Professor Emeritus Roy Shin and SPEA Executive Associate Dean David Reingold. “The internships broaden the outlook for students,” Shin says. “Not only do they see the world in a different way, they also get a range of experiences that employers will find attractive. By opening one door to northeast Asia, they open many doors.”
That’s certainly the case for Sebastian Ibarra who graduated from SPEA in May, 2013. After interning as a student in Seoul, Ibarra is used his contacts and savvy to arrange a post-graduate internship at the Ministry of the Environment in Mongolia.
“South Korea is one of the world’s most dynamic countries and these internships put our students in the center of the action,” Reingold says. “Not only do they learn about the city’s government and its culture, they also are exposed to like-minded students from around the world.” Some 300 students from 44 nations have participated in the program.
The exchange of students goes both ways. As President Michael A. McRobbie noted during a May visit to the country, 1,025 students from South Korea attend IU. That accounts for more than a 10th of IU's international enrollment of 7,700 this past academic year.
IU also has an active alumni chapter in Seoul that nourishes programs such as the SPEA Seoul internships. With more than 1,000 active members, it is one of the university's largest international alumni groups in the world.
The program is just one example of SPEA’s deepening ties with countries along the Pacific Rim. SPEA recently announced academic collaborations with universities in Thailand and Hong Kong and another is in the final stages of negotiation.