Amidst the hectic year known as 2020, I started and finished SPICE’s Sejong Korea Scholars Program (SKSP), an online program offered through Stanford for high school students interested in Korea. The program was challenging but also rewarding; I honestly loved every moment of it.
My interest in Korea began when I was in elementary school. Growing up in Queens, New York, a New York City borough with a diverse population, Korean culture was introduced to me in the form of food. Although some may think all Asian food is the same, as a Chinese American, I know how vastly different Korean food can be from Chinese food. My Korean American classmates would bring in Korean foods for lunch—kimchi, gimbap, galbi—and because I had never seen it before, I’d always want to know how it tasted. Luckily for me, Queens had a sizable ethnic Korean population and with that came great Korean restaurants. I was a frequent visitor to these tasty restaurants. Through this, I became interested in learning more about Korea, but outside of food, a few videos I had watched, and some information from my classmates, I didn’t know much, if anything at all, about Korea.
Heading into the SKSP, I was worried I didn’t know as much as my classmates. When I started the SKSP, all of my worries subsided. You didn’t need a strong background on Korea or in Korean. I was told that the most important thing to have is a genuine interest or curiosity about the topic, which was something I did have. I also have to say that my classmates were some of the most motivated students I’ve ever met.
And during our biweekly meetings, we would attend lectures with experts on Korea and professionals who worked with Korea. Something interesting I learned from a lecture was that the “BBC Dad” Professor Robert Kelly is a political analyst on Korean affairs, which I don’t find to be a coincidence; instead, learning the fact that Professor Kelly is an expert on Korea shows how widespread and important the study of Korea today is.
We explored a bit of pre-nineteenth century Korean history and then explored more on religions in Korea, colonial Korea, the division of Korea and the Korean War, post-war Korea, the divergence of North and South Korea, and trends in South Korean culture including bits about chaebols and the Hallyu wave. I found a particular interest in the Korean diaspora in Japan, which I learned about when learning about Korea in its colonial period. And because the SKSP has a research component, I wrote my paper on that and enjoyed my time so much because it was a topic I genuinely wanted to learn more about. After completing my paper, I was led to Min Jin Lee’s novel Pachinko, a historical fiction about a Korean family in Japan, and found myself so invested because I had some background knowledge.
Starting the course before the pandemic and completing it during the pandemic was interesting, to say the least. When the coronavirus situation took a turn for the worse, my high school courses scrambled to finish the year, but the SKSP went on normally, and I was able to invest more time into learning about Korea. I have to give props to the course instructor, Dr. HyoJung Jang, and the program coordinator Jonas Edman for keeping the course running smoothly through a worldwide crisis and helping us students with any questions and issues we had.
I participated in the SKSP as a senior in high school, and having taken it right before college has been incredible. This course has helped develop my self-driven learning skills, which I believe will be unimaginably beneficial for me as I head off to begin my first year of college. The SKSP is a college-level course that teaches in the same way college courses are taught, and right now, I find that my experience with the SKSP has prepared me for my college classes that I have only recently started.
The SKSP has furthered my interest in international relations, which I hope to major in at the University of Pennsylvania where I am a freshman this fall. I am definitely looking forward to furthering my knowledge of Korea and hope I am able to visit one day after traveling is safe once again. For me, as someone who came into the SKSP with a curiosity and left with even more, I can’t wait to continue on my path of learning. For those interested in the SKSP, I say go for it. It has changed not only how much I know about the world, but also how I perceive it. I hope SPICE continues to offer this terrific opportunity and students take this opportunity, so they can make a difference in the world.