On July 25, 2014 20 young leaders descended upon Washington DC to partake in the 2014 U.S. Congress – Republic of Korea National Assembly Exchange Program. This unique program, funded by the Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and jointly sponsored by the U.S. Congress and Korean National Assembly, is designed to broaden the perspectives of Korean and American young people on: the legislative process; the history of U.S. – Korean relations; and current economic, political, and security aspects of the bilateral relationship. The program also provides the U.S. and Korean participants with first hand experience of each other’s people and culture, and creates opportunities for participants to form long-lasting personal contacts.
This motivated and enthusiastic group of leaders included university students and legislative interns from both the United States and the Republic of Korea. The unique summer opportunity would prove to be an educational, enjoyable and unforgettable example of cultural diplomacy, and leadership exchange.
After a busy first week the group was asked for reflections on what they had seen and experienced thus far. Korean participant, Jae Hyun Park, nominated by Korean Representative Yoon-Joe Shim and American participant, Leorah McGinnis nominated by Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO) in their own words talk about this first week of the program, their expectations, surprises and lessons learned.
Mr. Jae Hyun PARK
Among those plentiful of reasons that made me have positive impression on DC, one thing made me think that DC is such an amazing place is the fact that it is so well planned and constructed. So much so that it is hard to get lost in this beautiful place, even though I am not quite familiar with its geography or it’s streets. Divided into four districts, and having very straightforward rules for naming the streets, showed me that it obviously is a planned city. Of course, it gets a little confusing if there is a gigantic roundabout in front of me, but with the friendly people in DC, it wasn’t such a big deal. The fact that I could see Washington Memorial from most of the governmental buildings was also one of the reasons I liked the city so much.
I’m pretty sure that we were on a tight schedule, as we had busy sequence of meetings, though I’ must admit- they were all quite useful! From the first meeting we had in Meridian International Center about the federalism in U.S., most of the briefings and Q&As were quite informative, and gave me ‘daily bread’ for thinking. One of the discussions that I considered quite intriguing was with Victor Cha, from Center for Strategic and International Studies, and how he thinks the Sino-Korean relationship and all the irrational behaviors that DPRK is showing right now, are not part of DPRK’s normally well-structured strategy. He mentioned that Sino-Korean relationship is solely for the DPRK issue, whereas I had previously thought that it was more about the two countries’ geographical backgrounds( withstanding the DPRK issue) and economic interests. Also, I had strongly believed that the DPRK’s had its own concrete strategy, but Victor seemed to think those behaviors were due to an unexperienced, childish and juvenile young leader. I would like to share a link of an article that I strongly agree with for those whom are curious about what my thinking of the strategy of DPRK’s is.
I had a wonderful experience on Capitol Hill thanks to my dear counterpart Steve Smolinsky. He planned to have me visit some very interesting things, such as: the announcement for the publication of a book focusing on drug policies; a captivating hearing about the Malaysian Flight 17 with featured a bunch of congressmen including the honorable chairman of the sub-committee, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher; and I witnessed the voting procedure that Senate is currently going through. With all these visits, he allowed for my marvelous and somewhat dream-ish objectives to be realized by deepening my understanding of the legislative procedures in the United States of America.
So, again, I really would like to show my appreciation to everyone for all the things happened in DC, and hope the U.S. delegations and Bogdan to have safe flight to ICN and have good time over there until we meet each other again in Seoul.
Ms. Leorah MCGINNIS
DC was a really great experience for me because I don’t live or work there. I got to enjoy it on the same tourist level as our Korean counterparts. I think my favorite meetings from the week were the panel at the Mike and Maureen Mansfield Foundation and the cultural lecture at Meridian. It was entirely fascinating and I learned so much! I particularly enjoyed the cultural lecture because I find it fascinating from a scientific perspective. I think my least favorite was the second economic lecture, mostly because we’d already had one dose of economics that day and the I found one of the panelists to be rather grating in terms of demeanor. One of the panelists had interesting things to say, but another continually cut him off and came across as disrespectful both to his colleague and to us in a couple situations. The term “lost generation,” though I understand his intention with its use, makes me bristle. Our generation faces unique issues to which those before us have few parallels. Terms that imply that we are uninterested, self-centered, etc. as a whole make me incredibly angry because in fact we will be dealing with issues on an entirely new globalized scale while trying to correct the messes of our predecessors. Anyways, enough of that rant.
The food in DC was pretty good everywhere. Ben’s Chili Bowl was quite the experience, and I really liked the food at the Asian restaurant with the Alumni Dinner. It has been interesting to have such a structured schedule. I know I’m learning so much, both about Korea and about my own government. There are things that surprise and frustrate me and things that I am quite proud of as an American citizen, one of which being the Library of Congress. I admit that I was rather moved to tears by the immense impression of so much knowledge housed in such a beautiful place. How could an academically minded individual ask for more?
I do wish we had more free time. It stinks plain and simple that we’re so structured and everyone is pretty tired by the end of the day. One of the biggest parts of the program is to build connections and bonds across the delegations, but we have so little time to really go out on our own and get to know each other as fellow 20-somethings in a normal social setting. And I was bummed that we didn’t have more time to look at things, particularly at the war memorials, on the evening tour of the monuments. But honestly, there will never be enough time in life for everything one wants, so if I should have only one complaint, it is a understandable one. If only there were more hours in a day.