Professor Keum Hie-yeon is a professor at the Department of International Relations at the University of Seoul (UOS). He has contributed tremendously to the overall success of the university and has been one of the key pillars that has made UOS a multicultural environment. He has been a professor at UOS for over two decades, but sadly this is his last semester before he retires. The UOS Times found it resourceful to interview him and hear a few words from him before he leaves.
Professor Keum Hie-yeon interviewing with The UOS Times
Please introduce yourself
Hi, my name is Keum Hie-yeon, a professor at the International Relations Department of the University of Seoul, teaching East Asian Studies and Domestic Politics and Foreign Policy of East Asian countries such as China, Japan, Korea and Thailand. I first joined the UOS faculty in 1996, so it has been 23 years since I first came here.
What are some of the differences that you have noticed between when you first came to UOS and now?
The biggest difference is the number of buildings, when I first came there were not many buildings. The second thing is that the University has improved a lot, and is now one of the top ten schools in the country.
What are some of your outstanding achievements and valuable contributions during your time at UOS?
In 2004 I received a phone call from the former president of the University of Seoul requesting to see me. Upon meeting him he suggested that I build an international office because at that time there was none. Although it began as just a tiny building, I became the Vice President of the Office of International Affairs. When I took that job there were only two sister schools that were Japanese and Chinese universities which were in collaboration with UOS. So I visited a lot of countries in Asia, Europe and so forth and three years later, when I stepped down from the position, the number of sister schools was about fifty. Whenever I see so many international students on campus, I become proud because I recognize the fruits of the seeds I planted.
What were the obstacles that you faced as a founding father of the international office while you were trying to establish those partnerships?
Not many students knew about Korea then, and the second thing was that North-South Korean relations were regarded as worrisome, and so not many parents were willing to send their children to Korea. The other problem was the language barrier because not many lectures were delivered in English at UOS. In order to overcome this problem, I created Summer School, which is a program that is in English and allows international students to travel and explore Korea as well as to immerse themselves in Korean culture. Our students also get the opportunity to go on exchange programs in countries such as Russia, Mongolia, China, Japan, Turkey, Britain, Poland, U.S. and Germany, to mention but a few.
Professor Keum taking photo in front of his artifact of calligraphy
Are there any interesting teaching moments you are willing to share?
When I first offered some courses taught in English, not many enrolled. Maybe one or two students were able to speak a little English, but now, many students in my classes speak English proficiently.
What would students be surprised to find out about you?
I had an interview with a Chinese student years ago and she thought I was half Chinese. However, I did not major in Chinese language, but out of curiosity and interest I started learning Chinese by myself. It has been 46 years since I started learning Chinese and while I was working on my Master’s Degree I went to Taiwan, and there my Chinese became even better. Another language I learned was Japanese, which I have been studying since 2002, and I was finally able to go to Japan and teach during my sabbatical year, but at the time my Japanese was not that fluent so maybe after my retirement I will go back to Japan. I also speak fluent English and Korean and the next language I want to learn is Russian. I am only 65 years old, so I believe there is room for more learning.
If you could share any wisdom with your students, what would you share?
Many students want to go to developed countries, but I think there is more opportunity for growth in developing countries. They can learn the language and become acquainted with cultural relativism. In Seoul, there is not much to see so I would suggest they travel to developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia. The other thing I want to tell my students is to get out of the library. A desk is the most dangerous place to look at the world from. You should experience the world outside and not from a desk. Lastly, do not be afraid of making errors; ask questions.
Any last words before retirement?
My learning will continue even after my retirement. As I said, I will learn Japanese and Russian. Retirement is the official end of my teaching at UOS but it is not the end of my dream or motivation. I will travel around the world and challenge myself more.
Indeed, Professor Keum will be remembered at UOS even in his absence. He is truly inspirational and has left long lasting footprints. We thank him for his service and contributions and as he retires, we would like to wish him all the best in all his endeavours.