In 2011, the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government had a visit from a member of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, the capital of South Korea.
Taesik Yun was a doctoral candidate in the School of Public and International Affairs’ public administration and policy department at the time and remembers the official asking Rusty Brooks, then the director of International Center at the institute, why the university didn’t have a Korean governmental training program in the institute since it was something that was offered in Seoul.
“Since then, we try to have Korean faculty and staff at the institute to run a Korea program and invite visiting scholars from Korea,” Yun said.
Thus began the UGA Korea Program, originally in the Vinson Institute, that invited government officials from Korea to come and train at the institute, building connections with local and state officials in Georgia and learning about American government systems.
Yun joined the UGA Korea Program a year later in 2012 after finishing his doctorate and now acts as the program director and coordinator.
“We develop customized training programs for either long-term training, which lasts about two years, or for people who are coming to Georgia for just a few weeks,” said Yun.
The UGA Korea Program developed relationships with many local and central government agencies in Korea, including the Seoul Metropolitan Government, which has a group of nearly 50,000 local officials. The program has grown to host multiple Korean students and visiting scholars at UGA each year.
“We are currently receiving up to five students in our MPA program every year from the Ministry of Personnel Management, which oversees and manages HR related issues for all the central government officials in Korea, and I’m assisting the program by coordinating and managing some courses that the students are required to complete in our MPA program,” said Yun.
The visiting officials in the program have to complete 41 credits, just like the UGA Master of Public Administration students, but during the last semester, they take other courses that are more practical for incumbent government officials, such as the Global Leadership and Development program that SPIA’s Korea Program offers twice a week with other long-term visiting scholars from Korea throughout the semester.
“The other thing they do is a local government group project with a city or a county in Georgia,” said Yun. “We partnered with the Georgia Municipal Association to find projects for our students. I’ve been helping all those activities and teaching related to those local government practicums.”
In addition to assisting the MPA program, Yun also provides trainings for visiting officials from Korea.
“Each long-term visiting scholar will have their own research topic and training need, so we assist their research and training but also provide some common topics for visiting scholars to help them understand us and U.S. culture and the system that will help their own research and training while they are staying here,” he said.
The Korea Program moved to the School of Public and International Affairs in summer 2021 and has been providing its services to the Korean students and visiting scholars jointly with the Center for the Study of Global Issues since summer 2022.
The UGA Korea Program also works with other student exchange or joint degree programs, particularly with Sungkyunkwan University and Seoul National University in Korea.
“We invite students to come over here and learn about the American political system, administration system and the context, and then we assist with their research in public administration policy,” Yun said.
By building the governmental relationships over time, Yun has also helped partner Korean counties with Georgian counties. Yun gave the example of a partnership between Taean County in Korea and Glynn County in Georgia.
“They have very similar geographical locations having the oceans nearby and beaches, so they have some common challenges from the local points. I tried to help them to understand the situations and find solutions in their own context,” he said.
Yun lived in Seoul for 30 years before coming to the United States for higher education. He earned a master’s degree at Duke University and then made his way south for his Ph.D.
When asked why he chose to stay in Athens, Yun said, “I love the feeling of the city because I lived for a long time in a big city like Seoul with 10 million people living together. When I came to Athens, this is a very small city compared to the cities in Korea, and I liked the nature and the cultural differences. Culturally, it is very fulfilling. The university provides a lot of access to the community, which we cannot enjoy in other small cities in the U.S.”
Yun said that the program tries to show the visiting students and scholars the unique culture of Athens, particularly a love of Georgia football.
“We try to purchase tickets for our visiting scholars so they can try tailgating before they go to a game,” he said. “When I first got here everyone was so crazy about watching football, but I didn’t know even the rules. Why are people fighting each other? They stop so many times. But now after watching football games for over a decade, I finally know the game, and watching football is my favorite. So, I try to explain the basic rules [to the students] so they can enjoy watching, too.”
Yun has become involved in one of two Korean churches in Athens and says he has found a strong Korean community here. He also said there is a large group of Korean people in North Atlanta, and since there is a direct flight from Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to Seoul, it is easier to invite more Korean visitors.
“I cannot forget how much support we received from our colleagues at the university as well as local and state government officials in Georgia in the past decade, and I hope the Korea Program can continue bridging the two nations and contribute to creating more opportunities for people in Georgia and Korea,” Yun said.