PC’s Center for South Korean and East Asian Studies Takes Shape During Overseas Visit

February 2, 2023
Presbyterian College kicked off its signature new Center for South Korean and East Studies by sending a delegation to South Korea last month to build partnerships and relationships.PC president Dr. Matthew vandenBerg, history professor Dr. Roy Campbell, and chaplain and dean of spiritual life, the Rev. Dr. Buz Wilcoxon ’05, ventured overseas to renew historic ties and forge new bonds.

“The global launch of the Center for South Korean and East Asian Studies represents a major accomplishment in PC’s strategic plan and marks a momentous new chapter in the college’s commitment to international education and exchange,” said vandenBerg. “PC’s new and prospective partners are responding with tremendous enthusiasm toward this initiative, which bodes incredibly well for students and faculty on both sides of the world.”

The group visited Hannam University in Daejon, a school with a long history with PC. Formerly, Taejon Presbyterian College, Hannam was co-founded in 1956 by college alumnus Dr. John Somerville ’49, a Presbyterian missionary who served as a professor of history at the university until his retirement in 1993.

At Hannam, vandenBerg signed a landmark agreement between the two schools to reinvigorate and expand their longtime partnership. Both schools anticipate student and faculty exchanges, an immersive virtual Korean language instruction program for PC students, English language training for visiting Korean students, and a pipeline for Hannam students to the PC School of Pharmacy.

The team also visited Korean secondary schools, including Global Vision Christian School, where they met three of the center’s first admitted applicants and area administrators and guidance counselors.

Wilcoxon and Campbell also visited Hanshin University in Osan. At the same time, vandenBerg traveled to the U.S. Embassy in Seoul to build diplomatic connections and brainstorm avenues for the new center at PC.

Spending time with other educators, especially at Hannam, was a highlight of the trip for Campbell.

“During this visit, we had the opportunity to discuss many aspects of PC’s new South Korean initiative, and our friends and colleagues at Hannam seem just as eager to collaborate on such opportunities as faculty and student exchange, Korean and English language programs for our respective students, e-sports, and a special summer program for PC students,” Campbell said. “Finally, we made great new connections at both Hanshin and Handong Universities, and have begun discussing ways to form strong and collaborative partnerships with these two outstanding institutions.”

The group is also exploring multiple groundbreaking church and denominational partnerships in South Korea, home to more than 2.5 million Presbyterians in 7,000 congregations across the country. The group met with several Presbyterian church leaders, including the Rev. Myung Han, PC(USA) ‘s regional liaison for East Asia. Following the meeting, Han generously offered to host an orientation and preparation session for Korean students before they depart to study at PC.

The PC delegation also participated in a press conference with a national Korean media outlet, announcing the establishment of the first-in-kind center, the creation of the Presbyterian Promise Program for South Koreans (eligible, admissible students receive a $20K annual scholarship to attend PC), and more. PC is grateful to its new partners for conveying these exciting messages to potential students across the peninsula.

“Our time in South Korea was filled with many important visits with church leaders including pastors, denominational executives, international missionaries, chaplains, and seminary presidents and professors,” Wilcoxon said. “PC’s deep commitment to the Presbyterian Church was the uniting thread that wove together all of these relationships. We learned about both the success and struggles of Korean churches and dreams together about ways that our mission as a college might be beneficial to our international partners.”

Wilcoxon said the hospitality made the delegation feel right at home.

“As someone who was raised in a culture of southern hospitality, I was blown away by the radical welcome and delicious food that we received from our new Korean friends!” he said. “I look forward to the opportunity to return their hospitality one day soon.”

There were also opportunities for the group to be soccer fans and media stars. Campbell, vandenBerg, and Wilcoxon attended a World Cup watch party for the South Korean national team, where they donned proper scarves and standard-issue blinking devil horns to cheer for South Korea’s Red Devils. At the event, they also ran into a reporter for the Korea Times, one of the country’s largest and oldest daily newspapers. The resulting interview led to PC’s visit making front page news with the lead article for the day.

PC publicly announced the creation of the Presbyterian Promise Program for South Koreans, which provides a $20,000 scholarship to PC for all eligible, admissible students.

Campbell said he looks forward to seeing what the future holds for the center.

“Our visit to South Korea far exceeded my hopes and expectations,” he said. “We had the opportunity to meet with high school counselors and principals, as well as students who have already applied to PC. It was extremely helpful to meet with these students face-to-face, so that we could share the wonderful opportunities that await them at PC should they and/or future students decide to enroll. We especially learned that these students from South Korea would be a great fit for our campus community, and would certainly thrive at PC.”