[Letters] Amazing opportunity to learn about Seoul

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[Letters] Amazing opportunity to learn about Seoul

I have to be honest with you: I never had any intention of going to East Asia. My work is in East Africa, and I have many friends in Europe, so I go to those places every chance I get. I did not have any bad feelings about Asia - I just did not think it was a place I would see in my lifetime. This is part of why I applied for the sixth Seoul Field Trip for U.S. graduate students in public administration co-hosted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) and Korea University from Oct. 23 to 28. It seemed like a great chance to visit and learn about a new place.

As it turns out, I had no idea how much participating in the “Case Study: Policy Management in Seoul” course would change my worldview. I speak on behalf of the entire delegation from Cornell University when I say: We will be back. One week in Seoul opened our minds and our hearts to the wonders, complexities and rich history of your city, your nation and your continent. We arrived in Seoul with many questions about comparative public administration as cities strive to make their mark in a competitive 21st century landscape; we left Seoul with even more questions and a great enthusiasm for continuing to engage with these issues academically, professionally and personally.

Thanks to the generosity and excellent planning of SMG, our delegations from Cornell University, the University of Delaware and the University of Central Florida enjoyed a week packed with valuable information and unforgettable experiences. Lectures at Korea University by SMG officials on the history of Seoul, air quality improvement policies, challenges and achievements for sustainable urban transport, and Seoul’s design policy were especially meaningful and enlightening. Field trips complemented lectures as we traversed the city each day from the top of Seoul Tower to the foot of King Sejong, from Gyeongbok Palace to a boat ride on the Han River, from the headquarters of the Transport Operation and Information Service to the bustling offices of City Hall.

While I enjoyed and learned from all the field trips, my favorite visit was to World Cup Park and the Mapo Resource Recycling Facility. This is an incredible testament to engineering innovation in the face of a major human problem. What a pleasure it was to stroll in this expansive park on a brisk, sunny day, overlooking the Seoul skyline and the majestic mountains that enclose it. The transformation from a toxic landfill filled with 92 million tons of trash to a sprawling recreation facility that can be enjoyed by Seoulites of all ages is truly magnificent.

With a world population that just hit the seven-billion mark, waste management will continue to be a major challenge for densely populated cities and nations. Seoul’s proactive and comprehensive approach to this problem is one that the rest of the world can learn from. I could never have imagined 23 students being so excited to look at trash! But it really was a highlight of the trip, and we trust that Seoul citizens take great pride in this initiative.

No trip to Seoul, it seems, would be complete without a Nanta performance. After a long and busy week, it was great to wind down with hearty laughs at this most unique Korean musical. We especially enjoyed our friends being pulled up on stage!

The overall experience in Seoul was incredible. The attention to detail and consideration of our needs and comfort every step of the way was truly impressive. Of course there is room for improvement in every program. In this case, the schedule was completely full, and I think we would have appreciated some more free time - especially time for shopping (let us contribute more to Seoul’s economy!).

On the whole, SMG staff with assistance from Korea University faculty and student volunteers greeted us with kindness and warmth each day, contributing to a wonderfully enriching experience. The week in Seoul was a testament to Korean hospitality. I have no doubt the SMG staff will use lessons learned from our program evaluations to make the 2012 program even better. Students here at Cornell are already gearing up for it.

As public administration students, we all share a keen interest in politics and felt privileged to be in Seoul for the recent mayoral election. It is fascinating to witness the democratic process as it occurs outside one’s own country. We wish the new administration all the best as Seoul continues to face challenges and embrace opportunity on its vibrant urban journey. We offer our sincerest thanks for the amazing opportunity to learn in and fall in love with your city, and we look forward to the day when we can once again say, “Hi Seoul!”

Meaghan Charkowick, candidate for master’s of public administration

*Letters and commentaries for publication should be addressed “Letters to the Editor.” E-mailed letters should be sent to eopinion@joongang.co.kr.
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