U.S. Embassy reopens improved media center

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U.S. Embassy reopens improved media center

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American Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert, fourth from left, and other officials from the U.S. Embassy cut the ribbon Friday at the reopening of its newly remodeled American Center Korea in Namyeong-dong, Yongsan District, central Seoul. [NEWSIS]

The U.S. Embassy in Seoul on Friday opened the doors to its newly renovated American Center Korea, a traditional library that was transformed into a digitally supported research and media hub promoting innovative learning methods.

Dating back to 1948, the American Center has received a major face-lift after it was selected last year by the U.S. State Department for remodeling as a digital learning space that offers programs exploring technology, innovation and entrepreneurship.

U.S. Ambassador to Korea Mark Lippert and other officials from the American Embassy attended the ribbon-cutting event for the Grand Reopening of the American Center Korea in Yongsan District, central Seoul.

The event was held after nearly a year of extensive remodeling.

The center will also remain a venue in which to explore American culture, its history, people and policies.

“Many of our programs will be targeting youths,” Kim Sun-nam, the director of the American Center Korea, told the Korea JoongAng Daily on Friday.

“For example, from October we will regularly hold free discussions on the upcoming U.S. presidential elections to increase students’ interest in domestic U.S. politics.”

“Most events will be in English,” she added, “so for anybody interested in English ? more specifically debate-style English ? our programs will be very meaningful.”

Robert Ogburn, the minister counselor of public affairs at the U.S. Embassy, added that the center had shifted from its library concept “in an effort to find a new and appealing way to engage with Korean students and other folks who want to meet and greet and innovate and create and learn more about America.”

The center was selected to be remodeled in 2014 for the Smithsonian Institution Model American Space Project, supervised by the U.S. State Department. “The Smithsonian has been partnering with the State Department for the last three years to help design and propose designs for various American cultural centers around the world,” Ogburn said.

Because of its dynamic staff and efforts to innovate in an incremental way, the center had already been “on their radar,” he said.

“So when they asked if we would like a redesign here, we jumped at the opportunity. And then they sent out three designers last October and they looked at where we were located and what the space was like inside.”

The new design takes advantage of the limited space, and even the old parking lot outside was redesigned.

“A lot of the things that people see now came from the Smithsonian and some of the other ones are ideas we added as well,” explained Ogburn. “Compared to some really, really big mega-libraries, our space is a little bit more limited. So we tried to find a way that space can be used more flexibly.”

This includes a mini-stage that can be used for traditional lectures, concerts and TV-style conferences, and a “fab lab,” equipped with 3-D printers and laser cutters.

Outside, the paring space has been transformed into a new concert stage that can be used for art contests, food festivals and outdoor socializing.

It also features a student advising center for anyone wanting to learn more about studying in the United States and also offers book, film and English clubs.

“We will be doing a lot of outreach programs with schools and colleges, trying to get kids excited about technology,” Ogburn continued. “Part of it is explaining that the U.S. has a role in that but also to encourage entrepreneurship, tech entrepreneurship and innovation.

“We cannot compete with many high-tech places in Korea and we don’t intend to, but we hope to make it a cool place to learn about America in Korea.”

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@jooongang.co.kr]

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