More than 40 Korean-American leaders from civic, political and business sectors visited South Korea in March as part of a professional leadership program offered through the Network of Korean-American Leaders fellowship program, which is supported by the Center for Asian-Pacific Leadership at the USC School of Social Work.
The program promotes community-based leadership among Korean-American leaders, bringing them together in the classroom with some of USC’s leading educators and giving them access to the resources they need to pursue their goals, build coalitions and communicate effectively as empowered leaders at all levels of American society.
Fellows are generally either second-generation Korean-Americans or Korean-Americans who left Korea at a young age. While many have extensive experience with Korea and the Korean-American community, others have little knowledge of where they came from, have never worked with other Korean-Americans and have few Korean-American friends.
The trip gave the group an opportunity to forge a connection with Korea and to learn more about their Korean identities while also taking advantage of networking opportunities.
Robert Kim, a principal with the real estate development firm Renaissance Pacific Properties in Newport Beach, was delighted to have the opportunity to visit the land of his birth. Kim left Korea at the age of 12 and had not been back until the recent trip, 26 years after he left.
“Going back to the ‘motherland’ was certainly eye-opening and certainly not the way I remembered it as a child,” he said. “I learned that Korea is not so different than the United States, and yet, it is so different at the same time. There are lots of unwritten rules and customs that I was not aware of growing up in the U.S. The country is very complex.”
Fellows had the opportunity to meet with influential Korean policymakers and businesspeople, including former president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kim Dae-Jung; Lee Yong-Hee, vice speaker of the Korean National Assembly; and Kim Shin-Bae, president and CEO of SK Telecom.
Gloria S. Kim, the annual fund manager of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association, said the trip to Korea was the best she has ever taken. Kim left Korea at age 10 and has been back to visit in recent years.
“The unique combination of cultural and historical lessons, with updates on the current political, economical and cultural state of Korea, was very engaging and informative,” she said. “Korea’s key leadership in the IT industry impressed me beyond my expectations. It made me feel very proud to be a Korean-American.”
Kim also gained knowledge about herself while learning about the past. “I have gained a better understanding of my parents’ generation and their culture, mindset and priorities,” she said. “Learning more about their lives prior to immigrating to the U.S. helped me to connect with the first-generation Koreans more effectively.”