Journey unites Korean leaders here and abroad
As the group of Korean Americans gazed upon the War Memorial of Korea in Seoul, South Korea, they were reminded of the sacrifices of those who came before them, many of whom were their own relatives, that made their lives in the United States — and as global citizens — possible.
“Korea is extremely appreciative of all the friends who have made it the country it is today,” said Patrick Chung, a venture capitalist whose own father has expressed to him how thankful he is to the United States for its role in the Korean War. “The memorial is for everyone who helped; it was a global effort. It reminded me that Korea feels like it has friends and doesn’t forget them. Everybody in Korea knows that friendships are important.”
Those friendships served as the backbone for a weeklong trip to the Republic of Korea hosted by the USC School of Social Work’s Network of Korean-American Leaders (NetKAL), which unites accomplished individuals from a broad cross-section of industries to promote collective civic and professional leadership in the Korean-American community. The network’s fellowship program, of which Chung is a member, selects emerging Korean-American leaders to receive training through a six-month series of intensive workshops and seminars.
The goal of the cultural exchange trip to Korea — the third since the organization was founded in 2006 — “was to strengthen existing ties and expand NetKAL’s growing network of connections between the United States and the Pacific Rim,” said Jehoon Lee, director of the USC Center for Asian-Pacific Leadership, which manages NetKAL and planned the trip. “For fellows, especially those who had never been to Korea before or who hadn’t been back in a long time, seeing how the country has changed and hearing from leaders in a variety of fields helps them better understand their place as 1.5 and second-generation Korean-Americans. Trips like these enforce NetKAL’s mission of nurturing well-rounded, civic-minded leaders.”
Next year will mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, an event that produced waves of Korean immigration to the United States. And while many sought more prosperous lives abroad, many have also gone back to their home country as it has managed to move from the third world to the first world in a matter of decades. Korean companies Samsung, LG, Hyundai and Kia are now well known in Western countries.
“Korea is stepping up more and more as a leading light in the entire world,” said Stewart Kim, managing partner and founder of PGP Capital Advisors, who serves as a NetKAL adviser and board member. “Witnessing firsthand on the trip this best-of-breed competence along with its admirable confidence and sense of global responsibility is heady stuff, and all Korean-Americans should feel both that pride and accompanying responsibility to be caring, ethical and productive citizens of this world.
“I think NetKAL’s fellows are well aware of this new place in the world that Korea holds and that increased respect from others. We need to work with that and make it even better,” Kim said.
The rising reputation for leadership is why NetKAL held its annual gala and summit in Seoul this year. The events focused on the influence of Korea beyond its borders by bringing together leaders in business, education, entertainment, nonprofit organizations, politics and media to celebrate and discuss the accomplishments of Korean-Americans, as well as the role they will play in the future of their community and the world.
The gala featured performances from Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Kenny G, Korean pop artist Yangpa and Korean-American R&B and hip hop group Aziatix. The event was held at The Raum, Korea’s premier social venue. The summit, which was held the next day, engaged Korean-American influencers in dialogue through speaker panels and networking activities.
Topics included Korea’s influence in business and technology; diplomatic relations between Korea, the United States and other parts of the world; Korean-American civic engagement; and the influence of Korean popular culture. Jin Roy Ryu, chairman and CEO of Poongsan Group, one of the largest manufacturers of metal products and munitions in the world, gave the summit’s keynote speech.
Highlights from the rest of the trip included visits to Samsung headquarters and the presidential Blue House, Korea’s equivalent to the White House. NetKAL fellows also participated in volunteer activities at an adoption agency, a North Korean refugee resettlement center, a soup kitchen serving seniors and a youth mentoring workshop.
“The trip was an amazing showcase for NetKAL,” Chung said. “I’m still impressed with the connections NetKAL has. Everyone was very open and friendly, and because we were all there as NetKAL fellows, the ice was already broken. This isn’t easy, especially in Korea, where you traditionally need to know someone to have a connection like that.”
Chung also expressed his gratitude to NetKAL for helping him become a better leader by giving him the tools to develop his potential. He described the fellowship experience as transformative.
“The last time I felt this way was in college. The personal development has been incredible for me,” he said. “NetKAL gave me permission to be more outgoing, bold and aggressive. Now I think, why not do more? I look at the positives rather than the negatives.
“You have potential, so they give you tools to do your thing, which then helps the community,” Chung added. “You’re a part of a larger mission. NetKAL is a very big part of my life and always will be.”