As Korean President Park Geun-hye spoke to a Washington, D.C., dinner audience May 8 about a “trustpolitik” process with North Korea, she broadened her scope, calling on the United States to support her vision for “peace and cooperation” throughout Northeast Asia. Park also addressed a joint session of Congress as she commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Korea-U.S. alliance.
Attending the dinner representing Friends of Korea, Ohio University’s Dr. Gerry Krzic reflected on the economic and political changes since his days in the Peace Corps in Korea. “The dinner hosted by President Park Geun-Hye, first female president of Korea, was a splendid example of the economic, cultural and political development of Korea and the strength of U.S.- Korea ties in the past 60 years,” said Krzic, Director of the Ohio Program of Intensive English, known as OPIE, a unit within the Department of Linguistics.
“When I first went to Korea over thirty years ago as a Peace Corps Volunteer, the country was far from the economic powerhouse it is today,” said Krzic, who earned a master’s in Linguistics and Ph.D. in Communication Studies at Ohio University. “At that time, Korean products were either not widely available or held in low regard. Sixty years later, it is probably impossible to find one household in the United States without a high-quality, Korean-manufactured product. Similarly, the Korean wave of popular culture has swept throughout Asia and finally taken hold in the U.S. with celebrities such as Psy and his ‘Gangnam Style’ becoming known to young an old alike.
“Finally, seeing President Park stand at the podium is a moment for Koreans to be proud as she is the first female president of the country, and her election continues the pattern of government officials being selected through a robust democratic process. Thirty years ago, this was certainly not the case.
“So, as our two countries celebrate the 60th anniversary of their alliance, I feel proud to have made a small contribution through my Peace Corps service. I, along with my fellow volunteers, know that we learned a great deal from the Korean people and hope that we can continue to engage in activities that foster the relationship between the two countries,” Krzic said.
“Building on the extraordinary accomplishments of the last 60 years, we determined to embark on another shared journey toward peace on the Korean Peninsula, toward cooperation in Northeast Asia, and finally, toward prosperity around the world,” Park said in her 30-minute speech, referring to the summit talks she had with President Barack Obama the day before, as reported by the Korea Herald. “The alliance of South Korea and the U.S. will be a cornerstone for the unfettered and reunified Korean Peninsula.” Read the article, “Park says Korea-U.S. alliance base for reunited Korea, region.”
Krzic serves on the Executive Board of Friends of Korea, which was founded by former Peace Corps volunteers who served in Korea. FOK wants to renew the third goal of the Peace Corps—promoting people-to-people understanding between Americans and people of other countries, in this case, Korea. “FOK, to my knowledge, is the most active group of former Peace Corps volunteers and is being touted by National Peace Corps as a model to follow for other returned Peace Corps groups,” said Krzic. “Also, former U.S. Ambassador to Korea Kathleen Stephens is a former Korea Peace Corps volunteer and was the first U.S. female ambassador. She just finished her service in Korea this past year.”
Krzic notes three major FOK projects:
- Through Our Eyes, a book that includes rare photos of Korea during its development and Peace Corps’ time in Korea (1966-81). “Some of my pictures are in the book,” he noted. “President Obama and former President Lee of Korea, wrote remarks in the preface of the book. We were awarded the Van Fleet Award by President Lee.”
- “A Story of Volunteerism” photo exhibits that toured Korea and the United States. “These exhibits highlighted the work of the U.S. Peace Corps in Korea and the work of the volunteers of KOICA—Korea’s own international agency which now sends volunteers across the world. In fact, Korea is the only country in the world that hosted Peace Corps Volunteers and now dispatches its own volunteers. The exhibit ran for over a year in a variety of cities in Korea and the U.S. We had a month–long show in Columbus, Ohio, that I organized along with two other Ohio–based Peace Corps Volunteers. It was the only one that was based in a U.S. city that didn’t contain a Korean consulate. We received coverage in the Ohio State International Affairs newsletter. We just finished another exhibit this past March on Capitol Hill, and it received coverage from National Peace Corps and the Capitol Hill Press.”
- Revisit Trips to Korea. “Through the generosity of the government of Korea, Peace Corps Volunteers have been invited back to Korea to visit their work sites and reconnect with their former Korean colleagues. I am scheduled to go on the last scheduled revisit this October. The week-long program (excluding airfare) is funded and organized by the Korean government as a way of showing appreciation to the volunteers for their role in the development of Korea,” Krzic said.
“A new project we are undertaking is establishing a collection of objects related to the Peace Corps experience for a section of the new National Museum of Contemporary History in Seoul, Korea. The Board is now negotiating an MOU with the Museum,” he added.