1. Please give a brief introduction of yourself.
My name is Jessica, and I am a senior at the University of Mississippi. I am majoring in psychology and sociology and hope to do my master’s degree work in sociology. I enjoy reading, writing, meeting new people, and playing video games. Since I was young, I have been interested in cultures around the world. In college, I was given the opportunity to study Korean as a modern language at my university. Through this course, I learned a lot about Korean culture, and my knowledge made me interested in other aspects of Korea.
2. How did you start interning at VANK?
My advisor at my university found out that I studied Korean before I changed my major to psychology and sociology, and being that she is from Korea, she really wanted me to see the country for myself. She urged me to sign up for the UM Experiential Learning in East Asia program, funded by the Freeman Foundation in Hawaii, so I could intern in Korea and live there for the summer. After signing up and being accepted for the program, I got in contact with a company called CRCC Asia, an internship provider company that sets students up for interviews with different companies based on their interests and/or major. I chose to work for an NGO since I am very interested in sociology, and one of the organizations they matched me with was VANK. I researched VANK before the interview, and I was very surprised to see what their goal was: to teach people about Korea and in the process, learn more about other countries to bring about peace in Asia. Facets of this goal have to do with the Dokdo and East Sea issues, which I learned more and more about while I was preparing for my interview. By the time I had an interview with my supervisor, I was very curious about these topics and wanted to know more.
3. What were your duties as an intern?
As an intern, my main duty was to write English articles about all types of Korean topics for the English VANK website. I also gave presentations in the office and at conferences, listened in on lectures given about current issues, and researched many topics for the articles that I wrote. I met many people in and out of the office, ranging from students to government workers and acquaintances of people at the office. The initial task of writing for the English website spread into me doing a lot of things, all of which helped me get a better grasp on Korean culture, history, and lifestyle for me to write about.
4. What have you gained from your experience as an intern?
I believe I have gained many things working here at VANK. I have gained knowledge about Korea that I initially did not have, friends and acquaintances that I hope will last into the future, and a better base knowledge of what working at an organization is like and how I can best assist the goals of the whole office.
5. During your internship, what were your goals and what did you learn? Did you achieve those goals?
My initial goals were very clear-cut. I wanted people in the United States to understand Korea the way they understood where they live. In the United States, it is not uncommon for people to keep a close eye on current happenings, especially when negative things are happening. It was hard for me to not see some of the things that were happening back home even while in Korea because all of my friends talked about these things. That type of open conversation was what I wanted to bring to the English website. I wanted, in the beginning, to show people that Korea can be understood in the same way we understand any other country: by looking at history, culture, and current events. Those were the main topics I wrote about. The Three Kingdoms Period, K-Pop, economic issues: they are all topics that I thought would be best to present to people to deepen their understanding of Korea as a country and the people. I researched these topics heavily and learned a wealth of knowledge in the process.
However, I now understand that simply knowing about something does not change how one feels about it. For issues like Dokdo and the East Sea, Korean people express strong feelings about these things, especially because they are tied to the Japanese Occupation Period in the early to middle 20th century. For these topics, I want people around the world to understand why Korean people feel the way they do about these topics and why correcting the incorrect information that has been displayed on maps and in books for years would be in the world’s best interest. Right now, both of these goals are ongoing, and I hope to continue writing for the English website even when I return home to the United States.
6. What did you contribute to VANK’s goals?
Besides writing articles, I think that me being a foreign intern from the United States has helped a lot. For instance, when we had conferences, many young Korean students would come up to Clara, an intern from France that was here at the same time I was, and I and tell us how proud they are that we, as foreigners, would be interested in telling people about different aspects of Korea. It was surprising but also reassuring that so many people supported what we were doing and wanted to speak to us about it. I think that after speaking with us, many students felt more determined because they were able to see firsthand that people from around the world want to help them as well.
I also think my English skills were a big help. On my last day as an intern, a fellow intern, Jiwon, had sent an email to a large corporation asking them to take down merchandise that depicted the Rising Sun Flag because of its imperialistic nature and what it stood for during the Occupation Period. She had been very professional in her email, yet the one she had received from customer service was rather short. Initially, everyone thought that the company was denying that they had any obligation to stop selling their products. After Hyeonjong, another intern, explained the situation to me, he brought me over to read the email. After reading it over multiple times to make sure that what I was thinking was correct, I said that the outcome was good and I explained that the person emailing meant that they would take the products down, and the reason that they were allowed to be sold in the first place was because they did not know of the symbolism of the flag. Language barriers can be very complicated and lead to misunderstandings, so I am glad that I cleared up the situation!
7. Any advice on promoting Korea, Dokdo, eastsea, jikji, etc?
I think that understanding the meaning and history behind these symbols is the best way to promote them. When you can actively tell people about why something means a lot to you or other people, it helps convey those feelings to someone else so they can understand. While talking about facts, I think Korean people being open about how they feel about the topics will also help.
8. Are there any last words you would like to say to VANK?
I would like to thank all of the people at the VANK office, all of the cyber diplomats, all of the government officials and every person I have met because I feel that they are a large part of why my experience in Korea has turned out to be unforgettable. I learned an immense amount of knowledge about Korea in just two months by living there and speaking and working with Korean people. I think that this experience has better prepared me for my future, regardless of where it takes me, and I would like to apply the skills that I have learned here in my future profession.