Kaler looks to strengthen U ties in East Asia

Kaler traveled to both Hong Kong and Seoul, South Korea, on a recent trip.

Hannah Schacherl

To build on a relationship forged after the Korean War, University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler recently traveled to East Asia.
 
Kaler returned Thursday from his trek to South Korea, a trip meant to strengthen relationships with Seoul National University and Hong Kong to visit University alumni. Kaler has voyaged abroad for official University business in the past, including a 2013 visit to Hong Kong and 2014 trip to Norway. 
 
“Face-to-face visits with our key partners are important to create, sustain and strengthen meaningful student exchanges and research collaborations,” Kaler said in a press release. “In a highly competitive higher education environment, such global partnerships enhance the University’s and the state’s reputation around the world.”
 
The association between the University and SNU dates back nearly 70 years, said Meredith McQuaid, dean of International Programs, in an emailed interview. 
 
After the Korean War ended, the University helped rebuild  Seoul National University, overhauling its professional curriculum and educational strategies.
 
“The program was proposed as creating an international relationship at Minnesota and bringing the University out into the world in order to essentially make it an international
institution,” said Erik Moore, head of the University Archives.
 
The University’s assistance to Seoul National University originally focused on medical sciences, agriculture and engineering and grew to include a public administration program. Beyond educating existing faculty members, the program also assisted in rebuilding physical structures destroyed in the war, he said.
 
“As part of the University of Minnesota project, hundreds of Korean students came to study at the University, and many of them went back to Korea to teach at SNU,” said
Woodrow Byun, former president of the Seoul National University Alumni Association at the University of Minnesota.
 
He attributed the University’s involvement in South Korea as an important piece of the country’s advancement.
 
“At one point in the history of Korean government, one-third of cabinet members were graduates of Minnesota,” he said.
 
Until the University’s involvement in SNU’s medical programs, there was a dearth of modern medical education in South Korea, said Dr. Tae Kim, a former University faculty member and SNU undergraduate.
 
“The impact of the Minnesota project on medicine in Korea is profound, especially on quality of care, research and expertise,” he said. 
 
Although the program between the University and SNU officially ended in 1962, the legacy of cooperation continues to build upon itself. 
 
“SNU is now paying it forward and helping develop the National University of Laos in a similar fashion to the work done with the University decades ago,” McQuaid said via email.
 
The unique partnership between the two schools has resulted in frequent exchanges of faculty members and students, Moore said.
 
“Those relationships maintained themselves because they were personal relationships and went far beyond just the institution,” he said.