Obama‘s speech inspires HUFS to hope
By Na Jeong-ju
U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) last month is a historical turning point for the school as it is seeking to join the ranks of top universities in the world, HUFS President Park Chul said in an interview with The Korea Times on Tuesday.
It was the first time that an incumbent U.S. president visited a local school and gave a speech, and other schools here have been full of envy.
The White House’s selection of HUFS triggered a lot of interest in the school among people around the world, and that will provide a strong boost for its globalization strategy, according to the 63-year-old professor.
“Obama’s special lecture boosted our pride and gave hope to students, alumni as well as faculty members. It was a big present for us,” Park said. “The meaning of his visit is tremendous. He opened a new chapter in the history of HUFS.”
In the speech, Obama described HUFS as a “great university where a new generation is taking its place in the world, creating opportunities that your parents and grandparents could only imagine.”
To remember Obama, the school plans to set up an “Obama Trail” from its main entrance to the Minerva Auditorium where he delivered the speech, Park said.
“Obama said exactly what we really wanted to hear. HUFS has been one of the top foreign language schools in the world but its reputation has largely been underrated here. His visit helped us restore our confidence and be proud of ourselves,” Park said.
The U.S. President was visiting the country to participate in the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit, which focused on ways to promote nuclear security and prevent acts of nuclear terrorism.
The U.S. Embassy in Seoul looked for a suitable school for Obama’s visit early this year and the school was informed of the final decision only days before the event, according to HUFS staff.
On numerous occasions, Obama cited the enthusiasm of parents toward education as one of the key factors that enabled Korea’s economic growth. He has also praised Korean parents for their dedication to providing an excellent education to their children. He once called teachers “nation builders.”
That was partly because he wanted to inspire American people to spur his educational plans, which call for longer school days and expanded after-school programs. However, his admiration for Koreans’ passion for education surely enhanced the international recognition of the Korean education system.
HUFS has updated its foreign-language websites to meet a growing number of visitors since Obama’s speech at the school.
“His visit will help us be firmly recognized among people around the world as the best university in Korea. And that’s quite true,” said Park, who taught Spanish language and literature in the past. “I expect the school’s reputation to be further heightened. The university, students, and graduates will be more highly evaluated.”
Park said he recently wrote a letter to Obama to thank him for the visit and express his personal wish for his re-election. During the visit, the school gave him a credential of honorary alumnus.
“Obama once said on TV that his daughter was studying in Mexico and he wanted to learn Spanish. So I presented him an autographed Spanish textbook that I wrote,” Park said. “I asked him for his autograph on the Korean language version of his autobiography. He wrote ‘President Chul, all the best.’ It was a great moment for me.”
Park donated the autographed book to the school’s museum.
Best language school
Speaking on his globalization plans, he said he would focus on fostering a global mindset in students.
The school is currently operating the “7+1” Visiting Student Program, under which HUFS students can study for a semester at foreign schools with which HUFS signed sisterhood relationships. It also has joint master’s programs for the United Nations’ University for Peace and overseas internship programs in cooperation with Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency and Korean embassies overseas.
HUFS has also held International Model United Nations Assemblies for collegians every year since 1995.
“We are offering courses in 45 different languages here, standing as the top global university in Korea. We’ve also signed exchange agreements with over 430 universities and institutions in 79 countries,” Park said.
He assumed that the school’s proven track record as the best language institution in Korea might have affected Obama’s decision to give the speech at HUFS.
It also said the North Korean defector issue was a key criterion, as many students who have defected from North Korea are enrolled at HUFS compared to other schools. In his speech, Obama mentioned North Korean defectors by saying, “Come and see some of the courageous individuals who join us today ― men and women, young and old, born in the North, but who left all they knew behind and risked their lives to find freedom and opportunity here in the South.”
Who is Park Chul?
Park Chul has been serving as president of Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) since 2006. He secured a second four-year term in 2010, becoming the first HUFS president to do so.
Majoring in Spanish at the school, Park is an expert in Don Quixote studies and a member of the Cervantes Society of America. He received a doctorate in Spanish literature at the Complutense University of Madrid and has a lifelong membership to the Royal Spanish Academy.
Park received the Order of Isabel the Catholic in 2011 from the Spanish government for his contribution to the development of relations between Korea and Spain. It was the third decoration has Spain bestowed onto Park.
After completing his tenure as HUFS president, Park says he wants to move to Spain and further pursue studies on Don Quixote.
Park has also been working as head of the Korean Council for Presidents of Private Universities to promote interests of private schools nationwide since January 2011.