Seong Ho Ha
1989 Fulbright Graduate Student Program, University of New York, Buffalo, American Studies (MA)
Professor of History, University of Alaska Anchorage
A Fulbright Degree Study Award financed my master’s degree course at the State University of New York, Buffalo, from autumn 1989 through the 1991 summer session. At the time I graduated from the university, every student was agonizing over a future career. I was one of them and made a fateful decision in favor of graduate study in American history. The United States was an important partner country with Korea, and there were supposed to be many specialists on the United States. In reality, however, I could not find anyone who could guide my footsteps to this area of study. As my interest in the United States was aroused, I was primarily concerned with such issues as the fundamental basis of American politics, the system of resolving racial issues, and the like. I could hardly find answers to questions concerning these issues. One of the books that most impressed me at that time was A Daunting Journey, authored by Professor Kim Joon Yup of Korea University. Although this book had to do with the modern history of China, my curiosity was developing over the part of his nationalist activities that moved him to become a specialist in Chinese studies. He presented himself as someone worthy of emulation. Moved by his story, I made a decision to become a specialist on American studies. I set my eyes on a goal and have assiduously carried out academic pursuits toward this goal. My family was not in a position to finance my study at a Korean university. My application for graduate study at the State University of New York at Buffalo was accompanied by the honor of receiving Fulbright scholarship.
Starting with a master’s degree, I advanced to the Ph.D. program. Upon the completion of my doctoral degree, I was given an opportunity to teach in Canada and Colorado for one year each. It was in the autumn of 2005 that I was tenured to teach history at the University of Alaska Anchorage. It was my great honor to see my book The Rise and Fall of the American System: Nationalism and the Development of the American Economy 1790-1837 published in England. After the book was published, I was invited to give lectures, and local newspapers carried articles about the book. Seven years of study on the United States, I feel, have brought me up to the level where I can claim myself to be well versed in America. I am on the road to becoming an American specialist in the true sense.
Whether you like it or not, the United States is a country of great importance to Korea, and thus I believe that we must continue to encourage American studies within Korea. When we talk about American society and culture, there are a lot of things to be discarded; at the same time, there are just as many things worthy of learning. The more you understand America, the better your chance of grasping Korea in an objective light. In this sense, the Korean-American Educational Commission was of crucial importance in its role in the promotion of mutual understanding.
Excerpt from Fulbright In Korea’s Future: A 60th Anniversary Commemorative History. Seoul: Korea-American Educational Commission, 2010, pp. 105-106.