Young Jin Choi

Young Jin Choi
1961 Fulbright Graduate Student Program, University of North Carolina, English Literature (PhD)
1991 Fulbright Scholar Award, Yale University
Emeritus Professor, Chung Ang University
The only female and the youngest student in the first batch of Korean Fulbright Grantees

It gives me great pleasure and a thrill to recall my days in the United States as a Fulbrighter. They go back to early 1960, when I was working as a reporter for the Korean Republic, presently the Korea Herald. I was a graduate student majoring in English literature at Seoul National University. Gripped with an urge to study abroad, I applied for a Fulbright scholarship. The screening process was much more complicated than I expected. There were many hurdles, including the Korean history exam offered by the Ministry of Education, oral speaking tests at the American embassy and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, and interviews with Yoon Il-son, President of Seoul National University; Hellen Kim, president of Ewha Womans University; and the executive director of the Fulbright Commission. I was ultimately selected as one of the first batch of grantees for the Fulbright scholarship, and at the time I was the only female and the youngest student.

The personal security clearance was equally complicated, since it took place shortly after the country had gone through political upheavals, including the April 19 Student Uprising and the Military Revolution. It was in September 1961 that I departed for the United States. The airplane, bound for San Francisco, made two stops, in Tokyo and Guam. Upon arrival in San Francisco, I took a nonstop flight to Boston, where an old friend, Lee In-ho (who would later serve as the Korean ambassador to Russia) was waiting. My final destination was the University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill. Arriving at the campus, I found myself enchanted by the harmonious blend of green lawns, dense forests, and time-worn colonial-style buildings. Founded in 1780, UNC was the oldest state university in the United States, and I liked the quiet and dignified atmosphere.

After admission to the dormitory, we were given a thorough orientation. That, together with the helping hands of students, facilitated the process of registration. The professor in charge of foreign students was Dr. A.C. Howell, who had taught me at Seoul National University. It was through Dr. Howell that I took a fancy to US Ambassador to South Korea Stephen Bosworth presents Professor Choi Jin Young with a Fulbright Award on April 28, 2000. 39 The 1960s Revolution, Development, and Formation of the Fulbright Commission the University of North Carolina. I had no difficulty understanding lectures. The campus lawn was set for performances by world-renowned musicians. The food in the student dining room was reasonably priced. A full-course meal cost only 45 cents, and the tuition fee per semester was $480. Compared with the cost of study today, this sounds like a fairy tale and far from reality.

Among the many experiences I had on the campus, the most memorable was receiving mail one day from an unknown person. Upon opening it, I found it to be a novel published in North Korea. Attuned to anti-communist mantras, I found my heart beating hard throughout the night. We were inoculated against communism, and my flesh crawled at the thought of how I, among many others, had been singled out as a target for North Korea’s propaganda. Going abroad for study was considered a matter of great pride since the top honored students and the names of the scholarship recipients appeared on the front page of the Dong-A Daily Express. I delayed my decision about what to do with the book. Reporting to the police or FBI might be one way. But doing this might cause ripples, and I thought it wise to keep it under cover. I wrapped the book with many papers and threw it into a wastebasket. From that time on, there was no fuss. In hindsight, I regret that I did not even care to note the title of the book and its author.

Excerpt from Fulbright In Korea’s Future: A 60th Anniversary Commemorative History. Seoul: Korea-American Educational Commission, 2010, pp. 37-38.