SungJoo Han

한승주 (SungJoo Han)
1962 Fulbright Graduate Student Program, University of New Hampshire (PhD)
전 외교부 장관
전 주미대사
전 UN 특사


Just remember that good things do not last forever, so make the most and best of what you see a good thing!

The Fulbright scholarship I received in 1962 paid for a large portion of the expenses required for my study in the United States, including travel and insurance. It was both an honor and substantial monetary support, as annually there were only one or two recipients from Korea of the scholarship. It also helped to secure admission to a U.S. university.

I chose the University of New Hampshire (UNH) in Durham, N.H. as my first school because it was a good state university, and I thought both the location and size were convenient and manageable for my study and living in America. As I started my study at UNH, I found out that, in order to major in political science in America, I should be well versed in U.S. politics. But that was also an area that I was quite weak in, as I didn’t have the opportunity to focus on the topic.

It was also a time when the study of political behavior (“behaviorism” as they called it) was becoming fashionable, and that approach focused on American politics. Thus, much of my time during my first year in the United States was taken up by studying the American political system. Actually, when I went on to do my Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, two years later, I often served as a teaching assistant in American politics.

After a year of study at UNH, I was appointed as a teaching assistant to teach international politics at the department. I was not sure if I was good enough for the appointment, but it certainly was both a challenge and honor for me. The topic of my M.A. thesis was “The Politics of Foreign Policy of the Syngman Rhee Government.” Although the thesis was supposed to focus on South Korea’s foreign relations, particularly U.S.-Korea relations, much of it spilt over into Korean domestic politics.

The University of California, Berkeley, where I chose to do my Ph.D., is often cited as one of the top-ranked universities, especially at the graduate level. It was a perfect school for me, as it had many distinguished professors in the field of political science, and I was offered a good scholarship. Also, the school is located in an area with very moderate weather and beautiful surroundings. After studying at UNH, a modest sized university, I thought I would take up the challenges of a big university and experience the American university in full.

On an August day in 1964, my young wife Song-mi and I set out from Durham, New Hampshire, to drive to California in a 1956 Chevrolet. We took out the back seat of the car and put in its place a crib for our five-month old baby boy, SungWon (American name, Charles). The cross country trip, mainly on interstate highway route #95, took us one week.

As we were preparing to leave, the elderly chairman of the department, Professor John T. Holden, came to our rented house and knocked at the door. He had a smile across his face as he told us that he had just received one thousand dollars from an anonymous donor, who asked Professor Holden to convey it to us for our journey across the country. He would not tell me who gave the money. I still remember his parting words: “Now you can have some steaks on your way to California.” One thousand dollars was quite a large amount, as my salary as a teaching assistant then was only about $200 per month. I could only guess who the anonymous donor was. It must have been the founder of Camp Rising, Mr. George (we called him “Freddie”) Jonas. In 1956, as a 14-year high school boy, I had attended the international “camp” for two months, an experience which gave me a very useful introduction to the United States as a society and country, together with the Fulbright scholarship 6 years later.

I mention the above story to tell you what it was like almost 60 years ago to be a “Fulbright scholar” and what it did for me for my personal advancement and enriching the relationship between then a war-torn country Korea and the United States which has helped the growth and peace of a nation and country called Korea far away from their own.

I was fortunate to be chosen as a Fulbright scholar. The Fulbright program has done a superb job of people to people and international relationships over the years. However, things change, hopefully for the better but unfortunately often for the worse. Just remember that good things do not last forever, so make the most and best of what you see a good thing!


Witnessing a Student Movement in the U.S.

I found the Berkeley campus very political, in contrast to the almost non-political atmosphere at the University of New Hampshire. In 1964, when we arrived at Berkeley, a student movement called the “Free Speech Movement” was very active under the leadership of a sociology student from New York, Mario Savio. Every day at noon, there was a rally at the Sproul Plaza in front of the administration building to the left of the Sather Gate, which was designated as a California Historical Landmark. The students were demanding free speech and to stop the Vietnam War.

Subsequently, the student protest evolved into a full scale movement against the government and the war not only in Vietnam, but also in Cambodia, which the United States bombed and invaded in the course of waging the war.

As the demonstration became more intense and violent, California’s governor Ronald Reagan even ordered National Guard helicopters to spray tear gas on the students from the air.

The anti-war student movement that started in Berkeley spread throughout the United States. At Kent State University in Ohio, members of the Ohio National Guard shot at unarmed demonstrators, killing four students and wounding nine others. After this tragic event, throughout the United States, millions of college students went on strike. At universities such as Columbia and Cornell, violent demonstrations took place. As one who took part in the April 19th student uprising in Korea and was shot at during the demonstration, I had an acute feeling of empathy toward the protesting students.


Meeting Professor Scalapino

I learned and experienced a great deal while studying at Berkeley for six years. One teacher I met there was Professor Robert A. Scalapino (1919-2011), a well known specialist on East Asian politics. As his research assistant, I helped him with his book-writing, and we traveled together. In 1968, when Professor and Mrs. Scalapino (Dee) visited Korea, I toured the country with them, from Seoul to Busan to Kwangju and back to Seoul.

After I finished my doctorate, I had the chance to meet Professor Scalapino in many international conferences and seminars. He was well known among specialists, not only for his prolific and excellent writings, but also for his ability to draw summaries and conclusions from conferences. He was not only a superb scholar but also a warm-hearted and broad-minded person. Professor Scalapino was a rock of support for me when I was his student and afterwards.

One example of this is how I was able to quit smoking, a habit I acquired while serving in the Korean army. One day, without much thinking, I was smoking in the living room of the professor’s home in the Berkeley Hills overlooking the beautiful San Francisco Bay. He did not say anything then, but later, he quietly asked me: “You look like a smart young man, but why do you still smoke?” Those words turned out to be a great gift for me, as I decided to quit the bad habit there and then.

In the summer of 1975, I was recommended by my department to serve as an intern at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which was established to provide technical assistance for socio-economic development in such fields as health, environment, and energy. As an intern, I was given the task of administering a support program for the utilization of thermal energy and hot spring water in Turkey. Although Korea was not yet a member of the United Nations, I had the opportunity to work for the first time in an international organization and interact with staff members from various countries. The experience also gave me some understanding of how an international organization operated. This short stint gave me the temptation to work there. However, I decided to continue towards my original goal of pursuing an academic career.

At Berkeley, it took me six years to finish my doctorate in political science. At that point, I was unsure if I would return to Korea with the degree or seek a professorship in the United States, even for a short time. Eventually, I chose the latter and took a job as assistant professor at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, which had both excellent students and a strong faculty.

While I was enjoying teaching at Brooklyn College, my wife Song-mi, an art historian with a master’s degree from Berkeley, was working as a part time instructor for community colleges in New York. In 1975, she applied for admission to a Ph.D. program in Art History at Princeton University in New Jersey and was admitted. We decided it was best that the whole family to move to Princeton where the university was located, even though that meant I would have to commute from Princeton to Brooklyn (a two and a half hour-drive) two or three times a week.

On days that I did not have to commute, I was able to take advantage of the first-rate libraries in Princeton, such as the East Asian Library (Jones Library) and the central Firestone Library, which had a rich collection of books, materials, and research equipment. Taking advantage of Princeton’s research facilities, I was able to write several articles published in major journals. At the same time, I was able to take Japanese language classes at the university to hone my Japanese skills. Even though my commuting hours were long, it was a big boon for me to be able to use the scholarly infrastructure at Princeton University.

My seven years teaching at an American university helped not only with research, but also to gain a better understanding of the management administration of a college and the culture of academia in the United States. I also devoted some of my time to promote exchanges between scholars of Korea and the United States.

However, because the 1970s was a period of the authoritarian “Yushin” system in Korea, there was much friction between Korea and the United States. The U.S. government was critical of the Park Chung Hee regime of South Korea for its suppression of human rights and retreat from democracy. For that reason, some American academics even refused to engage in exchanges with their Korean counterparts.

During my tenure at Brooklyn College (which was within the City University of New York system), something very unfortunate took place for the city administration. The city went bankrupt as a result of over-spending. At the time, as an employee of the City University of New York and a resident of New Jersey, I was paying taxes to four entities—the federal government, New Jersey State, New York State and the City of New York. Because the City was bankrupt, my paycheck stopped coming. As a result, I faced the humiliating experience of standing in line for unemployment compensation at a federal office in New Jersey. The only silver-lining of this situation was that it helped me to gain a better understanding of how the federal and local governments operated. It also reinforced my decision to return home to Korea and do something more worthwhile with my life.


He is a Professor Emeritus at Korea University. He previously served as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, U.N. Secretary General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, a member of the UN Inquiry Commission on the 1994 Rwanda Genocide, Chairman of the East Asia Vision Group, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the United States and Acting President of Korea University. Currently, he is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.  His most recent book in English is a memoir: On the Brink: A Korean Diplomat’s Journey for Peace (Seoul: Ollim, 2018).