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Opinion | Nov 6, 2017

The Ghanaian Experience At The Park Chung Hee School Of Policy And Saemaul, Yeungnam University In South Korea

Richard Zinleri
Richard Zinleri

South Korea, Land of the Morning calm sits in the spotlight of the world stage as one of the most resilient and zealous nations this world has ever seen. The secret behind the amazing transformation that this country has seen can be attributed to the novel concept of ‘Saemaul Undong’. This is the secret behind South Korea’s amazing development today.

Saemaul Undong was a unique community development model suggested by the late President of Korea, Park Chung Hee on April 22, 1970 as a village movement to improve the living conditions of rural communities and Korea’s overall economic development in general.

The Park Chung Hee School of Policy and Saemaul (‘PSPS’) as a graduate school of Yeungnam University was established as an academic institution to educate and share Korea’s experiences in uplifting her nation. Accordingly, PSPS has embarked on a mission to foster learning of Saemaul Undong and impart the knowledge, skills and the Saemaul spirit to aspiring students from developing countries across the globe.

This unique opportunity that PSPS offers comes in five different packages of the master’s program namely: Saemaul Undong and Community Development, International Development Cooperation, Public Policy and Leadership, Forest Resources and Ecological Restoration and Environmental Management and Policy.

The purpose and desire of the PSPS is to nurture and inspire future leaders from around the world to be equipped and contribute effectively in reducing poverty in their respective countries. The presence of a multi-cultural and multi-national student body further enriches the program and nurtures innovative thinking and fosters relationships amongst one another to create an inclusive global community.

My journey to this noble institution as a Ghanaian (foreigner) began when the cold weather of Korea welcomed me at the Incheon Airport late February 2016, my DNA and entire immune system for the first time experienced severe cold (at that moment, I wondered if I can survive and I felt like returning back to Ghana. Hahahaha!) and while rushing into my luggage to double my clothes, hand gloves and head gear in the full glare of everyone at the airport, others smiled and pitied me, I still could not give up as the joy and determination to study at PSPS, Korea energized and sustained my hopes.

I eventually joined the bus headed for my school. As I peered outside of the window from my en route bus to Gyeongsan city, I could imagine if I arrived at the time of snowfall with snowflakes gingerly accumulating on the ground what could have been my condition. Well, I consoled myself with the warmth and smell of a cup of coffee I firmly clenched in my hands, it was a reminder that my time as a graduate student in PSPS, South Korea has just begun.

The Park Chung Hee School of Policy and Saemaul (PSPS) awakened the wonder of human cultural diversity in the world. Studying in this institution for eighteen (18) months with foreign nationals from every corner of the world opened my eyes and mind to the amazing variety of cultural diversity in the world.

It was a privilege to study and live in Korea. I have gained invaluable cross-cultural experience not just as a student, but also as a member of the PSPS family. In addition to these experiences, my intellectual acumen and capacity is now broadened and has enabled me to develop strong skills in ‘’saemaul’’ leadership, teambuilding, and community development. These are all qualities that will help me to be successful in my chosen field of International relations.

I went through a refinement that is peculiar and unique with the saemaul undong education as my greatest weapon to take back home, Ghana and Africa. With the best environment to develop global leaders provided, I will be playing a pivotal role in reducing extreme poverty in Ghana and contribute to the betterment of the world. Growing up, I have always dreamt of impacting my community and eventually help change Ghana for the better; this dream has further been shaped by the platform offered me by PSPS.

However, my life in the Republic of Korea (ROK) as a graduate student at the Park Chung Hee School of Policy and Saemaul (PSPS), Yeungnam University is a breakthrough and one of my major achievements in Life. I have such rare opportunity to live, learn and experience the most astonishing economic development in a country that gained independence in the post-war era. Miraculously, Korea transformed from one of the poorest to one of the most affluent countries and from a recipient of international aid to an aid donor country in the world only within a lifespan of fifty years, otherwise called “Miracle of the Han River”. The Saemaul Undong (SMU) success story in Korea has no co-equal in the annals of economic development to surpass this miraculous economic transformation in the contemporary world within few decades.

Life in PSPS gave me the opportunity to tour educational places in Korea, an experience, and a privilege that many African leaders, government delegations, policymakers, development experts and tourists yearn to have at a high cost of funding, yet, PSPS offered me freely via the Gyeongsangbuk-do scholarship. The PSPS, Yeungnam University is located within an hour’s drive from Gumi, Ulsan, Changwon and Yeosu with each town encompassing four major industrial complexes and Pohang, the home of POSCO. This enables me to easily visit and participate in practical educational field programs organized by the school. The university is also located adjacent to the birthplace of renowned late President Park (whose daughter Park Geun-Hye also became president of Korea but impeached in 2017) and Cheongdo, the birthplace of Saemaul Undong; this allows me to personally experience Saemaul Undong aside the classroom lectures from my able Professors at PSPS.

Moreover, my cultural views about Korea was further broadened at PSPS since Yeungnam University is right at the center of three major traditional cultures: Buddhism, Confucianism and Gaya, this made it an effective location for me to experience a variety of cultural and spiritual perspectives and develop a meaningful and sophisticated global awareness for my own enlightenment.

Before coming to Korea I thought long working hours in the world were 8 to 9 hours. I am completely flabbergasted, at first, when I noticed Korean students and workers working “pali pali” or studying well into 13 hours, the evening or wee hours past midnight. A prove of why Korea is highly developed as a nation. The saemaul spirit of diligence, self-help, and cooperation characterized their lifestyle.

I had a change of mindset about other foreign cultures, through my experience at PSPS I can now relate and" co-exist with other nationals from all over the world including Koreans. Living and exchanging my Ghanaian traditional values, culture and beliefs with students from over 58 different countries and more than 95 percent of my colleague students are foreign nationals. The happiest part of this experience which helped deflate my misconceptions about other cultures is the cultural and ethnic diversity of our student body which is one of the greatest strengths of the PSPS as it provides me with a rich environment to nurture my creative and innovative thinking and to develop a sense of harmonious and inclusive global community.

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Life at PSPS is one of the areas of my life which supports my vision of playing a role to make the world a better place for all mankind. PSPS education does not only lead to personal development but, for the benefit of sharing our experiences and knowledge for the benefit of society. Outside of the academics, my school days at PSPS contain a bundle of laughs, memorable events, new networks and lifelong friendship.

PHOTO: Korean Traditional dress “Hanbok” with Kim Songyee.PHOTO: Korean Traditional dress “Hanbok” with Kim Songyee.

I actually enjoyed my Korean (Hangugor) class. It creates better rapport, one of those rare moments where I enjoyed being laughed at. My pronunciation of Korean vowel and consonant letters exposed me to shared joy and laughter, but, at the end of the day, my Korean writing and speaking skills improved tremendously. This mode of learning helps all students release tension and feel refreshed and motivates me to master the Korean language. I had a really fun and informative tour with my Professor, LEE MISOOK when she took the entire class to a campus restaurant. The sky was clear with a sunny weather. I did not expect to have a fun at all but to always stick to my Books. But it turned out, I was wrong! I had the opportunity of interacting my Professor outside of the classroom, she engaged each student about our views of her class, the university and Korean lifestyle in general.

Life at PSPS brings to bear quality teaching, training and fun, a mixture of the pleasurable and the academics. Pondering over the experiences, the pleasurable parts are easy enough to identify, the joy and commonality of being part of a prestigious school, PSPS, Yeungnam university, the simple fun of being an international student, the imminence of diverse culture, as portrayed by my fellow students.

Participating in an extra-curricular activity, Taekwondo was an exciting experience for me, and I often love the difference in skills movements and the hilarious fun it creates in the class when one throws an awkward kick in the air.

Thanks to the good supervision and active efforts of our Student Council, students at PSPS had a good opportunity to participate in a wide range of enjoyable activities, Movie Night, Sporting Event, Football, Sack race, Lime and Spoon race, Thug of War, etc., as this showcased our active cooperation and unity as international students coming from diverse communities. Despite our respective differences, our active participation in these activities created a warm atmosphere and promoted close friendship among us. Although there are some difficulties with regard to communication with Korean people, I learnt that Korean people have a warm hospitality and willingness of care for foreigners like us. For example, when I go shopping, when I go to museums, although it is difficult for them to communicate with me, they try to use their lovely gesture to speak to me and to help me for what I want to know. On such occasions, I appreciated their kind heart and warm friendship to me.

To enable us to practically understand the three core spirits of Saemaul Undong, Diligence, Self-help and Cooperation, PSPS organizes the monthly (1st day of every new month) Saemaul Undong Campaign. This campaign is an activity of cleaning our environment, within the campus; it is organized with the aim of promoting diligence, self-help and cooperation among PSPS students. Therefore, we all have the good opportunity to enhance our spirit of diligence, self- help and diligence by actively participating in this campaign.

Pure joy or unadulterated happiness is quite impossible in every phase of human life; nonetheless, my life at PSPS is no exception. I witnessed a few cultural shocks and moments of anxiety. I really love Korean food, but for me, growing up in Ghana where the food choices are so varied, it was beyond mixed-feeling to eat the same kinds of things every single day. I like kimchi (as I often tease my IDC course mate and Vietnamese friend called Kim Chi), the most popular Korean food I ever heard throughout my stay at PSPS is Kimchi, but I could not imagine liking anything enough that I would voluntarily eat it every meal for my whole life. It was a big life change to eat like that and while I did not hate it, I would have happily welcomed a little more variety in my diet. I survived by doing a lot of my own cooking!

This earned me the name ‘’Kisusa Yoorisa’’ meaning hostel cook or chef. I can remember my first ever Korean meal like it was yesterday. My mentor, Ghanaian, took me out for dinner and served me a dish called Kimchi jigae (Kimchi stew) that overloaded my taste buds with an extreme dose of hot, spicy and sour flavors that at the time were truly obtrusive and foreign. I silently thought, “If this is what most dishes taste like I’m going to be in for a long year.

Given that I’ve spent more time here than I have ever done in any foreign country during my mature adult years, it has become my adopted home away from home. I eat rice more than I eat bread. I am as adept at using Korean chopsticks as I am at knife, spoon and fork back in my country; in fact, I now appreciate the Korean tradition.

My life experience in PSPS shaped, molded and plied me into a more prudent, diligent, self-assured and well-rounded person. As excited as I am to be part of the refined ‘’saemaulians’’ to make the world a better and happier place after graduation. Korea has been good to me and it will always hold a special place in my heart and an important role in the course of my life. A saemaul education at PSPS is the key to realizing the African dream of development, our meaningful life of impact after PSPS would prove to be well worth the financial sacrifice by the school because it is supposed to open the door to a world of able future leaders.

Photo: Ghana Spring Batch 2016 @PSPS, Yeungnam UniversityPhoto: Ghana Spring Batch 2016 @PSPS, Yeungnam University

PSPS is the place to be, and a citadel for future leaders of developing nations like Ghana. Life in PSPS affirmed the words of a renowned American writer, artist and social activist, Robert Alan who remarked on cultural diversity. PSPS has proven that cultural differences should not separate us from each other, but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of the humanity. Also, Intercultural dialogue is the best guarantee of a more peaceful, just and sustainable world.

In fact, PSPS is driven by the mission to educate and nurture young future leaders and public officials from developing countries around the globe who are dedicated to the development of their country and their local communities. PSPS believes that in the global efforts to pursue the sustainable development goals can be achieved through utilizing the philosophy and strategies of Saemaul Undong which has proved to be an effective means to accomplish an inclusive and sustainable development in developing countries. As a Ghanaian, having learnt the secrets of Saemaul Undong and how Korea transformed from an aid recipient country to a donor country, need I say more, that, this is my tool and blue print to take back home for a better Ghana. It is worthy of emulation if tailored to suit the local context amid government support.

Kamsahamnida! Medase!! Thank you!!!
Richard Zinleri
M.A. International Development Cooperation
PSPS, Yeungnam University
Korea Republic, South.
About Author:
Richard Zinleri is a budding thought advocate, youth leader, writer and a Human Resources Manager from Ghana, with the Local Government Service. He is a graduate student at PSPS, Yeungnam University in South Korea, majoring in M.Sc. International Development Cooperation. He holds a BA in Political Science from University of Ghana, where he was active in student leadership, and has experience in writing journal articles, policy analysis, research and politics. He writes from Yeungnam University, Gyeongsan.

Email: [email protected]

Tel: +82 -10-9765-4565

Zinleri Richard
Zinleri Richard, © 2017

This author has authored 6 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author column: ZinleriRichard

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