Study abroad student and McDaniel mentor keep in touch via e-mail

November 07, 2011

Hayoung Kim is in Bejing studying contemporary issues in China this year, but keeps in frequent touch with mentor Christianna Nichols Leahy via e-mail – student and professor already have plans to collaborate next year on a paper about the potential for Korean reunification.

The junior Political Science and International Studies major from Rockville, Md., earned both a Gillman Scholarship and Freeman-Asia Award to study abroad. She recently traveled from Bejing with her Ethnicity in Contemporary China class to Tibet, where she researched the human rights issue.

“Through this wonderful experience, I learned that human rights should be culturally defined,” Kim writes from Bejing. “It is critical to understand one’s culture before talking about enforcing Westernized defined universal human rights.

“Visiting Tibet was a shocking eye-opening experience for me, as I never experienced such strange cultures.”

Leahy, a professor of Political Science and International Studies, says the “extraordinary young woman is going to be a trailblazer” and, in fact, has plans to collaborate with her next year on a piece about Korean reunification, the prospects, the promise and the policies that would facilitate it.

The collaboration first set roots when Kim was studying German reunification in Leahy’s European Politics class. The student caught the professor’s attention by the troubled, almost angry, look on her face. Kim wondered if Germany could reunify, why not Korea. Leahy looked at her student and told her she was going to tell her the opposite of what her mentor told her in the early 1980s when Leahy floated the topic of German reunification for her Ph.D. thesis.

“I told Hayoung, ‘Korean reunification will happen in your lifetime and you will be THE scholar expert on it,’” says Leahy, who participated in an institute at the East/West Center on China and Korea this past summer to learn more about Korea for the student-professor collaboration.

With the frequent photos Kim sends back to campus, she writes about her experiences, which often surprise her. In Tibet, she saw seven out of every 10 people there walking around with prayer beads and prayer wheels reciting Buddha’s words. The highlight of her visit was her opportunity to interview Tibetans, whom she found to be very happy with their lives. The houses she visited displayed, by choice, the Chinese flag and Mao Zedong’s portrait – and one Tibetan told her, “I have all the freedom here, as long as I do not care about politics, I am free as a bird.”

Kim, who has her sights set ultimately on a Ph.D. and a position with the federal government in foreign affairs, will never forget the Tibetans hospitality.

“People were just so nice. They would invite you in the house for tea and such, even though you do not know them. They will let you charge your phones and other electrical devices for free,” Kim writes in an e-mail. “Visiting the Potala Place was another highlight of my trip. I had a chance to go inside of the Potala Palace and saw various tombs of Dalai Lamas. Many people call Tibet the beauty of Asia – or at least this is what I would like to call it.”