Aug. 25, 2011—Sochantra (Soch) Mel, a 2011 graduate, capped off his studies at North Central College by joining the American delegation at the Korea-America Student Conference (KASC) in South Korea July 7-31.
A student-led cultural and academic exchange program, the highly competitive KASC is open to undergraduate and graduate students, but only 25 students from the United States and 25 from South Korea are selected. The students reside at four university campuses and engage in research groups, attend lectures, travel and experience Korean cuisine and Buddhist practices. They also learn about dynamic issues facing the two countries and participate in analyzing and creating strategies to promote mutual and global cooperation.
Mel, who is of Cambodian descent, has been interested in the Asian region for some time. He graduated with double majors in East Asian studies with a focus on China and global studies focusing on East Asia and a minor in Chinese. He also speaks Japanese and studied abroad in South Korea in 2009.
“This experience gave me opportunities to interact on many levels with students who are different from me,” says Mel. “Five American and five Korean students were grouped together in a roundtable discussion and each group researched a specific topic. I was part of the human rights group and we focused on poverty in urban cities like Seoul and New York City. Even before the conference started, we corresponded and prepared papers as a basis for our research, which we developed when we met in Korea and presented to the whole conference.”
In addition, he was paired with a different Korean roommate at each of the schools: Pukyong National University in Busan, Jeju National University in Jeju, Chonnam National University in Gwangju and Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
“We formed deep connections and learned we struggle with the same things. We also discussed how and why we think and believe the ways we do.”
The purpose of KASC is to promote unity and understanding to help resolve important matters between the United States and South Korea. Soch considers this his mission too. “In my future work, I want to promote Korean studies to schools like North Central and be a voice for U.S.-Korean relations.”