Global Fellow, Visiting Korean Scholar Tell Daily Bruin about Their Experiences in America

UCLA Daily Bruin interviews Austin Harrington and Sung Deuk-Oak on their experiences in the United States.

Austin Harrington feared his diet in America would be reduced to Burger King, while Sung Deuk-Oak found it difficult to firmly state a difference of opinion in a paper or classroom. Both were interviewed by Jeyling Chou of the Daily Bruin staff for a November 8 Bruin article on international scholars at UCLA. Harrington is here as part of this year's class of Global Fellows, a program of the UCLA International Institute for younger scholars who have received their PhDs within the last seven years. SungDeuk-Oak has returned from Korea to the United States, where he did he graduate work, as a visiting scholar in Korean Christianity for the Center for Korean Studies.

"I had reservations about coming to the U.S. I was bracing myself for just Burger Kings," Austin Harrington told Jeyling Chou. Harrington is a sociology lecturer at the University of Leeds in England. He told Chou that he has now discovered Whole Foods, commenting, "It's not this completely inward-looking American place that I thought it might be. Now I understand the attraction of the American university system."

Political Science Professor Ronald Rogowski, who heads the International Institute's Global Fellows program, told the Bruin reporter that the fellows have a weekly seminar. "They do a lot of talking to each other and we hope for a sort of cross-fertilization of ideas."

Harrington said his experience thus far has allowed him to reflect upon making his career in the United States, something he had never really considered. Before the Global Fellows Program, he completed post-doctoral fellowships in Vienna, Florence, and Berlin.

"In a globalized world, one can't just stick around in one country," he said. "I don't know how anyone can conduct research without comparing what they're doing to other people in other countries. Exposure to a lot of international traditions enriches one's perspective."

In his interview with Sung Deuk-Oak, Bruin reporter Jeyling Chou wrote:

"When Oak first came to America in 1993 as a student of theology, he could not bring himself to raise his hand in class. 'When you want to become a scholar in Korea, you have to follow your teacher's ideas first -- you can raise your own ideas after they retire or die,' he said. But as a visiting professor at UCLA, Oak has since overcome that cultural barrier."

Chou reported that budget cuts are rapidly diminishing the number of international scholars who are invited to UCLA. Political Science Professor Michael Lofchie told him that visiting professors "are just a luxury most departments feel they can't afford any longer unless it's funded by an outside source."

But for those who are here and who teach classes, there is considerable student interest. Jeyling Chou reports:

"As a visiting professor in the UCLA Center for Korean Studies, [Sung Deuk-] Oak lectures on Korean Christianity to a class enrolled nearly to capacity. '(The students) are very interested in their spiritual roots and cultural identity,' he said. 'They want to know Korean Christianity and to understand the background of their parents.'

Sung Deuk-Oak told the Bruin reporter that there are 3,000 Korean Americans at UCLA, and about 70 percent of them are Christian. In Los Angeles, there are some 1,500 Korean American churches. "I try to be a bridge between the center and Korean American churches in Los Angeles and other cities," Oak told the Bruin. "As a scholar, [and] as a minister, I feel grave responsibility to teach Korean Christianity to the younger generation."

As long-term residents of the United States Sung Deuk-Oak and his family have had to make a greater adjustment than scholars who come for a quarter or an academic year. The Bruin recounts, "The culture shock was also jarring for his children, as his eldest daughter barely spoke during her first four months of American elementary school. But his children were quick to overcome the language barrier. 'Their English is better than native Americans,' he said with pride of his two daughters and one son. 'They have no accent -- they are very good.'

"Although his family has adjusted to American culture, and fallen in love with the California weather, Oak still struggles with the dilemma to return to Korea. His academic colleagues tell him his work is needed here to establish Korean Christianity as a more prominent aspect of Korean Studies. But church leaders in Korea are pressuring for his return. 'If I remain here, I can criticize the Korean churches, but if I return to Korea, I have to keep silent,' he said. 'As a scholar, I cannot accept that situation.'"

The full text of the Bruin article is available online at:

Published: Monday, November 15, 2004