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6,400 Miles from Madison and Proud to Be Badgers

When you think Madison, you don’t necessarily think Korea, but UW-Madison and higher education in South Korea have created a rich history together — and it’s just getting better.

WAA gathers students, alumni, and friends in Seoul, South Korea

There are few places where you can travel and avoid meeting a fellow Badger. Now, we’re not just talking about traveling in Wisconsin (though more than 150,000 University of Wisconsin-Madison alumni are Cheeseheads), or even around the United States, for that matter. Of the nearly 425,000 living alumni, almost 15,000 live abroad, and a notable subset of the UW’s international alumni live in the Republic of Korea.

The influence of Badger grads in South Korea is evident in the work of government officials, entrepreneurs, university scholars, and CEOs such as Dong-Soo Hur MS’68, PhD’71, a recipient of WAA’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011.

“Higher education has played an important role in South Korea’s remarkable development, inspiring the country’s new leaders in private-sector growth and government policy,” says Lora Klenke ’94, WAA’s director of international alumni relations. “Many of the UW’s alumni in Korea are of firm conviction that the training they received at UW-Madison was pivotal and transformative in their respective careers.”

Today UW-Madison enrolls more than 700 students from South Korea, including student exchanges with the nation’s top universities. This partnership spans nearly half a century, following a 1968 UW initiative to train international public leaders. Since then, many South Korean students have enrolled in UW-Madison undergraduate and graduate programs, and more than 1,200 graduates have returned to South Korea.

The nation’s internationally ranked universities — Seoul National, Korea University, and Yonsei among them — are now home to many world-renowned scholars and faculty who are proud UW-Madison alumni.

“I encourage your students to take full advantage of their membership in this global Badger network,” said Paula Bonner MS’78, WAA’s president and chief alumni officer, at a gathering in Seoul in June that brought together current UW undergraduates, incoming students and their parents, and more than 150 alumni and friends. “There is great value in the connections and support that alumni can bring to one another.”

The event also featured two current UW students who are both juniors majoring in international studies: Soo-Min Jang, cofounder of the Third Culture Kid student organization; and Myeong Park, vice president of the Korean Economics Student Association.

In addition to student life, the UW is fostering research partnerships with nearly a dozen scholars who are based in South Korea. Faculty in the UW’s College of Engineering, for example, are collaborating with researchers at Seoul National University and Mokpo National University to investigate the main sources of Seoul’s air pollution.

“This sharing of expertise embodies our university’s guiding principle: the Wisconsin Idea,” said Chancellor Rebecca Blank. “That’s the idea that the university is not a closed community of students and scholars, but should reach out into the world and put its expertise to use. As alumni, you are living examples of the Wisconsin Idea — using what you learned at UW-Madison to make a difference in the world.”

The visit to Seoul marked the chancellor’s first international engagement. She was joined by several university colleagues, including representatives of the Division of International Studies, and Dean Soyeon Shim of the School of Human Ecology — the UW’s first South Korean dean.

Learn more about the community of Badgers who are involved with the WAA: Korea Chapter.

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