The Boston-Seoul Connection

December 10, 2015

Korean Library Conf

Dual-degree student Katelyn Duncan shares her experience studying in South Korea

2015 marked the eighth year of cooperative programming between Simmons SLIS and Yonsei University of Seoul, South Korea. The partnership involves educational opportunities for students and faculty at these two institutions, as well as collaborative programs and shared research, with plans to expand into new project areas.

The partnership features a short program each summer that rotates between the two campuses, sending students and faculty to study abroad for three weeks of the summer session. This past summer, Seoul students and Yonsei University professor Robert Allen traveled to Boston for Allen’s seminar course LIS-505F BL - Digital Humanities. In Summer 2016, Simmons SLIS students will return to Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. Lisa Hussey, associate professor and Yonsei-exchange alum, will lead a group of Simmons participants abroad this summer, teaching course LIS 404 - Principles of Management. Hussey described the course as a “unique experience and opportunity to discuss cultural roles in management,” where students will “tour libraries, learn about how missions and goals are achieved, and engage with Korean history.” Hussey said that the food and tourist activities offer program participants an added dose of fun and adventure.

The relationship allows students at either university to participate in a longer exchange program, earning a degree from each institution. Since 2009, approximately six Yonsei students have come to Simmons under this program. Katelyn Duncan, the first Simmons student to participate in the dual-degree program, will graduate this winter. Katelyn spoke with Infolink about her experiences at Simmons and in South Korea.

What drew you to Simmons? To the Yonsei program?

Two main things drew me to Simmons: its location in Boston, where I had previously spent time and loved, and its excellent reputation in the LIS community. I knew from the time I started at Simmons that I wanted to participate in the Yonsei summer program. I had never visited Asia and was eager to learn more about a part of the world with which I was unfamiliar. I spent semesters in Argentina and Italy as an undergraduate at Georgetown University, so the three-week Yonsei program was the shortest I had ever studied abroad. When I returned to Simmons and was asked about my experience, I realized I had wanted to stay longer. When a scholarship opportunity to return for a longer period presented itself, I could not pass it up.

What do you feel are the main benefits of international educational exchange programs?

I have been serious about foreign languages, having studied Spanish, ancient Greek, Latin, Arabic, Italian, and Korean. My fascination with international perspectives began when I studied abroad in Spain during high school. I’ve studied Spanish and Italian literature and literary translation, but my interests expanded when I began studying LIS. In an increasingly globalized world, it is important to know how to navigate multicultural and multilingual contexts, and for LIS professionals in particular to be aware of differences and nuances so we can provide better public service. Studying abroad has challenged me to explore differences in how people think, study, and interact. It has forced me to question assumptions about a “right” way to do things, and has taught me many unexpected lessons. I certainly learned patience and flexibility during my time abroad, and a strong belief that our role cannot and should not be to come into another country and assume we know how to do something best for that particular culture and group of people.

What differences in educational approach did you notice?

Yonsei’s vastly different course style and focus on research was immediately obvious. In South Korea, most classes have little discussion, and students would find it strange to call professors by their first names. Some of the differences are cultural, but it is worth noting that students in Korea can earn bachelor’s degrees in LIS, which affects the curriculum. When asked about Simmons by Yonsei students, I describe it as focusing on how to be a professional librarian, while Yonsei feels more academic and emphasizes information science as a broad, scientific discipline.

Can you talk about your current research?

One of the highlights of my Seoul experience has been working on a group research project led by Professor Giyeong Kim. The study, co-sponsored by Yonsei LIS and the Neutinamu Library Foundation, has two parts: an observational study and interviews of staff at three public libraries in the greater Seoul area, examining trends in job characteristics, organizational structure, and culture as compared to the US; and an in-person survey conducted with members of the Korean public about their information needs, media choices, and perceptions of public libraries. Throughout the process I have learned so much about the Korean public library system. We are working on two papers in English, and presented some preliminary research results at the Korean Library Association annual conference in Songdo on October 22.  I am also writing a thesis exploring copyright policy and social media as a reform tool from the perspective of libraries, archives, and museums, focusing on two recent Twitter campaigns in the United Kingdom and Australia. The first stage of my research was selected by the ASIS&T Special Interest Group on Information Ethics and Policy (SIG-IEP) as their first annual Best Student Paper.

What are your next plans?

I am still figuring out what comes next, but I would like to pursue a Ph.D. in Library Science or a related interdisciplinary field, possibly as soon as Fall 2016. I have a taste for research, and there are many opportunities I would love to explore. I also miss working in reference and instruction, so I am open to many possibilities. 

Most memorable non-academic experience in Boston? At Yonsei?

I was in the Fenway area when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2013, which is one of my most memorable experiences in Boston. At Yonsei, attending the LIS department’s beginning-of-semester party this fall made me feel so welcome, and was a chance to get to know the other students more closely. Since it is a much smaller program than at Simmons, we all fit into one restaurant.

I have also loved all of my chances to explore Seoul. In addition to wandering around the city exploring old temples, palaces, and museums, I have attended car shows, sporting events, and a 3D printing conference. I also took a trip to Australia this summer to explore the land (and libraries) down under.

Photo: Jiyoung Lee, Katelyn Duncan, and Hanna Song at the Korean Library Association conference. Photo courtesy of Katelyn Duncan. 

Simmons College is now accepting applications for the 2016 Travel Course to Seoul, South Korea!