Scholar calls Peace Corps volunteers unsung heroes
Peace Corps volunteers infused greater diversity and vitality in the United States by playing a role in bridging between the world’s richest country and the underdeveloped world.
Their role in helping Americans have a better, deeper understanding of Korea through their academic activities, however, has been unearthed.
Edward Shultz, dean of the School of Pacific and Asian Studies of University of Hawaii Manoa, said Wednesday that Peace Corps volunteers were unsung heroes who played a greater role in taking Korean studies to the next level.
“If you look at Korean studies in the United States in the 1950s and early 60s, those who took Korean studies were Koreans who had gone to the United States or missionaries or some military personnel,” he said.
“As a result of the Peace Corps, a lot of other Americans started studying Korea. So basically in the late 1970s, 80s and 90s, a lot of key U.S. scholars were former U.S. Peace Corps.”
Shultz taught English for a year at Kyungnam High School in Busan in 1966 as a Peace Corps volunteer. He was scheduled to be here for two years but had to go back to America after he fell ill.
Besides Shultz, there are several Peace Corps volunteer-turned-Korean studies scholars. David McCann and Carter Eckert of Harvard University, Bruce Comings of the University of Chicago and Michael Robinson of Indiana University are among them.
“They played a greater role in strengthening Korean studies,” said Shultz, a former director of the Center for Korean Studies of the University of Hawaii.
During his stay here in 1966, Shultz said he realized American ignorance of Korea and this motivated him to pursue Korean studies as a major after returning to America.
“I was very surprised how little Americans knew about South Korea. And I came to feel that one of the main reasons the Korean War started was because of basic American ignorance of Korea,” he said.
“From that point, I thought that we need to learn more about Korea. So I started to learn Korean. Very few Americans studied Korean studies at that time.”
When Shultz pursued Korean studies, only major universities, including Harvard and Columbia, had such programs.
Now more than 100 U.S. universities offer the subject as a major.
Shultz recalled Korea was really poor in 1966 but he felt that the country was going to be very successful because the people were very energetic, and so willing to work hard.
“Also I think their strong commitment to education gave me the real inspiration that this country was going to be successful,” he said.
Shultz recalled his students were patriotic.
“One time I gave an article in the New York Times to several of my third grade students. The article was about how the United States wants South Korea to work more closely together with Japan,” he said.
“One of my students asked me, why does the United States want us to work closely together with Japan and then he said 'Mr. Shultz, sometime we are going to conquer Japan.' I kind of chuckled.”
The newspaper article came shortly after Korea signed a fishery agreement with Japan. Shortly after the government finalized the pact, a lot of college students took to the street to protest against it.