By Dana Marie Jea and Sung-Hoon Park
Established in April 2011, the U.S.-Republic of Korea (ROK) diplomatic staff exchange program has hosted more than 20 American and ROK diplomats for the opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of each government’s policy-making processes. During their one-year tours, fellows embed as exchange staff members in the Public Diplomacy Division of the ROK’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Public Diplomacy Office (EAP/PD) at the Department of State. Since its inception, the cultural and relational aspects of the exchange program have been an investment that continues to pay dividends for an ever-evolving U.S.-ROK alliance.
Hye-jin Kim was the first Korean diplomat to participate in the bilateral exchange program in Washington. Kim made such a significant impact during her tenure as a fellow that she was recognized by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as “an invaluable member of our team, enhancing our work with her insight and building connections between our offices.”
Foreign Service Officer Dewey Moore was the first American to participate in the exchange program in Seoul. Moore worked as an advisor to the director of the newly established Public Diplomacy Division from 2012-2013, and played an integral role in assisting MOFA’s Cultural Affairs Bureau in securing its inaugural budget allotment from the National Assembly of the ROK. One of the highlights of Moore’s experience was being invited to MOFA’s annual reporting session at the Blue House where he had the opportunity to interact with the president, foreign minister, and minister of unification.
Building upon the groundwork laid by Moore, Foreign Service Officer Booyeon Lee focused her efforts on designing public diplomacy programs in collaboration with NGOs and academic institutions to help expand their impact. Navigating MOFA’s interagency clearance process alongside ROK diplomats was a huge learning experience for Lee.
“Thinking back on the exchange program, I equate it to serving in the bureaucratic trenches alongside my Korean colleagues. I appreciated the opportunity to make authentic human connections that then equipped me to be a better counterpart at the negotiating table once I returned to the Department,” she said.
Sung-Hoon Park was the country coordinator for Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands (ANP) within the EAP/PD office from 2013 to 2014. Park described his role as a kind of “information clearing house” between Washington and public affairs officers (PAO) in the ANP region.
“The most memorable part of my exchange experience was when I was given the opportunity to help organize an ANP PAO digital video conference and to draft EAP Assistant Secretary Daniel Russel’s opening remarks,” Park said. “The most surprising part of the experience was the Department’s extensive acronym list. My favorite? MONA—moratorium on new acronyms.”
Foreign Service Officer Eugene Bae served as an exchange fellow at MOFA from 2014-2015 when Hallyu (Korean wave) and Korean pop music (K-pop) had already established extensive global popularity. It was against this backdrop that Bae was assigned the envious duty of assisting ROK embassies in organizing K-pop festivals and local competitions in their host countries.
“I was truly impressed by how effectively MOFA and its partners harnessed cultural soft power to increase favorability for the ROK’s standing among foreign publics,” said Bae.
Sungkyu Lee, the 10th exchange diplomat from MOFA to serve at the Department, focused much of his time conducting outreach to U.S. think tanks and academic institutions to engage on important U.S. policy objectives including strengthening alliances in Northeast Asia and formulating an effective response to the situation in Burma.
“I appreciated the opportunity to observe day-to-day operations within the Department and to witness the underpinning principles and values the ROK shares with the United States as a fellow democracy,” Lee explained.
The most recent participant of the program, Foreign Service Officer Dana Jea, worked with her ROK colleagues to secure additional funding from the National Assembly to enhance MOFA’s digital diplomacy capabilities. Together, they utilized this enhanced capacity to translate policy deliverables from the 2021 U.S.-ROK presidential summit into dynamic online public diplomacy programming to advance bilateral policy objectives in security, health, and space exploration.
“Being given the chance to interview the famous Korean photographer Rami Hyun was an incredibly rewarding experience for me as a fellow. The MOFA video production team members were skilled professionals. Hyun’s tireless work to honor the sacrifices of those who fought to preserve democratic institutions was both humbling and inspiring,” said Jea.
Participants from the U.S.-ROK diplomatic exchange agreed the program exceeded their expectations—providing a unique opportunity to increase understanding, connections, and appreciation for the diplomatic challenges and best practices of their respective host institutions. As the 140-year anniversary of diplomatic relations between the American and Korean people approaches, this kind of technical exchange opportunity—reserved for some of the closest diplomatic allies—is a worthy symbol of the ironclad relationship forged between the two countries. Looking to the future, the exchange program will undoubtedly continue to strengthen U.S. potential to advance foreign policy goals of mutual interest further, faster, and together.
Dana Marie Jea is a public diplomacy officer at Embassy Seoul. Sung-Hoon Park is a first secretary in the Policy Planning Division at the Republic of Korea Ministry of Foreign Affairs.