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Saemaul Movement is this school’s curriculum

Dec 13,2018
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Students from Park Chung Hee School of Policy and Saemaul gather at a mushroom greenhouse in Gyeongsan, North Gyeongsang, on Nov. 4 and talk about different farming methods. [YEUNGNAM UNIVERSITY]
In early November, 20 foreign students huddled in a mushroom greenhouse wearing green vests with the words “Park Chung Hee School of Policy and Saemaul” written on the back. The foreigners were from all over the globe, including East Timor, Cuba, Rwanda and Uganda. They came to Korea to learn about the Saemaul Movement.

The Saemaul Movement is a political initiative launched by President Park Chung Hee during the 1970s aimed at modernizing the rural South Korean economy. The students are graduate students at the Park Chung Hee School of Policy and Saemaul at Yeungnam University in Gyeongsan, North Gyeongsang. Their academic curriculum requires them to visit farms in Korea to enrich their knowledge of the rural society.

The students observe the farmers’ methods, take photos with their smartphones and ask questions about the harvesting process. After the inquiries are complete, the students start harvesting the mushrooms themselves.

“I came to Korea in March to study the Saemaul Movement, the same movement that helped develop the Korean economy,” said Jarikae from Rwanda. “Korea’s economy started with these very mushroom farms. I will try my best to learn about everything [so I can use the knowledge] to make Rwanda a better place to live.”

The Park Chung Hee School of Policy and Saemaul is a graduate school of Yeungnam University. Former President Park Geun-hye, the daughter of Park Chung Hee, once served as the chair of the university board.

At Yeungnam University, students from around the world come together to learn about the socioeconomic development of the Saemaul Movement and use the knowledge to contribute to the development of their countries.

This graduate school was put in the spotlight, as current Korean President Moon Jae-in has emphasized that “social projects regarding the export of the Saemaul Movement should be pushed further.”

In front of the graduate school’s building, around 60 flags wave in the air, all representing the home countries of current or former students. As of this fall semester, 65 foreign students from 25 different countries are currently enrolled to study the Saemaul Movement.

The education process is anything but simple. The Park Chung Hee School of Policy requires its students to complete four semesters of study just like any normal graduate school. Students need to take 30 credits during the four semesters and complete a dissertation before they receive their master’s degree.

“We provide a high quality educational experience and all the classes are conducted in English,” said Moon Yong-sun, the vice dean of the Park Chung Hee School of Policy. “Students who apply for admission have to go through a competition rate of four to one in order to get in.”

The educational curriculum focuses on understanding the Saemaul Movement. Students often visit farms to experience hands-on what they learn in the classroom.

Apart from visiting mushroom farms, students go strawberry picking, visit fertilizer manufacturing factories and even ride tractors. Visiting the farms is important for the educational experience, which is why students are required to do so.

The names of these courses are unfamiliar as well. “Understanding of President Park Chung Hee Leadership,” “Understanding of Saemaul Spirit” and “Rural Development” are some of the many courses that the school offers. The study materials for these courses are written and published by the school itself. In order to help students who need additional information to finish their dissertations, the graduate school publishes a monthly academic journal titled “Saemaulogy.”

The students get together at the start of the month at 7:30 a.m. in their green vests to clean the building. The first of every month is dedicated to commemorating the Saemaul Movement.

This mirrors the original Saemaul tradition, when villagers got together early in the morning to clean their town.

After the clean-up, students eat a meal to fill up their stomachs, just like Korean villagers did in the past. The school administration says that they created this tradition to impart the Saemaul philosophies of diligence, self-help and cooperation into the minds of their students.

The school - which might be unfamiliar to many - was established eight years ago in 2011. It focuses on “the leadership visions of president Park Chung Hee, spreading the Saemaul Movement across the globe and eradicating poverty from poor countries.” Over its eight years, 529 students from 62 different nations have completed the master’s program.

Yeungnam University explained that they tried to minimize the exposure of the graduate school in fear that the school’s nature might be affected by unwanted political ideologies. Park Chung Hee, Saemaul and Park Geun-hye are all associated with conservative politics in Korea.

“The Park Chung Hee School of Policy will lead the way to rid the world of poverty,” said Kim Ki-sun, the dean of Park Chung Hee School of Policy.

BY KIM YOUN-HO [jeong.juwon@joongang.co.kr]