8570km. This is the physical distance from Seoul to Holzkirchen. However, despite the heavy snow and the long flight and train hours, the distance travelled by three reporters to reach alumnae at Holzkirchen felt like 0km. Welcoming us with a warm hug, they shared their experience, and life lessons under a common sense of unity being from Sookmyung. It may have started as a trip overseas to do a simple face-to-face interview, but in the end reporters got much more and left us wanting even more than that.
Transcending National Boundaries, Under the Name of Sookmyung
Three reporters of the Sookmyung Times went to Germany on assignment late January for a week to visit the SMU Germany Alumni Association (SGAA), a German university, and some cultural institutions. Among the 3 places, we are going to introduce our journey to Holzkirchen, Germany, which is located close to Munich. As a part of Sookmyung Media Center, we were asked to make a short film that could be used at school events. Hence, the journey was not a merely travel adventure, but a means of conducting a personal interview and creating a direction for the improvement of Sookmyung. Even though the whole Sookmyung Alumni Association boasts more than 100,000 alumni members from all over the world like the Germany, US, Canada, France, Singapore and so on, not many presently enrolled students including us three reporters had ever heard of it. The only connection enrolled students can feel with alumni is through the café Blueberry, which is operating by the Seoul Alumni Association and some occasional flea markets organized as fundraisers on campus by whole SMU alumni. However, by meeting graduated students from SMU in Germany, reporters realized the need to inform currently enrolled students about the SMU alumni associations.
Feel Pride of Sookmyung through the Interview
Jang Guenyoung, President and Founder of the SGAA entered a College of Nursing in Germany under the influence of her father, a doctor, after graduating from the Department of Political Science & International Relations in 1970 from Sookmyung. Like her, in Germany, reporters were able to meet several other alumni like Kim Jinhee from the Division of Child Welfare & Studies ’98, Jun Eunmi from the Department of Arts & Crafts ’99, and Choi Inseon from the Division of Computer Science ’86. The SGAA was established in 2009 to connect SMU alumni in Germany with alumni in other countries. During our visit, reporters felt the amicable, warm, and congenial atmosphere of the association. Accompanied by their families, graduates would call their husbands ‘sons-in-law of Sookmyung.’ Upon visiting the association, we were introduced to Jun Eunmi who has been working as an artist since graduating from the Munich Academy. She is planning on opening a gallery soon.
When asked about the SGAA, President Jang said that the German association isn’t as active as other SMU alumni associations in other foreign countries, and that, at first, most members didn’t know that they had all graduated from Sookmyung. It was only after several years that they noticed that they’d all graduated from the same school in Korea. “In this context, our top priority is to vitalize the association and fix the date and place for regular meetings.” She said that they plan to gather four times a year during summer, autumn, and Christmas. The next meeting is scheduled for the opening of Jun Eunmi’s art gallery.
During our dinner meeting, President Jang said, “When I attended Sookmyung, the scale of the campus was much smaller than it is now. I recently visited the university after many years, and was surprised by the number of new buildings.” Kim Jinhee alumnus, smiling, added, “When I was a student, only Chinese restaurant delivery men were allowed to come on campus grounds. The grounds were off limits to men, so security guards had great power at the school gate area.” In the past, the broadcasting station at Sookmyung played music every day for students, and this fact is a lasting memory of campus life for alumni. At the peak of the festive dinner meeting mood, the President spoke these few but strong words: “For me, Sookmyung is indeed the gentle power by which women can change the world. Just as the soft power of our mothers at home is huge, I learnt to develop my ability at Sookmyung.” Others added, “I met many alumni in Germany and our pride in Sookmyung binds us tightly. I hope students of Sookmyung nowadays feel proud of Sookmyung and enjoy campus life to the fullest.”
Sharing a Common Vision and a Sense of Belonging
The three days spent with members of the SGAA was not only unforgettable and thankful but left us with a mission. We thought about the power of networking. Although over emphasizing the importance or reliance on which university a person graduated from and the ties one has with other alumni is a chronic illness in Korean society, “proper” networking should be fostered, especially for Sookmyung. In particular, this connection should not be restricted to only alumni and the Sookmyung associations; it should be enlarged for everyone in Sookmyung even those who are currently enrolled. Lots of people including Sookmyungians agree that there is a tendency for students at women universities follow individualism. However, recalling our visit, lots of people at the association welcomed us in spite of the fact that we had never seen, talked or heard about each other, just because we are Sookmyungians. In this regard, we realized that Sookmyung and its students have the potential to bond all Sookmyungians and overcome the barrier of individualism. However, a lack of interaction and communication blocks networking. Since there is rarely a chance for alumnae and enrolled students to meet, it is hard to talk or listen to others’ stories. At the Technical University of Munich (TUM), Dr. Andrea Bernatowicz from the Diversity & Talent Management Department introduced an eye-catching program. “TUM provides a variety of opportunities for alumna to form social networks and offer career counseling at our ‘Alumni & Career’ center.” Through this center, TUM is offering an online map which details where alumni are working. The “Women of TUM blog,” which includes alumni interviews and other diverse information, is made available to everyone. Since the Sookmyung Times and another on-campus student press are already doing interviews with alumnae, starting this type of networking system would be easy.
Lastly, we learnt another way to encourage the networking. During our interview at the SGAA, the necessity of an alumni hall on campus was brought up. Since many alumni live far from Seoul, or even Korea, it is not always easy to visit the school and meet students. Even for elderly alumni who are living overseas, it is hard to visit SMU as it’s difficult to find lodging near the campus. Fortunately, the General Alumni Association of Sookmyung is fund-raising for such a construction, but when asked about the progress, the school answered, “Since the project is still in its infancy, fund raising, concrete plans about when, where or how have not yet been decided. We have raised about two billion won but that is not nearly enough.” Making something out of ‘seemingly’ nothing makes people feel anxious and burdened. However, considering efficacy and network availability, developing such a network should be propelled by effort from connecting enrolled students with alumni to building an alumni hall. Beginning is half done.
*Special Thanks to the SMU Germany Alumni Association and President Jang for the Full Support.