International Scholar Interview: Byunghan Kang and Eunji (EJ) Kim

Author name
Ling Jin
EJ and Kang

EJ and Kang are a married couple from South Korea, who have spent almost a year in the U.S. as visiting scholars. They are in PASS (Program in Asian Security Studies) of the Political Science Department. Back in their home city, Seoul, they both are journalists. In this interview, they talked about their experience in the U.S. as well as participating in the IHouse programs.

How did you feel when you first arrived in the United States? How did things compare to your home country?

Kang: The people here are quieter than expected. I had the stereotype or bias that Americans were talkative and noisy and they made exaggerated remarks or gestures. Of course, it may depend on the area and the person. That said, I find people here reticent. It's one of the surprising things I've ever found here. And I feel that my country and America have a different pace of life. The speed of life here is slower than in South Korea. I felt the people here are slow and relaxed.

EJ: Diversity! I'm from a relatively homogeneous society. In the U.S., I've encountered a variety of races, nationalities, and ethnic groups so on. When I was in Seoul, those are not the dominant factors in daily life. I think this diversity makes the U.S. more fascinating.

How did you first get connected to the IHouse?

Kang & EJ: We were searching for international programs. Because we would like to improve our English and make American and international friends. Finally, we found an online site of the IHouse.

What IHouse programs have you been involved with? Why these programs?

EJ: English Conversation Club, Duke Language Partners Program, and International Friends Program. We tried to participate as much as we can. We are big fans of the IHouse. Thank you for those programs, I could make many good international friends. And it helps me have broadened the perspective to understand the world.

Kang: Since arriving here, one of the most challenging things is English, I naturally participated in the English Conversation Club. It was informative and it was fun to meet people from various countries, so I tried to attend it as often as possible. The Duke Language Partners Program matched by the IHouse was also very beneficial. It helped improve my English and settle down with local life. I think it is always a great pleasure and an opportunity to meet and talk with people with different languages and cultures. So My wife and I joined the International Friends Program without hesitation.

What have you enjoyed most about participating in IHouse programs?

Kang: International Friends program. Although the meetings with friends were reduced due to Covid-19, I had a precious chance to learn a lot of things. I went hiking with my friends in a nice trail and enjoyed a great dinner with them. It was most enjoyable to talk about all sorts of things through such meetings. Through this, I believe that I have had a better understanding of American society and Americans, and also that I have had a good opportunity to reflect on the society I belong to. It's a pity that I couldn't have more conversations with my friends because of the virus.

EJ: It was all really good. The English Conversation Club was nice to meet various friends from all over the world. The topics presented by Duke University's undergraduates every week were also interesting. I remember the theme of the first day was race. It was a difficult topic to talk on the first day, but I liked the topic. I've come to realize again that the position I'm standing in can vary depending on the context. Also, the story of the American NFL, which we talked about the day after the Super Bowl, was interesting. American football is an unfamiliar sport to me, and it was a fun time to see how big an event is in American society. Through Language Exchange, and International Friends, I was regularly meeting with American friends and it makes me understand American culture deeply. Also, I was happy to let them know about South Korean culture. I love all activities!



What does the international community at Duke seem like to you?

Kang: For international visiting scholars like me, it seemed to offer a variety of opportunities for adjustment. I think it has prepared detailed programs for the ‘soft landing’ of international students and scholars — language, socializing, physical and mental health, sports and cultural experiences, and so on.

EJ: The attitude and enthusiasm of the staff managing the programs in the community were also excellent. The composition of the staff was diverse and the attitude toward international students and scholars was well trained and very considerate, I felt.

What was the biggest adjustment you had to make when moving to the U.S.? What are some parts of the America culture you still haven’t gotten used to or understood?

EJ: Still, I'm confused about health insurance issues. South Korea has a universal health care system. So in South Korea, whenever I am sick I can consult the doctors cheaply in the hospital. But before coming to the U.S., I had heard of scary stories about hospital bills in the U.S. several times. I'm trying my best not to go to the hospital here.

Kang: There were some small cultural differences — entering the room without taking off shoes, greeting without bowing, strange tipping culture, etc., but they were just a matter of understanding and adjusting over time. Beyond understanding and adaptation are gun culture and unsafe public security. Even I was well aware of the history of US gun culture, the shock of seeing someone actually carrying a gun still lingers. Occasional gun shootings in this area also used to raise anxiety and nervousness. When will guns disappear in the United States?

Is there anything you wish you had known about America before coming?

Kang & EJ: Both of us have covered political issues in South Korea, so we are also interested in the 2020 presidential election in the United States. The 2020 presidential election is an issue that affects not only the U.S. but also the world. It's a pleasure as reporters to be able to go to the scene of the incident. So when major presidential candidates such as Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders came to NC, we went there for seeing them.



What has been the most meaningful part of your experience at Duke or in the U.S. so far?

Kang: It's people. Meeting people with various races, cultures, nationalities, languages, religions, and political orientation, etc. It’s the most meaningful and enjoyable. It is a short stay, but this eventually has led me to the realization that individuals are diverse but ultimately equal regardless of their background. I feel diversity is the driving force of the United States. Diversity sometimes creates conflict and division, but I believe it can make innovation and creativity in the end.

What advice would you give to other from your home country coming to Durham to study/work at Duke?

EJ: Please use the IHouse often. There are so many good programs here. And don't hesitate, just try it. The time at Duke is passing much faster than I thought. Especially in the face of Covid-19, everything can suddenly change at any time, I'm learning again this fact. So it's good to try when you can. Of course, it is true that there is a language barrier for international friends like me. It is not easy but there are many friends in the IHouse who are waiting for us with an open mind.