4 Jan 2012
Fulbright Professor Details Experience in South Korea
Sungsoo Kim, a professor of accounting at the Rutgers School of Business–Camden, was recently honored as a winner in the 2010-11 Fulbright Distinguished Chairs Program. During the fall 2011 semester, Kim taught undergraduate and graduate courses on the subprime mortgage crisis and U.S. firms’ financial reporting practices at Yonsei University, a premier Korean university. He also delivered lectures on international financial reporting at other venues in South Korea.
Kim, who was born in South Korea, was in South Korea when longtime North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died. He had the unique experience of witnessing the repercussions of the death first hand. Sungsoo Kim recently answered some questions for the Rutgers–Camden Faculty Experts Blog:
Q: What was your Fulbright experience like?
A: My Fulbright experience was far more than what I expected. I had a privilege of teaching best college students in South Korea. It was amazing to teach a three hour class without any pause (except for intersession break). Fifty students in my undergraduate class were absorbing course materials in the most professional manner. My corporate MBA class students are mangers from Samsung, LG and other major Fortune companies. They were ready and eager to learn advanced topics. I truly enjoyed teaching both undergraduate and MBA classes.
I was also involved with Fulbright Commission work by serving as a panel member for screening Fulbright scholarship programs. Student programs support the applicants who pursue master and doctoral degrees in the U.S. and junior faculty programs support research-oriented faculty to engage in U.S. research universities. I participated in a series of interview sessions arranged by Fulbright commission in Seoul, Korea.
Q: While you were in Korea, longtime North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died. Could you put the death into perspective? What kind of impact does it have on the people of Korea?
A: The Kim Dynasty has been in power since 1945 when the U.S. and USSR divided the Korean peninsula into South and North Korea after World War II. Kim Jong Il took over the power from his father, Kim Il Sung, when he died in 1994. Kim Il Sung’s death was not expected, and people from both South and North Korea were not ready for the post-Kim era. This was part of the reason there were tense moments following the elder Kim’s death. Kim Jong Il had been reported to have had health problems over the last few years after his stroke, so the North Korean regime had been trying to ready for his death by designating 27-year-old Kim Jong Eun, Kim Jong Il’s third son, as the Kingdom’s heir apparent.
Q: Describe what the sentiment was like on the streets of South Korea, among the people, and in the news media.
A: Most South Korean media stopped their regular broadcasting to air live footages, panel discussions, etc., but people in the South didn’t seem to care much about the news. The North Korean military, under the new leader, will rule the North, meaning few changes are expected even after Kim’s death. They are all curious as to how long this 65-year old dynasty would last with young leader at the helm.
The country and Asia stood still for weeks after Kim Il Sung’s death, but it did not happen this time, and even people in North Korea seemed to pay less respect to “dear leader” (Kim Jong Il) than “great leader” (his father Kim Il Sung). I wonder what kind of leader title they will give to Kim Jong Eun.
Q: After his death, the South Korean military was put on high alert. Why was that a necessary step? Did that create tension among the public?
A: Whenever the North Korean regime was in danger in the past, they tended to divert internal problems somewhere else by intentionally provoking South Korea with military actions. Also, South Korea was trying to get ready for a possible imbalance in the North Korean Power structure, which might trigger unexpected military outbreak from North.
Q: What do you think Kim Il Jeong’s death means for North Korea and South Korea moving forward?
A: It could definitely be a game changer, but South Korea and North Korea are already exchanging harsh words over the South Korean government’s unwillingness to pay reasonable tributes to Kim’s death. Kim Jong Eun’s aunt (Kim Jong Il’s younger sister) and her husband are believed to be the de facto power base, so we will see how they work together with younger Kim.