Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
MPA

Ailie Morgan, Joshua Rosenberg, and Shashank Sreedharan MPA '17 in Bokchon village, Seoul, South Korea.

"The power dynamic that exists between the United States and South Korea in relation to foreign policy is full of complexities. Korea looks to America for military support in a region that can often be hostile."

Joshua Rosenberg MPA ’17

Reflecting on the Global Policy Experience in South Korea

During the GPE, MPA students chose a policy topic relevant to the region they visited and produced an interview, film, or photo series that sheds light on the topic. Here Joshua Rosenberg reflects on the process of creating a film about Korean waste management.

My time spent in Seoul, South Korea was a life-changing experience. This was where my grandfather had fought seventy years ago. This is a country that continues to play an important role in my family’s history. When we talk about my grandfather, we can’t help but to discuss his time in Korea. The Koreans to whom I became closest were, Min and Youngsik, graduate students from Sungkyunkwan University, our host for ten days. They both embraced me as a colleague and as a friend. As we explored Seoul’s historic sites and engaged in lectures with some of Korea’s most important intellectuals and governmental actors, I knew that hearing from Min and Youngsik would be an important element in our GPE project.

When Ailie (fellow MPA student) and I decided that the focus of our project would be how Koreans handle their waste management, we decided to interview Min and Youngsik. We felt that whatever story we could tell about the evolution of Korea’s trash management system could be humanized by their lived experiences. Both were reflective and well prepared to discuss this topic. Min had printed out a report which discussed the genesis of Korea’s Volume Based Waste Fee System (VBWF), which was central to our project. Youngsik talked about his personal experience with the new system. Their contributions resulted in a much stronger project than had we not interviewed them.

The power dynamic that exists between the United States and South Korea in relation to foreign policy is full of complexities. Korea looks to America for military support in a region that can often be hostile. Aside from North Korea’s provocations, China can also be a demanding influence. Without America’s support, it’s difficult to imagine that South Korea would be able to maintain such a strong sense of autonomy in the region. America, of course, benefits from a strong relationship with Korea, insofar as it is able to check China’s expansion in the region. Still, one could argue that South Korea’s stake in its relationship with America is of a more existential nature. I believe that this relationship expressed itself in subtle ways during the filming of the project. The people we met were exceedingly helpful during the project -- video interviews went smoothly and subjects eagerly volunteered to help and went above and beyond what we asked them to do. I did pause to ask myself if their actions were subtly guided by the fact that Ailie and I are Americans. The hospitality and helpfulness Koreans exhibited might be partially based on our citizenship.