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SBU keeps watchful eye on Korea

Concerns but not yet alarm over sister university

Above, local high school students advised by SUNY Korea faculty demonstrate a remote-controlled project at the campus. Below, a SUNY Korea building on the Songdo campus. Photos from SBU

April 10, 2013 | 09:19 AM
As tensions mount on the Korean Peninsula, Stony Brook University continues to monitor the situation as it relates to its brand new sister school, SUNY Korea, located just outside of Seoul, South Korea.

For now, the school — in the city of Songdo — is following its regular agenda.

"We're given no indication, either by our people on the ground or by the U.S. Embassy, that there are immediate concerns," said W. Brent Lindquist, chair of the Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics and former deputy provost of Stony Brook University. Lindquist oversaw the opening of the Korea campus as deputy provost and is still heavily involved with it.

In recent weeks, North Korea has made threats to South Korea and the United States, warning of a possible war and announcing plans to restart operations on an old nuclear reactor. On Tuesday, the country advised foreigners in South Korea make evacuation plans, claiming the region was on the brink of war.

SUNY Korea, which opened last year, is a small institution with fewer than 100 undergraduate and graduate students, according to Lindquist. Of that population, there are three undergraduates and four graduate students as well as 10 members of the faculty and staff with U.S. passports.

"We're communicating on a daily basis, making sure we know everybody who is there, who is American," Lindquist said. "We're developing contingency plans to make sure we have a plan in place to deal with all of our faculty and students in the case of an emergency."

In addition to those attending SUNY Korea, there are 10 Stony Brook students studying at locations throughout South Korea, according to William Arens, SBU's vice provost of global affairs. For Arens, the situation is a constant in the region, one the university always has to consider.

"We follow the state department on this issue — as long as they say it's all right to go, we continue to send students there," he said. "We take it seriously, but we can't afford to halt all of our operations because there is a situation in Korea, because it is not the first time."

That sense is prevalent on Stony Brook's main campus as well. Those aware of the situation are keeping history in mind: that North and South Korea have technically been at war for decades and the threat of resuming that war is always at the forefront of the relations between the two countries.

"Both the South and North Korean governments are prone to be aggressive in explicitly exchanging hostile rhetoric," said Hongkyung Kim, director of the Center for Korean Studies at Stony Brook University. "However, exchanging such rhetoric itself is a routine in the Korean Peninsula."

Despite it being routine, Kim, also an associate professor, mentioned he has recently made more international calls to his family members in Korea to check on their wellbeing.

Concern over the situation extends to the student body, which has a population of 658 non-immigrant Korean students at the main campus, according to Arens' office. That number does not include American students of South Korean heritage.

According to Daniel Chung, vice president of the Korean Student Association, "Many of our students and friends at Stony Brook are international students from South Korea, so it has been a present concern among the Korean community on campus."

The Korean Student Association has worked to empower awareness of Korean culture on campus for more than 20 years.

"Our concerns have definitely increased since the development of recent events."

For now, SUNY Korea is following its usual schedule, and SBU is keeping an eye on the situation, according to university spokesperson Lauren Sheprow.

"SUNY Korea has been in touch with the U.S. Embassy in Korea and will follow the recommendation of any emergency advisories issued by the Embassy or U.S. Department of State," Sheprow said in a statement.

"At present, normal academic activities are continuing at SUNY Korea."

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