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The third Korea Arctic Academy: What Arctic States can learn from a non-Arctic State

September 19, 2017


Jay-Kwon Park

Jay-Kwon Park at Korean Arctic Academy
Feature Series

IPI Arctic Fellows travel to Dartmouth and Busan

Training in Arctic studies with experts from around the world

On July 6, 2017, the third Korea Arctic Academy (KAA) kicked off with an opening ceremony, which included welcoming remarks from Justin Kim, Director General of Industry Intelligence and Strategy Research Division of Korea Maritime Institute (KMI), and a group photo at the KMI in Busan, South Korea. The KAA is an intense ten-day program of presentations, lectures, and visits to various South Korean institutions and infrastructure that support Korea’s Arctic strategy. Hosted by Korea’s Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and organized by KMI, Korea
Polar Research Institute (KOPRI), and the UArctic, the goal of the KAA is to exchange different ideas and perspectives on the Arctic. For this year’s event, a total of 32 students (11 Korean students and 21 others from eight Arctic states) were selected to present and share their thoughts on ongoing and potential issues facing the Arctic.

The KAA is interesting because it is an Arctic program hosted by a non-Arctic state. Although Asian countries are showing great interest in being involved in Arctic affairs, it is hard to hear anything about their work and presence outside those countries. Thus, the KAA served as a good overview of Korea’s involvement in the Arctic – a kind of “Arctic 101: Korea in the Arctic” introductory class for students from not only Korean universities but also the eight Arctic states. The KAA is part of South Korea’s efforts to build better relationships with the Arctic states, and the program successfully introduced South Korea’s work and its potential for working in the Arctic, as well as the perspectives of students from Arctic states on various Arctic issues.

2017 Korean Arctic Academy Group Shot

Participants at the 3rd Annual Korean Arctic Academy 2017.

As someone born in America but raised in Korea, it was interesting for me to see the difference between the United States’ and South Korea’s national Arctic strategies and policies.Given that my main area of study is the Arctic with a specific focus on South Korea’s interest in the Arctic, hearing from the government officials who currently steer South Korean Arctic policy was a valuable experience; I learned about the most recent updates to Korea’s Arctic strategy and worked to build a unique network or Arctic experts. Moreover, visiting different facilities and institutions, such as KOPRI and DSME (Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering) shipyard, allowed me to see the potential for South Korea to serve as an important asset in sustainable development of the Arctic.

Seeing the DSME shipyard with my own eyes was enlightening. Although I already knew from my research that South Korea is a global leader in the shipbuilding industry, including icebreakers, I was astonished and overwhelmed by the number and size of the shipyards. Notably, the ships built by DSME all follow the Polar Code, which seeks to minimize the environmental impacts of the vessels. The company is also testing Arctic coating for its ships, which not only is crucial for the Arctic’s fragile ecosystem but also survival of the ship and its crew members. Most of the shipyards were docked with giant icebreakers that were ordered by different logistics companies and Arctic states such as Russia. Russia has shown its ambitious goal of becoming the leader in the liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry with its massive recoverable LNG fields in the Yamal Peninsula. South Korea has an integral role in this project that it won orders to build and supply icebreaking LNG carriers for the Yamal LNG project. Before seeing the shipyards and hearing its plans on expanding its business, I had doubts on South Korea’s ability to execute such orders. However, after visiting DSME facilities, I could see how it could obtain such mega orders from Russia.

Besides on-site visits to important Arctic institutions and facilities, listening to student presentations on various issues facing the Arctic was also interesting. Because many of the student participants from the Arctic states were from Indigenous groups, it was interesting to hear about important issues from those who are being most affected by climate change but whose voices are often neglected. Students from Greenland gave a presentation on how it feels to be Greenlanders when they can’t do anything but watch the climate change and threaten their daily lives. The presentation that one Greenlander gave was touching and depressing at the same time because. She talked her experience of living in Greenland as an Inuit and how she has been experiencing changes caused by climate change. She can’t go dog-sledding as often as she used to, for example. She also talked about recent tsunami that happened in Greenland that wiped out villages and killed her relatives. I never heard anything about the tsunami that hit Greenland. Although I read and wrote papers on the Arctic, students’ presentations on what is really happening in Greenland were eye-opening for me.

On top of academic merit of the student presentations and the fieldtrips, the KAA provided a good environment for building a network of future Arctic leaders from Korea and the Arctic states. We were introduced to Korea’s unique places, traditional culture, and famous K-pop culture where we could mingle and get to know each other better. We were introduced to exotic, traditional restaurants where some of us were brave enough to try chopped live octopus or live shrimp soaked in wine. All of these different cultural experiences made us want to learn and explore more about Korea and created a unique bond among the participants.

Overall, the third KAA came to me as a good refresher, allowing me look back to what I have studied so far, share my thoughts about the Arctic, learn new aspects, and build a network of emerging Arctic scholars. I am thankful that I got a chance to participate in such an amazing program where I could not only see South Korea’s potential in thriving in developing the Arctic but also broaden my view of how I understand the Arctic.

This post is part of the International Policy Institute Arctic blog series, IPI Arctic Fellows travel to Dartmouth and Busan. To overview the series, read the introduction

This publication was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.