Scholarship Winner Gets Dose of New Medical Skills in South Korea
March 9, 2016
Hyunjoo "Eunice" Ko
When Hyunjoo "Eunice" Ko applied for a David L. Boren Scholarship to study in Seoul, South Korea, she knew she would gain advanced skills in the Korean language and experience working in a research lab.
She didn’t expect to get a firsthand look at how a nation handles a medical crisis. A deadly 2015 outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) left 36 dead and staggered Seoul’s economy as people avoided public places with large crowds.
“They were sold out of face masks and hand sanitizers. I watched as the Ministry of Public Health worked to inform the public and quarantine affected people. I learned how quickly a situation can get out of control,” said Ko, a biology junior at The University of Texas at Dallas.
Ko, who received the Boren Scholarship from the National Security Education Program in 2014, is the University’s third Boren award winner — and the first undergraduate recipient. Brian Couzelis received a Boren Fellowship for graduate students in 2013, and Sarah Islam was a Boren Scholarship alternate in 2005.
The scholarship and fellowship programs allow recipients to study languages in regions critical to U.S. interests, including Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
Ko joined UT Dallas as a National Merit Scholar and Collegium V Honors student. She credited Dr. Edward Harpham, dean of the Honors College, and Dr. Douglas Dow, associate dean, for their support in applying for the scholarship.
“I really couldn’t have done it without them,” she said.
Dow said Ko’s experiences in Seoul will give her an edge in the medical field someday.
“One of the many things that makes Eunice unique is her insight into how a career in medicine may directly involve questions of national security and international diplomacy. One day soon, Eunice will be on the front lines of medical diplomacy,” Dow said
“One of the many things that makes Eunice unique is her insight into how a career in medicine may directly involve questions of national security and international diplomacy. One day soon, Eunice will be on the front lines of medical diplomacy.”
During her year abroad, Ko would spend the morning studying at Yonsei University, the oldest language school in South Korea and widely considered the best. In the afternoon, she researched immune response to aseptic inflammation in Dr. Jeon-Soo Shin’s immunology and microbiology research lab.
Ko is ethnically Korean, and grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, where she spoke “overseas Korean,” a version used by those who are born outside of Korea and who didn’t grow up speaking the language in school.
“My Korean was a bit outdated, but they were able to put me in the accelerated program geared toward students who already spoke other Asian languages. I’m pretty much fluent now,” Ko said. “There are several levels of formalities in the language there, so you have to be careful not to offend.”
She also got in touch with her ethnic roots, which made her parents happy. Ko discovered more than a few cultural differences, however.
“People would say I walk like an American, with my head up and shoulders back. In South Korea, people walk around in their own little bubble because it’s such a dense population. If you say hello, people look at you like you’re crazy,” Ko said. “But it’s a very sweet culture. Once you get to know them, it’s like family.”
For Ko, watching the South Korean government and medical community respond to the MERS outbreak solidified her ultimate goal of working in public policy after she earns a medical degree.
“I discovered that a clinician is only as effective as the law will allow you to be,” she said.
“South Korea has an awesome universal health care system, with a lot of communication between doctors and patients. I would really like to see that same level of communication here. Working in public policy would allow me to help shape health care in the U.S.”