Tuesday, 27 September, 2022

Nepal-phile Korean Academician


Prof. Balmukunda Regmi

A South Korean professor is famous among Nepali pharmacists. Through him, many Nepali students have been able to pursue higher studies and find jobs. He has also helped some Nepali academic institutions in strengthening their research capabilities.

In 2012, my former student Nirmal Marasini told me that his Korean mentor, Professor Chul Soon Yong, Yeungnam University, intends to engage in bilateral cooperation with the Tribhuvan University Department of Pharmacy. Nepali students had given him a very good impression of their alma mater. Our cooperation started taking place.

Through advances in both economic and scientific fields, South Korea had already become a world economic and research centre, as reflected by the hosting of Asian Games in 1986, Summer Olympic Games in 1988, Winter Olympic Games in 1998, and the establishment of diplomatic relations by the People’s Republic of China, a close ally of North Korea. In the medical field, South Korea was carrying a lot of frontier research works in the fields of nanotechnology, stem cells, vaccines and robotics.

At that time, South Korea had already become an attractive overseas job market for Nepali workers. Some Nepali students had also succeeded in joining Korean universities under Korean government scholarships.
At a personal level, a doctoral graduate of the University of South Carolina, Professor Yong has worked as the dean of the college of pharmacy, the president of The Korean Society of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Technology, the president of The Asian Federation for Pharmaceutical Sciences (AFPS), the chair of Organising Committee for 2013 AFPS Conference. He has published around 370 research article papers in SCI(E) journals and 100 in domestic journals, edited 15 books, registered 40 patents to his credit and cultivated about 80 Masters and 40 doctoral students including 11 Nepali students. He played a key role in helping Hanoi University of Pharmacy, Vietnam, launch/upgrade pharmacy programmes.

In our first meeting, Professor Yong shared some of his experiences, both related to our field of pharmacy and mundane affairs. I do not know how he read my mind, we discussed pioneering achievements and some negative facets of former Korean President Park Chung-hee. Economic policies were developed and implemented, and industrialization took place during his reign, shaping the Korean future and making it an economic power.

He also established Yeungnam University. I was deeply impressed by his insights: mobile apps would replace human translators; small languages have better chances of survival now that no one needs to speak English as a lingua franca, and the population of Japan is predicted to become zero in near future. In Professor Yong, I was seeing a reflection of my North Korean classmate Park Yongchun. I wished to see a great united Korea, where I could sit down together with both my friends. I had not seen Park for two decades.
When professors in technical specialities enrol students in academic programmes providing them scholarships and carrying out scientific research works, it benefits both parties and science as well. Due to a lack of funds and a research environment, opportunities for Nepali students are limited. Professor Yong is one of those lucky ones who get a chance to perform well.

The benefits of education far exceeds job opportunity. The pass-outs not only get better-paying jobs the rest of their life, but they can also contribute to the technological advancement of society.
Irrespective of how many graduates have returned to Nepal, Professor Yong has supervised 11 students himself and recommended another 20 to his colleagues at home and abroad. Not all individuals thus educated are retained in Nepal, but some are.
A student, Roshan Pradhan, returned to Nepal after completing his post-doctorate course and is working as a factory operation manager in the local pharmaceutical industry. Another student, Raj Kumar Thapa, is currently engaged in academic slot in Nepal.

In the beginning, Prof Yong was recruiting foreign students from China, India, Vietnam, Myanmar and Nepal. In course of time, the professor who treats his students as his family members realized that students from different countries had different food habits, and were difficult to manage together at the dining table. After much consideration, he decided to give priority to Nepalis.
Dr Yong has not only promoted relations at academic and institution levels, inviting Nepali scholars to visit Daegu, or visiting Nepal himself, he also invites friends to his home for dinner, shows his living room decorated with souvenirs from around the world, where a Nepali flag, a khukuri and other Nepali handicrafts are also displayed.

He shares fruits, homemade tea and food, the items being introduced by his talented wife, Mrs Eun Hee Kang in fluent standard English. His only son, Sang-Jin Yong, a medical student, also provides occasional support. When he visits Nepal, he invites Nepali friends and their families to the party he hosts. Naturally, the relationship expands to the family level.

Himself a moderate Christian, he takes Nepalis to Buddhist shrines in Korea. It is another thing that these shrines are not much crowded as they were in their heydays. This moderate Hindu scribe and Prof. Yong enjoy talking endlessly on a wide range of topics including those that could prove sensitive to others, such as stem cells, religions, political systems and the Korean War. Whether we visit Swayambhunath, a Buddhist heritage site, Pashupatinath a Hindu site, or a Korean church, we both are equally happy and open to each other.
My colleagues were moved when Prof. Yong ate his dinner with his right hand, saying he was doing so for the first time in his life to show respect to Nepali culture and colleagues. Of course, we could see the difficulty he had in his new attempt.

Professor Yong no longer remains a person; he has become an institution. His students are scattered in the USA, Canada, Singapore, Great Britain, France, Vietnam, China, Myanmar, Australia, Sweden, Spain, India, Malaysia and other countries! Nepalis alone are in five countries. Many of his disciples can be expected to continue to propagate the research culture he sowed in them.

It is expected with reasonable trust that the cooperation actively propounded by Professor Yong will continue in the future, with more scholars joining hands to forward what has already begun. Many others may get inspired and initiate independent projects and ventures that ultimately add up to the promotion of Nepal-Korea cooperation and advancement of humanity, culture, science and technology.
The scribe proposes and hopes Nepal formally appoints Professor Yong as her brand ambassador to Korea. As to Prof. Yong, he has been already acting like one. He has already linked some Nepali universities to Korean universities and is also trying to funnel Korean aid to the Nepali pharma sector. More can be anticipated in the future.

(Regmi is a university professor)