Chung, who spoke at the Wilson School last Wednesday, has maintained ties with the University. He knows University President Shirley Tilghman from her visit to Seoul National University where he was president, in 2004.
Four years later, Chung came to the University for one semester as a visiting fellow at the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies. He came as the University was expanding its work on Korean studies.
Chung said he was interested in studying economics since he enrolled at Seoul National University as an undergraduate. In fact, he chose to study at Princeton because economics professor Alan Blinder ’67 said he would receive “individual care” at the University.
Blinder said when Chung was a student in the 1970s, the economics department was “clearly more practical and real-world oriented than it is now.”
Chung said Blinder supported him “wholeheartedly” and helped him secure a job in academia at Columbia University just as he was about to graduate.
In his lecture on Wednesday, Chung compared the support he received from Blinder to the support that controversial former Korean President Syngman Rhee, Class of 1910, received from former University President Woodrow Wilson, Class of 1879.
“It seems Princeton has a gift for providing generous care and support for graduate students from Korea who need help finding the right future path,” he said.
Blinder remembered Chung as an accomplished and intellectually talented student during his time at the University. He said Chung kept up well with the rigors of the University’s Ph.D. program.
“He continued excelling because by the time he was finishing his PhD, he did quite well,” Blinder said.
Nevertheless, Chung said his success at the University had to do at least partly with luck.
“When I arrived at Princeton, I went to the Institute for Advanced Study and touched the nose of the statue of Albert Einstein because I heard that you will pass your Ph.D. thesis qualifying exam if you do so,” Chung said.
As a graduate student, Chung said he had to overcome a mild language barrier.
“In the beginning, English was a bit hard for me,” Chung said. “Especially in lectures, when the professors are from New York, they speak very fast. Alan Blinder was one of the professors that spoke very fast. I always had to look at the lecture notes.”
Although he was part of a minority group of students on a predominantly white campus, Chung experienced no problems with discrimination. Chung acknowledged the lack of Korean students on campus, saying that he believed there were only eight Korean graduate students — and no Korean undergraduates — when he was a student on campus.
“In that day we had a baseball league among Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton and Rutgers Korean students, but we couldn’t form a team because we needed nine. So we had to borrow a player from somewhere in the residential town,” Chung noted.
Despite the lack of Korean students, Chung said he felt no sense of obvious discrimination based on race during his years at the University.
“I never noticed any outwardly discriminatory behavior. Maybe on the inside, some students were discriminatory, but it was never explicit,” Chung said. “Anyone from a foreign country will experience a little bit of different treatment, but I think that it is not something that was worth noting.”
In addition to his studious reputation, Chung was also respected and liked by his peers during his time at the University.
“I distinctly remembered the dinner party he gave with his wife,” said Edward Driffill GS ’77, who had the room adjacent to Chung during Driffill’s first year in the school. “He invited me and some other friends around for dinner one evening. It was the first time I was ever offered Korean food. I was struck by the large amounts of seaweed.”
In addition to Driffill, who was from Cambridge University, Chung was also friendly with the few Korean students attending the University at the time. Byoung Kim GS ’74, a fellow Korean who earned a Ph.D. in mechanical and aerospace engineering while Chung was at the University, said that he and Chung as well as other Korean students met around once a week.
“He was married and with his wife; she became almost like a housemother, and we really appreciated it,” explained Kim, who said they often ate Korean food together.
Looking back on his career, Chung, who was involved in high-profile positions in both academia and government, noted that he prefers the academic world to politics. He doesn’t consider his former position as prime minister as one that is explicitly political. Rather, he views his former role as an adviser to the president of South Korea.
“In the university setting, the people you work with are all similar to you in a way, but in government, people are from totally different backgrounds, which makes understanding each other harder than in the academic setting,” he said.
Despite this, Chung — who said he was often asked to run for President of South Korea — said he has not shut out the possibility of pursuing the Korean presidency. Nevertheless, he says the likelihood he will run is not high.
After leaving the Korean Prime Minister’s office in 2010, Chung led the Commission on Shared Growth for Large and Small Companies until earlier this year. The committee aims to encourage large corporations in Korea to voluntarily give back a fair share of profits to small and medium enterprises or create a framework where innovation at their level can be rewarded.
“I am willing to do anything I can to promote this idea in South Korea,” Chung said. “Not only between large corporations and small enterprises, but also between the rich and the poor, between the urban areas and the rural areas.”
This ties back to Chung’s humble upbringing.
“When I was younger, I didn’t have many dreams, only to be a good citizen,” Chung said. “I thought that if I work hard every day, there will be some accumulation of what I have done. And maybe I can do some good in the world.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/10/09/31427/