June 23, 2014
By Mike Killeen
When the 7th annual Korea-America Student Conference (KASC) begins in July, Mai Tong Vang and Tiffany Xiong will have one advantage over their follow delegates.
Vang and Xiong won't have to introduce themselves to each other, or need to fill out the "Hello, my name is ...." stickers.
After all, they are both rising seniors at the College of Saint Benedict, and attended Harding High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, together.
"Since we both went to the same high school, the two of us have been friends since then," Vang said. "I believe that since Tiffany is going as well I definitely feel a lot more comfortable. It will be my first time traveling out of country with a group of people I don't know, so having her there is very reassuring."
The KASC brings together 25 American and 25 Korean undergraduate and graduate students for a student-led academic and cultural student exchange program. This year, the program meets throughout July in four regions in South Korea (Gangwon-do, Seoul, Jeju Island and Busan) to discuss issues pertinent to the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and South Korea.
The delegation researches five specific roundtable topics — business and society; communication and culture; politics and security; global human rights; and education — and meets with various experts. At the end of the conference, each roundtable presents creative solutions before a panel of judges and a general audience. This year's theme is, 'Introspection: Opportunity to Learn, Grow and Prosper."
"I feel very honored to have been entrusted with this role," said Xiong, a social science major at CSB. "I cannot express in words how amazing it felt when I found out I was accepted as an American delegate to the conference."
Vang said she is proud to be representing the United States, but is also nervous and excited to be traveling to the conference.
"All of these emotions add up to my main emotion: proud," said Vang, an elementary education major at CSB. "I am proud of myself for taking the initiative to go outside my comfort zone, and to be deemed worthy as a delegate representing the United States.
"The different activities and discussions set up are also what I am really looking forward to," Vang said.
Xiong said she is excited about meeting new people and visiting the different sites in Korea.
"This conference offers a rare opportunity which allows students to communicate in a way that I could not have gotten if I studied abroad," Xiong said. "This conference forces us to sit together for four weeks and discuss, debate and comprehend different viewpoints. This does not happen often in life, and this is really exciting to see how differently people think about the world."
Both said their experiences at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University should benefit them.
"Since KASC is a student-led conference, there will be many different, various views from both American and Korean delegates," Vang said. "What I have learned through my courses will help me to analyze and understand where both sides are coming from. This will help aid me in truly understanding the relations between the U.S. and South Korea."
"CSB and SJU has taught me a lot about people. I have learned that every person is unique, because of their personal experiences. These experiences help shape their beliefs and values and make them who they are," Xiong said.