Former U.S. ambassador to Korea Kathleen Stephens was selected as a recipient in the Korean culture category at the 32nd Sejong Culture Awards Ceremony held at the National Gugak Center in southern Seoul on May 13.
“It was my greatest privilege to see the nation developing in person,” Stephens said in her acceptance speech. “It was a journey to give the world an inspiration.”
When serving as an English teacher as part of the Peace Corps during her stay in Yesan, Chungcheongnam-do (South Chungcheong Province) in 1975, Stephens fell in love with the country. She is also known to have initiated Korean language classes in the Korea-based American Embassy during her tenure as U.S. ambassador from 2008 to 2011.
“I am grateful for the opportunities I had to get to know the nation and share the passion of the Koreans for history, culture, music, and arts,” added Stephens, calling the winning of the Sejong Award a “great honor.”
“I saw freedom, prosperity, and development in the nation bloom while I stayed here for many, many years, and that was an inspiration for all around the world. I don’t live here anymore, but Korea always stays with me.”
Marc Orange, president of the Korean Studies Research Association, was named winner in the Scholar sector in recognition of his efforts to develop Korean studies at Collège de France and the National Institute of Society and Science, leading education and research establishments in France. His lectures and dissertations about Korean studies are credited with helping further expand Korean studies throughout his nation.
“What fascinated me about Korea is the people and their fondness, warmth, and attachment, also known as ‘jeong,’” said Orange in his acceptance speech.
“The first time I came to Korea, I felt like I was in my mother’s arms and when I returned, I could never forget the warmth and the memories I had in Korea,” he answered when asked about why he chose Korea.
“My students once under my wings have now become teachers who teach Korean or play leading roles in promoting Korean culture in France,” he added. “All I want to do for the rest of my life is to continue contributing to developing Korean studies.”
Dance studies professor Park In-ja of Sookmyung Women’s University, celebrity couples Cha In-pyo and Shin Ae-ra, and the Daum Foundation, a non-profit organization involved in creating various cultural content, were selected as recipients in the Arts, International Cooperation, and Cultural Diversity categories, respectively.
“The Sejong Culture Awards are granted in commemoration of the achievements and spirits of King Sejong the Great (the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty, 1397-1450) who paved the way for Korea to flourish in every aspect ranging from politics, economy, and culture to science and security,” said Culture Minister Yoo Jin-ryong during his congratulatory speech, calling those winners “our inspirations and role models.”
Kathleen Stephens donated a portion of her prize money amounting to KRW ten million to the Korea Cycling Foundation (KCF). Stephens was quoted in an interview as saying, “I made a donation in hope of seeing more people riding bicycles on streets in Korea boasting of its beautiful nature and excellent infrastructure.”
“Traveling by bicycle in Korea offered me a great opportunity to meet great Koreans and get to know more about its culture,” she added.
Well-known as a cycling enthusiast, last year she covered, by bike, 633 kilometer of the bike lanes stretching from Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi-do (Gyeonggi Province) to Busan.