Campus News

Former Ambassador Kathleen Stephens to Speak on U.S.-Korean Relations

February 15, 2019

Communications Staff

Image of Kathleen Stephens
Kathleen Stephens, former ambassador to South Korea
Photo credit: Courtesy of Oberlin College

Kathleen Stephens, the former ambassador to South Korea from 2009-2011, will give a talk with crucial insights on the upcoming U.S.-North Korea summit as part of her campus visit March 7-8 during the Global Issues Symposium.

Stephens is part of a panel discussion on “Militarizing East Asia” that includes Sheila A. Smith, senior fellow for Japan studies with the Council of Foreign Relations, and Jeffrey Wasserstrom, professor of history at University of California Irvine, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Thursday, March 7.

The campus community will have an opportunity to hear more about Stephens’ career as a diplomat as well as her expertise on the relations between the United States and Northeast Asia in a separate guest event at 10 a.m. Friday, March 8, in Nancy Schrome Dye Lecture Hall. The talk will be moderated by Professor of East Asian studies Sheila Miyoshi Jager and Visiting Assistant Professor of History Jiyul Kim.

Stephens’ visit is timely because it is scheduled one week after President Trump’s second summit with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un that will take place February 27-28 in Vietnam. In the talk moderated by Jager and Kim, Stephens will discuss the outcome of the summit and its implications for the future of peace Northeast Asia.

Kim says he is thrilled to bring Stephens to Oberlin because she is one of the foremost experts on the region, especially on the Koreas. Stephens has a long career in foreign service, beginning as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Korea in the 1970s. She has held positions at U.S. embassies and consulates in China, Trinidad and Tobago, Serbia, Croatia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, and South Korea. She was ambassador to South Korea from 2009 to 2011.

Following her ambassadorship, Stephens was a research fellow with Stanford University’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center. She is now president and CEO of the Korea Economic Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C., that focuses on U.S.-South Korean relations and the South Korean political economy.  

Kim says Stephens was highly regarded by the Korean people during her ambassadorship. “She spoke the language and embraced the people and the culture, insisting on using the Korean name she adopted while in the Peace Corps. To this day, she is more familiar to South Koreans by her Korean name, Shim Eun-gyeong. We could not have asked for a more qualified person to talk about the Koreas. Her life and career will be inspirational to Oberlin students.”

The event is sponsored by the Oberlin College dean’s office, International Studies, the East Asian studies, history, and politics departments, and the Oberlin Korean Student Association.

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