I was recently asked to give a talk at the Harvard College in Asia Program held at Ewha a few weeks back. The conference was titled “Technology and Social in Justice.” It was attended by a group of smart and enthusiastic undergraduate students from both universities.
After much thought, I decided to talk about how globalization by accelerating technological progress has exacerbated inequality the world over. Globalization and inequality. As a sociologist, I suppose I couldn’t have picked a topic that seemed more relevant for our contemporary world. In any case, I felt that the lecture was well-received, judging by the number of interesting and engaging questions and comments posed by Korean and American students alike.
As I wrapped up my talk and headed over to my office for a quick bite before rushing over to my regular class, something dawned on me. The epiphany I had was that globalization isn’t simply about the increasing flows of material goods and services across international borders. It’s more than just free trade agreements between countries, or multilateral deals involving the WTO and the IMF. No, it has a lot to do with the exchange of ideas and values that take place at the interpersonal level. And, college students such as yourself are the best vehicles through which this sort of exchange can take place.
Think about it. The Harvard students I met and the Ewha students who hosted them in fact embody globalization. They are the transnational carriers of cultural commodities. Those 14 students from Cambridge, Massachusetts have experienced Korean culture and they will bring back their personal experiences to their country. There, they will consciously or not spread what they have felt and thought about Korea to their local friends, who may in turn share their second-hand knowledge with the people they know and so on. A similar phenomenon will happen here on our campus as well, as the 14 Ewha students plant the cultural seeds of their own overseas experiences from visiting Harvard and their contact with the students from there.
It is a cliche to say that we live in a global community. But it’s true. I feel it in my skin especially every time I travel. On my recent trip to Japan I met up with a friend, an ethnic Japanese who was educated in the United States and France and travels around the globe for business. A true product of globalization. As I talked with him, I was fascinated by the interesting perspectives he had and realized again the value of having an open mind toward things that are novel and foreign.
I wish for all of you to have the same attitude toward acquiring and maintain a cosmopolitan outlook. And remember that globalization is not some abstract concept “out there.” Rather, we are smack in the middle of it. More importantly, we are all living channels through which the multifaceted processes of cultural globalization take place. So, keep your eyes, hearts, and minds open and look for opportunities to become active participants. After all, globalization is not going anywhere. It’s here to stay- probably for good.
* Professor Harris H Kim is a faculty member in the sociology department. He received his graduate training at Columbia University (M.A.) and the University of Chicago (Ph.D.). He is currently involved in a project based on original fieldwork in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where he gathered survey data on ethnic Koreans living in Central Asia.