▲ Ambassador Kathleen Stephens poses with the diving women at the haenyeo school, hansupul, in Hallim. Photo courtesy the Embassy of the United States, Seoul, Korea.
Kathleen Stephens is not your typical diplomat.
The US Ambassador to Korea visited Jeju Island. Here from June 22 to June 25, she arrived by the overnight ferry from Incheon.
To get to the ferry, she rode her bicycle, with a team of staff members, from Seoul to Incheon.
Her purpose for visiting Jeju was not an official one. She regularly visits all regions of Korea, according to the embassy's deputy spokesperson, Andy Jay, and simply determined it was time for another trip to this bucolic island.
While here, however, she addressed the Jeju Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and held a MOFAT off-site meeting with members of the press.
▲ Ambassador Kathleen Stephens displaying her "catch" after diving with the haenyeo. Photo courtesy the Embassy of the United States, Seoul, Korea.
The first time she visited Jeju was in 1976, during her two-year Peace Corps assignment on the Korean peninsula. She has described that initial visit as “remarkable,” especially in regard to the tenacity of Jeju women.
During this visit, she wanted to experience Jeju culture firsthand.
She spent a day at the “haenyeo” (diving women) school or “hansupul,” located in Hallim, where she donned a wetsuit and goggles and swam with the women. Displaying skill in swimming, she admitted to being a novice diver and subsequently watched the expert haenyeo dive for 30 minutes.
Calling it a highlight of her trip to Jeju and stating she was “impressed,” the ambassador further remarked, “they [the diving women] didn't directly talk about age but about how long they have been diving – some of them, for more years than I've been alive.”
Proclaiming the women “very strong” and “amazing,” she also declared them a powerful example of the strength to be found in Korean women, a force for Korea's development both historically and in the future.
▲ Ambassador Kathleen Stephens on Olle Trail No. 10 with Jeju Provincial Governor Woo Keun Min and Olle founder Suh Myung Sook. Photo courtesy the Embassy of the United States, Seoul, Korea.
Another Jeju experience about which the ambassador “raved,” according to her spokesperson, was a hike along Olle Trail No. 10 with Governor Woo Keun Min and Olle founder Suh Myung Sook, among others.
She also climbed Seottal Oreum (volcanic cone) in Hwasun, and visited the renowned Seongsan Ilchulbong.
The ambassador sent regular messages or “tweets,” including photos, via her Twitter account @AmbStephens throughout her Jeju stay. She is currently writing a related entry for her blog.
Stephens has been the US ambassador to Korea since September of 2008. She has said that her recent Jeju experience will be “a lasting memory” from her stay in the country.
On June 21, Ban Ki Moon was confirmed for a second term as Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Stephens offered her formal congratulations and gesture of ongoing support.
Last week the US government announced the nomination of Sung Kim to replace Stephens as her term ends. His appointment is undergoing Senate consideration at this time. If confirmed, Kim will be the first US ambassador to Korea who is of Korean descent.
Referring to Kim as her “good friend,” Stephens wrote in an article on the embassy's blog that he was a “great choice” as the next US Ambassador to Korea.
"I've worked with Sung Kim for years and I know him to be a talented diplomat who will work tirelessly to strengthen the U.S.-ROK (South Korea) relationship," she wrote.
Meanwhile, Stephens, whose Korean name as given to her during her 1970s Peace Corps stay is Shim Eungyeong and who speaks fluent Korean, remains a most unusual – and welcome – ambassador.
More information about Ambassador Stephens and the US Embassy in Korea can be found at their Web site: seoul.usembassy.gov.
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