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1988: Eternal friendship, 39 years in

When two men planted what is now a 48-year-old cedar tree on the northeast side of Churchill Hall at Southern Oregon University, the school had a different name.

Dr. James Sours, one of the planters, was president of Southern Oregon State College, the name under which the institution operated until 1997.

The other arborist that day in 1970 was Chi Dong-Shik, a visiting professor from Dankook University, which at that time was a single campus of about 6,000 students in Seoul, South Korea.

Almost half a century later, the relationship continues — weathering, like the tree, even the harsher elements that threaten its health: time, cultural differences and distance.

“We are confident that our institutions’ friendship will continue to benefit students at both SOU and Dankook University, and promote cultural understanding and respect between our countries,” wrote current SOU President Linda Schott in a letter in April 2017, congratulating the Korean university on its 70th anniversary.

The two academic institutions became connected after Chi approached Sours in 1969 to propose a pact of eternal friendship between his university and the state college where he was teaching history for one year.

Sours told the Mail Tribune 19 years later that he had replied in the affirmative mostly as a matter of courtesy, but that “the last thing on my mind at that point was probably getting involved with a Korean university that I’d never heard of.”

When Dankook’s president, Chang Choong-Sik, showed up at the Medford airport a few months later, however, proposing to establish a sister institution relationship, that courtesy began to move toward commitment.

The two universities signed an official “Eternal Friendship Pact” in late 1970. When Joe Cox was SOSC president, he and Sours recounted the story for the 1988 edition of Our Valley.

The issue that year was “Our Valley, Our World,” with an emphasis on the many ways that the Rogue Valley was “inextricably linked to the global village.”

Even though the Eternal Friendship Pact seemed to have lapsed, the relationship was strong when the 1988 story ran.

And 31 years later, Southern Oregon University and Dankook University remain connected, even as both institutions have expanded and changed with time. Mary Gardiner, SOU’s director of international programs, says it’s common for universities to partner with other institutions internationally.

“They kind of ebb and flow,” she says. “It depends on presidents of the university and their relationships.”

SOU also has a relationship with the University of Guanajuato, Mexico, which launched the eventual sister-city relationship between Ashland and Guanajuato. This April, the cities and schools will celebrate the 50th anniversary of that establishment. Those years have seen a steady interchange of students, faculty and gifts between the two.

Though the Dankook-SOSC arrangement was designed so that faculty, students and administrators could go back and forth between the two institutions, the 1988 Our Valley article noted that the flow was lopsided. More faculty and students had come from Dankook to SOU than went the other direction.

That dynamic persists today, Gardiner says. Korean students and faculty have learned English, but American students and faculty often haven’t been exposed to the Korean language.

“Our faculty wouldn’t be fluent in Korean,” Gardiner says. “So as far as teaching ... they wouldn’t really be able to teach.”

Every year, however, two or three SOU students pack their bags and head to Dankook for a summer program called the Academic Program of the International Summer School. The program is taught in English, and is an intense four weeks of classes, field trips and other cultural experiences.

Some students also opt to participate in the English Village for three weeks prior to the summer program. In that, they teach small groups of Dankook students English in exchange for free housing for the duration of both programs and a $1,200 stipend for airfare reimbursement.

Gardiner says student trips have even included a view of the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. “I always get a really positive response from students who participate,” she says.

Dankook’s presence spread beyond campus into Ashland. For many years, Yoonjae Barchet, who came to teach at SOU from Dankook, and her husband, Bill, operated Hana Sushi in downtown Ashland. The restaurant is no longer open.

Gifts sent from the Korean university adorn the Dankook Room in the top floor of the Stevenson Union, a visual reminder of the friendship with a distant partner.

“As a higher education institution, it’s something we really value — that students have the opportunity to kind of explore beyond,” Gardiner says.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Southern Oregon University's eternal friendship agreement with Dankook University in South Korea began in 1970 . Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch