As spring arrives at American University, many students, faculty, and visitors enjoy the beautiful cherry blossom trees blooming on the quad. The cherry blossom trees are part of the Korean Garden around the School of International Service.
This year, April 18 marked the 3rd anniversary of the SIS Korean Garden, and the 71st anniversary of former AU President Paul Douglass planting the first “Korean” cherry trees on campus. To celebrate, Korean Ambassador Ahn Ho-Young visited SIS to view the trees and speak with students regarding the direction of U.S.-Korea relations.
In 1943, Syngman Rhee, the first democratically elected president of Korea, planted four cherry blossom trees next to the East Quad Building with President Douglass. They planted these trees in hopes of a positive relationship between the United States and Korea, then occupied by Japan. Calling them Korean cherry trees was a political statement in support of Korean independence.
Former SIS Dean Louis Goodman, a long-time Korea advocate and present faculty advisor to the Korean Student Association, began a tradition of inviting Korean ambassadors to stroll around the cherry blossoms in the spring. Through these interactions, he began to formalize the plan to create a Korean Garden around SIS.
In spring 2011, the Korean Garden was completed with the help of the Department of Agriculture, the Korea Forest Research Institute, and then-Korean Ambassador Han Duk Soo. While most East Asian gardens in the United States are Japanese or Chinese, the Korean Garden at AU has plants specifically native to Korea. This unique garden sparked much interest from various Korean news outlets.
“I felt very much at home,” said Ambassador Ahn as he arrived in the garden. Ambassador Ahn spoke about the positive economic relations that the United States has maintained with the Republic of Korea. Back in the 1970s, “it was a single issue relationship, a security relationship,” he said. As the Republic of Korea reached economic stability, a mutually beneficial partnership between the two countries formed.
Ambassador Ahn also discussed the role prominent figures in the Korean entertainment industry, such as PSY, Choo-Shin-Soo, and Ryu Hyun-Jin, have played in exposing Korean culture to the United States. The key to maintaining good political, economic, and cultural relations, he said, is through greater emphasis on dialogue between East Asian countries and the United States.