On October 22, 2018, in Seoul, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea (ROK) Harry Harris, and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa agreed to renew a flagship exchange program, known as WEST, between the United States and the Republic of Korea.
Established in 2008, the Work, English Study, Travel, or WEST, Program is an Exchange Visitor program that offers qualifying university students and recent university graduates from the ROK the opportunity to study English in a structured setting, participate in career-based internships, and travel in the United States. Although the U.S. component of the program is one of the many managed by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, WEST is unique from other bilateral exchange visitor programs due to its English-language training component and the length of the program. Informally called “WESTies,” participants spend a maximum of 18 months in the United States, including up to five months of language training, 12 months in an internship, and one month of travel.
WEST provides participants with invaluable opportunities to gain new skills and a new understanding, not only of the United States, but of themselves. At the ceremony to renew WEST, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa noted that a WESTie had once remarked that WEST was “a journey to discover the path that I want to take, not the one that I am obliged to take.” Many WESTies would agree. Kang went on to mention that innumerable alumni shared that the program had boosted their confidence by helping them build their capability and given them an opportunity to challenge themselves in a new environment.
WEST’s lasting legacy lies not just with the English language proficiency or business skills gained during internships, but in the lasting relationships and mutual understanding formed by WESTies and the Americans they meet throughout the course of their programs. At the ceremony, Ambassador Harris noted that, “As WESTies study, work, and travel throughout the United States, they become citizen ambassadors of Korea, establishing long-lasting bonds of friendship and mutual respect with Americans.”
To date, over 3,500 young men and women from the Republic of Korea have participated in WEST. Thanks to the renewal of the memorandum of understanding governing the program, that number will grow as WEST continues to foster future generations of Korean leaders who will deepen and strengthen bilateral cooperation.
About the Author: Lynette Evans-Tiernan serves in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.