Teaser: Students from Seoul Science High School, South Korea’s most advanced high school for gifted students, visited top research universities and institutions in the United States.
Just north of Seoul's Hye Hwa neighborhood, the newest K-pop tune rouses students from their dorms at Seoul Science High School (SSHS), South Korea’s most advanced high school for gifted students. On a typical day, SSHS students might be immersed in programming video games using C++, deriving curves through Fourier transformation, or engaging in discussions about the enigmatic properties of dark matter. As night descends, aspiring astrophysicists converge at the on-campus observatory to meticulously chart the celestial expanse above Seoul.
This past October, 120 SSHS juniors left their campus in Seoul and headed for an eight-day trip to the United States to explore the nation’s top research universities and institutions.
SSHS Students Take on America
The students were divided into two groups, with 40 students visiting the West Coast and 80 students visiting the East Coast. Among the students are gold and silver medalists from every major science and mathematics competition. Two students, Yoo Chan and Yeong Beom, were on the International Math Olympiad team that beat the United States team for second place in 2022, falling slightly behind China.
The overseas trip was only eight days, but each day was packed with a mix of academic and cultural experiences. On the West Coast, students landed in San Francisco and went straight to Stanford where they met several of their school’s alumni enrolled as PhD students. On the same day, students visited the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, home to the world’s most powerful X-ray machine. Subsequent days featured visits to Silicon Valley, where students visited alumni working as programmers and engineers at Microsoft and NVIDIA. Sandwiched between subsequent excursions to San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Warf and the Universal Studios in Los Angeles, students visited their alumni studying at UC Berkeley, UCLA, and Caltech.
Simultaneously, the East Coast group landed in Washington DC, immersing themselves in the rich history of the nation's capital and gaining insights into the intersection of government and science at the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum. Post-exploration of Washington DC and an American meal at Texas Roadhouse, the students journeyed up the Northeast corridor, engaging with alumni at prestigious institutions like Princeton, Harvard, and Columbia University. On the final leg of their trip, the students ventured to the University of Chicago for a dialogue with Young Kee Kim, a distinguished South Korean-born American physicist heading the university's physics department. Kim stands as one of the nation's foremost authorities in particle physics research.
SSHS within the Broader US-ROK Relationship
Over 40,000 South Korean students study in the US annually, making South Korea the U.S.’s third largest partner in educational exchange. The Biden administration acknowledged this during the 70th anniversary of the US-ROK alliance in April 2023 in which he announced an educational exchange initiative with South Korea that includes the largest Fulbright graduate program for advancing STEM research.
Since its founding in 1989, the majority of SSHS alumni pursuing a PhD have gone to a US university. In fact, over 80 alumni have served or continue to serve as professors in US universities. If they are not in academia, alumni go on to work in a diverse range of fields in South Korea or abroad in places such as Silicon Valley and other technological or research hubs.
The SSHS annual overseas field trip has become a core component of the SSHS experience, and for many students, the trip makes a strong impression. Several seniors from this year’s graduating class are currently applying to some of the United States’ top universities. Just last year, SSHS’s Kyu Cheol was admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology around the same time he was recognized by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol for his scientific achievements in chemistry.
The SSHS students have since returned to South Korea. As their former teacher, I was glad to see 80 of my students in Washington DC for a quick reunion. A former participant in a US-Korea exchange program myself, the SSHS visit reminded me of one of the United States’ greatest assets: education.
Juan San Nicolas is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Wahington, DC. He is a current graduate student at Georgetown University, concentrating in Science, Technology, and International Affairs. He is a former Fulbright Korea ETA at Seoul Science High School.
Special thank you to Seoul Science High School and Yoo Seon for the photograph.