In September, Yumi Hogan, the First Lady of Maryland, had the chance to return her hometown in South Korea to witness the signing of a sister-state relationship between Maryland and Jeollanam-do, a province in the southwest of South Korea. This visit was part of a trade and diplomacy mission by the First Lady and Maryland Secretary of State John Wobensmith, led by his office and the Maryland Department of Commerce. The mission follows Governor Larry Hogan’s 2015 trade mission to Asia, which included visits to Korea, Japan, and China.
“It’s an honor to recognize the special relationship between Maryland and Jeollanam-do, the birthplace of First Lady Yumi Hogan,” said Secretary Wobensmith, participating on behalf of Governor Hogan. The sister-state agreement aims to expand trade relations and educational opportunities, and to foster cultural and artistic exchanges. There was a tree planting ceremony to celebrate the agreement, which expanded upon an existing relationship between Jeollanam-do and Howard County, Maryland.
The agreement marks the latest in a long effort to build strong ties between the citizens of Maryland and Korean communities by the Governor and First Lady. In 2016, Governor Hogan declared January 13 as Korean-American Day, honoring the day that the first Korean immigrants arrived in the United States in 1903. Additionally, he announced April 5 as Taekwondo Day, the day of Korean traditional martial art. To celebrate this day, Governor Hogan hosted the first Maryland Governor’s Cup Taekwondo Championship in March 2017. In December 2016, state officials designated a five-mile stretch on Route 50 as Korean Way, commemorating Korean contributions to the local economy. Lastly, this year, Eleanor Roosevelt high in Greenbelt became the state’s first public school to offer Korean courses, after a years-long effort by the school’s principal, the South Korean Embassy, and Bob Huh, the Korean teacher at the school.
South Korea is an important trade partner of Maryland importing $200 million in worth of goods and services annually. Basic chemicals, coal and petroleum gases, and pharmaceuticals are among the top exports to South Korea. Two new Korean-headquartered companies expanded in the state earlier this month, bringing the total of South Korean-based companies in Maryland to ten.
Heejae Park is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington D.C. and an Asan Washington Young Fellow with the Asan Academy in Seoul.