2005 Professional Achievement Award
Hesung Chun Koh ’51
For much of her life, Hesung Chun Koh broke boundaries.
When the thought of studying abroad was still in its infancy, Koh traveled from her home in Korea at age 19 to begin what would become a new life in the United States. As an undergraduate at Dickinson College in 1948, she studied sociology, anthropology and economics, never dreaming America would become her permanent home.
At a time when cross-cultural study was an anomaly, Koh began to break down the barriers and build connections between her home country and her new-found community of Carlisle, giving more than 200 talks at local service clubs and teaching Japanese and Korean during her senior year. At Dickinson, she met the late Kwang Lim Koh, a political-science graduate student with whom she would share her life, six children and her commitment to both Dickinson and improving relationships between the East and West.
When she married Kwang Lim Koh in the 1950s, she again stepped outside the traditions of the day and took on the multifaceted role of wife, mother and professional. Determined to build her career as a scholar, Koh earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in sociology and anthropology from Boston University, along with post doctoral work in Chinese studies at Harvard and Georgetown universities.
For 24 years, she taught and conducted research at Yale University, eventually founding the East Rock Institute adjacent to the Ivy-League halls. Realizing the importance of fostering relationships between East Asia and the United States, Koh and her husband established the institute to deepen cultural understanding between America and Korea, to study the Korean diaspora and to provide a sound understanding of Korean history and culture. As chair and president of the institute, the groundbreaking professor has spent the last 50 years traveling extensively, conducting studies and teaching across the globe.
For 20 years, Koh has served as the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Korean and Korean American Studies Bulletin. In addition, she has published 11 books, nearly 50 research papers, and has developed award-winning Web sites for teaching and research on Korea—and raised six very successful children, proving that you can “do it all.”
In 2000, Koh fulfilled a promise she and her late husband made soon after her graduation from Dickinson in 1951. With friends and family in attendance, Koh officially dedicated the East Asian Studies Reading Room on the second floor of the college’s Waidner-Spahr Library. The room, which symbolizes her and Kwang Lim Koh’s lifetime commitment to Dickinson, was made possible by a grant from Koh, her late husband and family.
A member of the 2000-2001 Class Reunion Committee, and a 17-year member of the college’s Board of Advisors, Koh tirelessly advocated for the globalization of Dickinson’s curriculum even when such an idea was not popular or acceptable. Koh continues to break stereotypes, taking up art at age 70 and still “going strong” when others might be slowing down.
The New Haven, Conn., resident continues to build on her connections with Dickinson and the East Rock Institute in her lifelong effort to break down borders and foster worldwide understanding.
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