On July 4, a group of 20 very expectant and excited students from the US, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Greenland, Sweden, Finland and Russia were gathered in Busan together with 10 Korean students. The first day had presentations from four Arctic countries’ embassies in Korea, in addition to the Korean Arctic Ambassador, about their respective Arctic policies. This was followed by lectures on Korea’s strategic goals in the Arctic, China’s belt and road policy with special focus on the Arctic dimension, the situation of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic, Arctic governance, and UArctic’s role in higher education in the Arctic. Lectures held by leading Korean experts on Arctic science and climate change were also on the agenda.

The KAA has also excursions to a number of Arctic related industries and research institutes: the Daewoo shipbuilding and marine engineering yard (DSME), Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI), and Korea Research Institute of Ships and Oceans Engineering (KRISO), which gave important demonstrations on Korea’s active engagement in Arctic research and industries.

The students were requested to make a presentation of their choosing on any Arctic issue. The presentations this year varied from the challenges of social work among indigenous people in Alaska, the implications of climate change to the interplay between light-dependent and temperature-dependent plants and animals in the Arctic, to risks and safety issues related to increasing tourism in Arctic waters, to mention a few.

Hosting KAA is a part of Korea’s Arctic policy. This is a policy that is strongly influenced by Korea’s ambitions to be a major actor in developing the maritime technologies that are needed for meeting the challenges of developing the Northern Sea Route as a commercially viable transportation corridor. Climate change will also represent potential threats to Korea, so research in this field based on data from the Arctic (and Antarctica) has a high priority.
But KAA is a project aimed to demonstrate the country’s willingness to contribute to knowledge development and social development in the Arctic.  Justin Kim, one of the leading Arctic policy experts in Korea, stated that Korea does not have any indigenous population, which is why they must meet these peoples, to get to know them and to learn to understand their perspectives on the challenges in the Arctic.

The total alumni of KAA consists of more than 100 students. Many of these students will be future policymakers and experts in the Arctic. Bringing these students together creates networks where the Korean experience will constitute a common frame of reference. Presenting Korea’s perspectives on the Arctic is thus also an investment in these future leaders’ understanding of Korea’s Arctic policy, and with very positive connotations.

Bringing together young people in this way invites to a lot of social activities. KMI hosted a number of dinners and in addition they had assigned the Korean students to function as buddies and guides to the international students. This included giving an insight into Korean food culture, night life, and of course karaoke. The Korean students did an excellent job in making everyone feel a part of the group.

The general impression from a not-unbiased reporter was that this must be regarded as a successful event seen both from the perspective of the hosts and from the perspective of the individual student. Based on informal inquiries among the students, the general opinion seems to be that this was an experience to be remembered for a lifetime, new friendships were made, and an awareness was developed that all belong to this entity called the Arctic and have something to contribute to meet the challenges that we all face

So, what remains to be said is that a 5th Korean Arctic Academy is planned for the first part of July 2019. The next call will be announced on the UArctic website, and the UArctic contact persons will also be informed about the call next year.

Report by Pål Markusson, UArctic Vice-President Mobility