Philip Jaisohn Memorial Foundation Lecture And Scholarship Award
by John Grisafi
Drexel University’s Korean International Student Association (KISA) on Saturday hosted the inaugural Jaisohn Lecture and Seminar celebrating the life and 150th birthday year of Philip Jaisohn, held by the Philip Jaisohn Memorial Foundation.
The foundation’s mission is “to promote and fulfill Dr. Philip Jaisohn’s ideals of humanity through medical, social, educational, and cultural services for the enhancement of the quality of life in our communities and particularly those of Korean Americans.”
The lecture’s keynote speaker was Dr. Eugene Park, Korea Foundation Associate Professor of History and Director of the James Joo-Jin Kim Program of Korean Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Park gave a brief lecture explaining the life of Philip Jaisohn, Korea during his lifetime, and Jaisohn’s role in the events and transformations then taking place in Korea.
Philip Jaisohn (1864-1951), born Seo Jae-pil, was a Korean activist and one of the early advocates for reform of the country in the late 19th century and later a major figure in the Korean independence movement during Japan’s occupation of the Korean Peninsula (1910-1945). Jaisohn was the first Korean to become a naturalized American citizen. Jaisohn continually promoted awareness of Korea and the cause of Korean independence against tough odds and general lack of interest and understanding of Korea in the West.
Following Dr. Park’s lecture, the Philip Jaisohn Memorial Foundation awarded scholarships to nine students from Philadelphia area colleges and universities, including two from the University of Pennsylvania, three from Drexel University, two from Temple University, and one each from Penn State University and Swarthmore College.
The foundation has been awarding scholarships since 1999. These scholarships are given to students who are said to be following the example of Philip Jaisohn. This means usually first- and second-generation Korean-Americans (with one exception) who are studying in the fields of medicine and healthcare, journalism, and social services. Jaisohn himself was very active in all three of these fields. In addition to submitting transcripts, letters of recommendation, explanations of why they should receive the scholarship, etc. the applicants were required to research and write about Philip Jaisohn.
This year marked the first time the Philip Jaisohn Memorial Foundation awarded a scholarship to student who is not ethnically Korean. This was Lou Calabrese, a nursing student at Drexel University. Lou, who learned about the scholarship from his co-op coordinator, said that Jaisohn seemed to have a good example of someone successfully following the American dream by working hard to make something of himself despite adversity and immigrant status.
Following the presentation of the scholarship awards, several of the awardees led a panel discussion about Philip Jaisohn and their experience both learning about him and receiving this scholarship.
Sejin Jeong of the University of Pennsylvania said Philip Jaisohn represented a Korean-American who successfully assimilated into American culture yet maintained his Korean identity and Esther Park of Penn State said that Jaisohn was an example of philanthropic spirit which people should have.
Sohyun Kang of Swarthmore, who was born in the U.S. and attended international schools in South Korea, expressed that Jaisohn showed her it wasn’t necessary for a person who moves between countries to choose to live in just one world but that it’s possible to live in and contribute to both.
When the awardees were asked how, 15 years in the future, they expected to contribute after receiving this scholarship today, Grace Eun Bi Lee of Drexel said she hopes to give back to people through healthcare and provide it to those who need it but can’t easily afford it. Hopefully, Lee and the other scholarship recipients will go on to make great contributions to their fields and the community.