On the first day of his first official visit to the US, Korean President Lee Myung-Bak chose to speak about Peace Corps's contribution to his country at a gala event hosted by the Korea Society on April 15th.
Following welcoming remarks by UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon and remarks by former Peace Corps volunteer and Assistant Secretary of State for Asia and the Pacific Christopher Hill, President Lee presented the 2008 James A. Van Fleet Award to the approximately 2500 Peace Corps volunteers who served in Korea between 1966 and 1981.
The award is given to prominent Korean and American individuals or organizations for outstanding contributions to the U.S.-Korea relationship. Today, many Koreans speak of the profound educational and personal impact the PCVs had on them.
Accepting on their behalf was the first Country Director, and later Peace Corps Director, Kevin O'Donnell.
Drawing on his PC language training more than 40 years ago, Kevin charmed the audience of more than 600 by greeting them in Korean and spoke of the enduring connections between the PCVs and their host families.
Many of the speakers noted how appropriate it was the next US ambassador to Korea, Kathleen Stephens (75-77) is a former Peace Corps volunteer.
The award citation says:
Many Americans have dedicated themselves to the cause of U.S-Korea friendship over the years. Few Americans have done more for this cause than the approximately 2,500 men and women who served as PCVS in Korea from 1966 to 1981….
The Peace Corps career volunteers shared with Koreans from all walks of life their skills and their spirit of sacrifice. Traveling to a foreign land, they were determined to contribute to its development and did so in a way that is still remembers and appreciated on both sides of the Pacific. The volunteers shared their talents and knowledge with newfound friends in Korea, and in doing so they developed a deep appreciation for Korea’s culture and language, as well as strong affection for the Korean people.