Each year, prestigious Harvard University partners with an Asian university to organise Harvard Project for Asian & International Relations (HPAIR).
The destination has been alternated since its launch in 1992 in Taiwan. The event has been held twice in Korea already, Seoul National University and Sookmyung Women’s University hosted HPAIR in 1996 and in 2003 respectively.
This year’s HPAIR – meeting under the theme “Evolving Asia: Pathways in the Global Era” – was hosted by Dasan International Network at Sungkyunkwan University, which prepared a bid over a year to bring the academic event to Seoul.
The bid involved showing Seoul’s appeal, attractiveness and suitability for the conference over a broad range of topics, such as Seoul’s position in business, culture, tourism and diplomacy.
In this process, the bid committee was strongly supported by the convention teams of Seoul Tourism Organization and Korea Tourism Organization, with information on Seoul’s conference expertise and facilities being a key factor.
Events such as these cost money and the organisers also had to find corporate sponsors to generate funds to meet the bills, since conference registration is kept as low as possible to encourage attendance.
Among major sponsors were Daimler, the Korea Development Bank, Korean online gaming portal NHN, and one of Korea’s largest legal firms, Kim and Chang.
Before the four-day conference opened, 120 delegates and Korean hosts had the opportunity to join a day tour of Seoul’s top historic sites.
The conference programme itself consisted of two plenary sessions and five workshops, on issues of politics, trade, international relations and the environment.
The Shilla was the venue for the opening ceremony, where minister of Education, Science and Technology Ahn Byong Man addressed the participants in the hotel’s Dynasty Hall. Daimler Korea’s vice-president Kim Do-Young also gave a welcome speech.
Aside from the chance to network with business leaders, professors and students, the conference provided the opportunity to introduce authentic Korean culture to foreign visitors.
On the third day, all the participants were transferred to Sungkyunkwan’s humanities and social science campus by bus. There, Dasan International Network members dressed up in Korean traditional clothes hanbok, borrowed from a costume company that provides clothes for popular dramas.
Welcomed by a Daechwita band, which plays Korean martial music, participants moved to the university International Hall. After the discussions, Korean tea and lunch with kimchi and bibimbap was served.
The evening was brought to an end with a traditional Korean drinking party which saw delegates try raw rice wine among others.
Jang Kyoung-hae, vice-president of the HPAIR committee, said: “I was in charge of the pre-conference tour, managed all the communications among the delegates, organised the education field trip, and I controlled negotiations with the hotels. These tasks were huge, but fortunately I had an outstanding team. I knew that this conference would be a special memory for all delegates, which was what I hoped it would be.”