In October 2020, I spoke with Simon Bruns '21, a fourth-year history student, about his publication in the student-run history journal Carnival. At the end of February 2021, Simon and I logged onto Zoom to speak again, this time about his essay submission to the 2020 Korean Public Diplomacy Paper Contest. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of South Korea selected and published Simon’s essay, titled, “Democracy Promotion Through ODA (Official Development Assistance): The Future of Korean Diplomacy?”. 

“I came across the contest completely incidentally. One of my friends shared a [Facebook] post from the Korean Embassy in Myanmar.” The competition, which ended in September 2020, asked individuals to address the future of Korean public Diplomacy. At Franklin, Simon has explored East Asian politics and influence. He also took Professor Schwak’s course “Politics and Society of East Asia,” so he felt prepared to answer the prompt.

While most Western countries include democracy promotion as a component of their ODA (Official Development Assistance), South Korea does not. Given Korea’s successful democratization during the 1980s, Simon found it perplexing that the country’s aid program does not focus explicitly on democracy promotion and civic engagement.  

In his essay, Simon explored the benefits and drawbacks of incorporating democracy promotion into its ODA. While Simon remarked that “democracy promotion is a very contentious issue,” he also stated that Korea would be extremely successful given its rapid rise in the global economic and political scenes.  

When Simon was researching, he unintentionally stumbled across one of Professor Schwak’s papers. Without realizing that she was the author, he identified the journal article as one that would be essential in his research. He used the paper and cited her in his essay. “I wasn’t specifically looking for her work. I found this article and then I realized that she was the author.” Professor Schwak helped Simon in more ways than one. She also assisted him in editing and drafting his submission.  

Simon’s drive to research and publish during his free time stems from his interest in politics. According to Simon, academic writing “gives you the freedom to investigate topics you want to explore. It’s nice not to have the pressure of a grade. You don’t know if your essay will get accepted or published, but you can do something you want to do.” 

Before moving to Switzerland, Simon lived in Germany, Thailand, Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Yemen. Prior to starting his third-year of university, he also spent the summer working in Nigeria where he learned first-hand about the roadblocks to the functioning of democracy.  

“For me, democracy seems quite easy because that’s what I’m used to. But there are actually so many things that must be learned and set up for democracy to function.”  In Nigeria, Simon worked with a German organization that informed citizens about their rights and responsibilities in a democracy. This experience influenced Simon’s interest in Korea: “I found it a bit strange that a country like Korea, which has democratized very successfully with a vibrant and stable democracy, hasn’t really identified this as something that can be shared with the rest of the world.”  

In May, Simon will graduate. He is currently working on his thesis and deciding between a master’s program or a job. While the opportunity to continue with academics entices Simon, he is also interested in the opportunity to get hands-on experience and begin developing his career.  

Simon’s submission can be found here.