On his office door is a name plaque that reads “Professor Bred Birk.” Dr. Brian Dirck’s name was translated from English to Korean and then back to English, and this was the result. To students in his department, it is a funny reminder of the professor’s recent visit to South Korea.
The Civil War and Lincoln presidential scholar traveled to Seoul, South Korea, upon an invitation to attend the 2019 Social Design Conference from Apr. 11–15, hosted by the Korean Abraham Lincoln Society, or KALS, at Seoul National University. But he did more than just attend. He lectured, networked, explored and discovered a culture of resilience he came to admire.
Dirck primarily delivered a lecture on Lincoln’s values about humility, reconciliation and negotiation.
“Lincoln can teach us all some things about humility, which is what I really emphasized,” said Dirck. “But on the other hand, I think we can all learn from Koreans as well, about the power of perseverance and the power of education.”
Dirck mainly referenced Lincoln’s second inaugural address, that he said had much to do with humility and reconciliation.
“I focused on his last major speech, which was his second inaugural address,” Dirck said. “Not only because that’s exactly what he’s talking about, but because that was a speech that everybody’s familiar with.”
“‘With malice toward none and charity for all,’” said Dirck, citing Lincoln. “‘Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.’”
Dirck did some homework on recent Korean history in an effort to emphasize their story of resilience, “which is an incredible success story,” he said.
“If you look at what happened to them in the Korean War, that country was just destitute,” he added. “Now they are one of the top economies in the entire world, and they have built a very modern infrastructure and economic powerhouse.”
He was invited by Fred Martin, the president of the Lincoln Association in Washington, DC, after attending the 2019 Lincoln Presidential Library symposium in Springfield, Illinois. Martin had dinner with Dirck and offered the opportunity to help build KALS in South Korea.
Before pursuing the invitation, Dirck needed permission from the university.
“AU was extremely supportive and very understanding because after all, I had to go to them and say, ‘I have incredible opportunity to do something global.’”
The opportunity, Dirck said, was “to expand and really do some interesting stuff.”
However, the professor had to cancel four days of classes.
“The University was extremely understanding,” said Dirck. “I think they genuinely want me to do these things because it helps the university build its brand beyond the immediate Midwest.”
On April 11, Dirck landed at Incheon International Airport in Seoul. He said his experience was delightful due to the sincerity of people who were eager to help him. For example, upon his arrival, Dirck was given 6,000 KRW, South Korean won. which equates to approximately $5, by “a very pleasant young Indian woman who was just returning from Korea.”
Dirck posted on his Facebook page: “You meet the nicest people when traveling.”
After landing, Dirck made it to Seoul National University, where the four-day conference was held. He connected with business professionals, lawyers, academics, politicians and even exchanged contacts with the Commissioner of Korea Baseball, Un-Chan Chung.
“They were all business and high-end political types,” said Dirck. “Two of the men in the room were former prime ministers of Korea.”
“After the first conference session, I had lunch with the chief justice of the Korea Patent Court,” said Dirck.
Upon returning to AU for work on April 22, jet lag had left Dirck feeling “utterly worthless,” he joked.
Dirck was invited to return to the KALS conference in 2020.