Secretary-General journeys to San Francisco, site of first overseas visit

26 July 2007

The United Nations Secretary-General today met in San Francisco with the woman who, in 1962, hosted the young Ban Ki-moon when he was a student on the first stop in what would eventually develop into a life of international travel as part of his diplomatic career.

“I'm very touched to be able to visit this place, my second home,” he told journalists following the meeting. “I stayed eight days in this home with love and affection.”

Asked about her impression of Mr. Ban, Mrs. Patterson told the UN News Service, “He's as sincere now as he was at 18.”

As a teenager, Ban Ki-moon scored top points on a nationwide English-writing exam as part of the competitive process to win a coveted chance to go to the United States in a trip sponsored by the Red Cross.

From his rural hometown of Eumseong in the North Chungcheong Province, Republic of Korea, the young Ban Ki-moon took an unpaved road to the capital, Seoul, where he was selected to participate in the Red Cross' VISTA programme (Visit of International Students to America) which would take 41 students representing 25 countries to different cities throughout the United States.

Writing about the trip in Junior Red Cross, a Korean-language publication, Mr. Ban said, “I was so excited I felt I could grab the stars from the sky, but also concerned about how I should present myself to this new world.” He reminded himself to be “careful not to prejudge” the people he would encounter along the way.

The first stop was San Francisco, where the eager foreign student crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County's town of Novato along Highway 101. The fog resting over the span “is still in my eyes” Mr. Ban wrote in describing his trip to meet the Patterson family, which would host him during his short stay in the western state.

Having difficulty with English, Ban Ki-moon asked the family to speak more slowly. The shared communication that ensued would continue over the decades to come. Mr. Ban's meeting today with Mrs. Patterson was not a reunion of long-lost friends; the two were together last in 2006 before he became Secretary-General, maintaining a relationship that has taken each to the other side of the Pacific Ocean over the years.

The 1962 visit included what Mr. Ban called in his Junior Red Cross essay the “great honour to meet with President Kennedy.” Meeting the President in person would have been “unimaginable,” wrote Mr. Ban, who had only seen the US leader in pictures and on television.

The President greeted a few students, and Mr. Ban thought of saluting him but did not because there was no time. “I wished that could have happened,” he wrote, “but in vain.”

Although he did not make any formal gesture at the time, Mr. Ban “was inspired to pursue his diplomatic career” during the meeting, his spokesperson, Choi Soung-ah, told the UN News Service.

 

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