Ban urges young Koreans to look beyond national boundaries

5 July 2008
Ban Ki-moon addresses participants of the Model UN at  Cheongju University

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on students in his native Republic of Korea to look beyond national borders and aim high to help solve world's many problems.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today called on students in his native Republic of Korea to look beyond national borders and aim high to help solve world's many problems.

He addressed university students from across the country taking part in a Model UN conference – where participants act as delegates of Member States of the world body – at Cheongju University.

“Look at all the names of countries each of you are representing today, you will see that there is a whole world out there. Yes, you are Koreans but you should go beyond that and see that you are also citizens of the world. Korean may not be a global power; but Korea can be a global nation; Koreans can be global citizens.”

Mr. Ban was echoing a key message he had been sending to fellow Koreans since he arrived on 3 July for his first official visit since taking office 18 months ago: that a prosperous and democratic Korea should pay back the help it has received from the world and shoulder more global responsibilities to help address key global challenges.

“You are growing up in a stable and prosperous country. It would be easy to just be comfortable with your circumstances. But I will warn you never to be complacent. The world is much wider, much broader and there are much more challenges than you may imagine sitting in this hall,” said the Secretary-General, who himself attended school in Cheongju, a city some 200 kilometres from the capital, Seoul.

Using his own experience and that of the Republic of Korea's Prime Minister Han Seung-soo, a former president of the UN General Assembly, as examples, Mr. Ban urged the students to pursue greater goals and consider the paths they could take to serve the world and support the Organization.

“Koreans of my generation grew up understanding about how much the United Nations had done for our country,” he said. “In the course of my own lifetime, with the assistance of the UN, the Republic of Korea was able to rebuild itself from a country ravaged by war, with a non-existent economy, into a regional economic power and major contributor to the United Nations.”

The Secretary-General told the students, whom he characterized as “the future leaders of our country and our world,” that “the experience made people like Dr. Han and I want to pay back some of our debt of gratitude through public service. At your age, you should have your dreams about how the world should be as well as your own ideas on how you want to do it.”

He said in his address that it has been has proven time and again that the UN is the best place for countries and people to come together to find common solutions to shared problems. “In order for us to realize that, your support is crucial. Your energy and intelligence are what is needed most in today's world. You can be catalysts for change by creating social networks in support of our work. You can come up with innovate approaches to the help confront the challenges facing the global community.”

He urged the students to “keep your feet firmly on the ground called reality, with your hands reaching out to the stars called ideals.”

Mr. Ban received a hero's welcome from the students when he entered the auditorium, which had been decorated with a large banner reading, “Mr. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, we are proud of you.”

Earlier today, together with Mrs. Ban Soon-taek, the Secretary-General stopped at Haengchi village, his birthplace near Cheongju city, where they were welcomed by relatives, villagers, traditional music and drum ensembles and many others who traveled to see him.

Joined by Mr. Ban's 88-year old mother, they walked up two little hills to pay respect in front of the tombs of his father and grandfather. The majority of the village's roughly 80 households belongs to the Ban clan.

Accompanied by elders, Mr. Ban put on a traditional robe and hat and paid respect to his ancestors in the family shrine. He signed his name with a traditional brush on a calligraphic banner which stated “Farming is the root of the world.” Haengchi is a farming village well-known for its red chili peppers.

The Secretary-General gave an emotional open air address to a cheering gathered crowd, identifying his primary school teacher from among the audience.

He arrived in the Republic of Korea from China, the second stop on a three-nation tour that also took him to Japan.

On Monday, Mr. Ban will return to Japan to attend the Group of Eight (G-8) summit of industrialized nations in the northern island of Hokkaido.


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