Studying in Uppsala led to authorship
20 November 2015
South Korean Ha Soojeong misses Uppsala and her time at the University. When she returned to Seoul, she took with her a keen interest in Swedish society and a recent discovery. `I realised that Sweden’s notion of happiness differs from Korea’s. In Korea, so much is about achieving,’ she says.
There is no mistaking the strong effect Sweden has had on Ha Soojeong, both privately and occupationally. Her great interest in Swedish society has resulted in a book about Olof Palme, and since getting back to Seoul after her time in Uppsala she has lectured both to politicians and to the public about the Swedish political system.
‘I was fascinated by the non-hierarchic structure that exists among Swedish politicians. In Korea we’re so used to politicians working for personal gain. When I asked my Swedish friends what they thought of politicians, I realised that they respected them and thought they worked hard and for the good of the people.’
In 2009 Ha Soojeong came to Uppsala to attend the master’s programme in sustainable development. The two years she spent at the University influenced her personally, as in other ways.
‘I felt happy in Sweden in a way I hadn’t experienced before. Sitting on the grass outside the University with my friends, having a picnic, I felt so free. I lay there on the grass, enjoying life, and when I looked back on my life in Korea I realised that I only felt happy there when I’d achieved something. There’s such a lot of social pressure in South Korea, and for me being able to feel happy just because I existed was something new,’ she relates.
What do you remember most about Uppsala University?
‘The group discussions. They were included in all the courses, and often went on long after the lessons ended. In my programme there were students of varying backgrounds in terms of both studies and nationality, which made the discussions even more interesting. Another thing I brought back with me from Sweden is a recipe for cinnamon buns! I’ve finally managed to make decent ones, and just the smell of them takes me back to Sweden and my time there.’
How did you get the idea of a book about Olof Palme?
‘When I asked one of my Swedish friends in Uppsala who was the most respected Swedish politician of all time and she replied that it must be Olof Palme, I wanted to know more about him. I also realised that most Koreans had never heard of him, and if they knew anything it was just that he was murdered. I thought he deserved better, and decided to write a book about him from a foreigner’s point of view.’
Even before her years in Uppsala, Ha Soojeong worked as a journalist on the newspaper The Hankyoreh in Seoul — a job to which she later returned. But when she wrote the book about Olof Palme she was promoted, and she now works as the main advisor and speechwriter to the company’s chief executive.
She is now writing a new book and this one, too, is connected with Sweden and Uppsala.
‘It’s a novel about two girls, Hahyo and Hanna, who are hunting for clues to the murder of the former South Korean president, based on the actual investigation of the case in question. The two girls are best friends and met in Uppsala when Hahyo was studying there as an exchange student. Hanna had been adopted from South Korea and now works at a newspaper company in Seoul. It’s nearly finished, but I feel that something is lacking, so I’m planning to do a bit more work on it to add some extra flavour.’
Instead, perhaps another book with a Nordic angle will be the one to reach the bookshops first.
‘I got an inquiry from a publisher about writing a book on companies from the Nordic countries. The working title is A Walk to the Nordic Businesses and it will be published next spring. It'll contain stories about the Nordic countries’ main companies, such as IKEA, H&M, Bofors, Statoil, Nokia and Lego, and reveal what underlies their competitiveness, tradition and culture.’
FACTS ABOUT HA SOOJEONG
Title: former journalist on the newspaper The Hankyoreh, but for the past year head of staff and closest advisor to the chief executive of the Hankyoreh Media Group, and also an author.
Lives in: South Korea’s capital, Seoul.
Family: I live with my parents (which is common in Korea) — I have my own space under the same roof. And two wonderful dogs.
Education: PhD student at the Korea Development Institute School of Public Policy and Management (a state-run think tank). Master’s in sustainable development at Uppsala University, 2009–11.
Leisure activities: gardening and hiking.
Most recently read book: Almost Nearly Perfect People by Michael Booth. Strongly recommended!
Hidden talent: yoga and transforming a room into chaos in no time . . .
Favourite place in Uppsala: the Botanical Garden and the area by the lake in Sunnersta.
Favourite nation: Värmland — they have a really nice lunch!
What makes her happy: simple things like the wind, flowers, a pleasant chat, sweets and something unexpectedly good.
What makes her angry: something unexpectedly bad.