Back To Top

Think tank creates school for broader thinking

Asan Academy provides interdisciplinary program to boost elite students’ critical thinking, broaden their knowledge

Yoon Ho-jin, a 22-year-old nuclear and quantum engineering student, had never taken philosophy seriously.

Oriental classics and humanities studies were far from his life, which was mostly devoted to math, physics and practical technology.

His intellectual path changed course drastically when he began to attend the Asan Academy last year.

“I’ve spent most of my time studying math and science. But I really enjoyed studying classic literature. It was a completely different intellectual pleasure,” the senior at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology said.

Yoon completed the eight-month course at the elite institution in central Seoul in April.

“I believe training in philosophy greatly helped sharpen up my thinking and it will be a huge benefit to my career.” 
Students attend a class at the Asan Academy in Seoul. (Asan Academy)
Students attend a class at the Asan Academy in Seoul. (Asan Academy)

The Asan Academy is run by renowned think tank, the Asan Institute for Policy Studies. It offers a unique program for selected university students aiming to breed future leaders with an understanding of humanities, knowledge across various disciplines and most importantly the ability to think critically, independently and creatively.

Thirty students explore subject matters ranging from old Chinese Confucian classics and international relations, to contemporary economics during the intensive 15-week in-class program. After completing the first course, they fulfill overseas internship programs that last three months.

The nonprofit Asan Institute established the school in 2012 in cooperation with the Asan Nanum Foundation. The think tank also designed the curriculum to provide college students pathways to become promising policymakers, academics and leaders in various fields of society.

“We seek to cultivate future Korean leaders with a global perspective,” Kim Seog-gun, vice president and Oriental political philosophy professor, told The Korea Herald.
Kim Seog-gun
Kim Seog-gun

Each term only 30 students are selected to join the course as Asan Young Fellows. All stay in the school’s dormitory.

The academy produced its first graduates in April. The second class is currently doing overseas internships, while newly admitted fellows have just begun first program.

The idea of keeping the number of students small, Kim added, is actually taken from Korea’s traditional educational institutes called “seowon.”

Seowon were places for living, studying and working together for students who prepared for the gwageo or public service examination during the Joseon era (1392-1910), he explained.

“Our ancestors believed that communal living is the best way to learn by living and live by learning,” he said.

Students also have to conduct duties such as cleaning communal areas and sorting library books.

“We want our students take responsibility and have a sense of duty to serve society,” Kim said.

Every weekend, students also take part in volunteer activities and learn traditional Korean instruments.

He added that the school’s curriculum is modeled after Oxford University’s renowned PPE or politics, philosophy and economics degree program.

The courses include Korean history, Western and Oriental philosophy, politics, international politics, political economy, economics, practical English and rhetoric, which are designed for those who like to draw connections among political, economic and social phenomena.

Kim added that the school, in particular, puts great value on liberal arts education, which he believes is highly valuable for students to develop the ability to criticize and reason logically.

The academy is also focused on providing student-led education rather than traditional instructor-led tuition. In order to do that, the 30 students are split into two classes of 15, and undertake seminar-like courses, debates and discussion.

After the completing the first 15-week course, students commence with three-month internships at renowned think tanks and non-profit organizations in Washington D.C., including the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Center for Strategic & International Studies, the Heritage Foundation and the Amnesty International.

Also, from this year, the academy is providing internships at nonprofit organizations in Beijing, China through the Asan-Beijing Fellowship Program.

“The three-month internship really helped broaden my thinking and gave great insight into reality,” said Jin Yong-sun, who worked recently at the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, a nonprofit organization based in Washington.

Jin, 27, who is a postgraduate student of North Korean studies at Korea University, noted that she had some doubts about continuing her studies.

But while conducting research, writing reports, and assisting in planning for the nonprofit organization, she was able to realize how she could put study into practice.

“The internship really encouraged me, gave me great insight and motivation. I feel lucky to have had such a unique experience,” she added.

Yoon had also recently completed his internship at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, one of the oldest international think tanks in the U.S.

During the three-month spell, he carried out field work, translating and researching for a nuclear policy program. He noted that the internship really broaden his thinking as well as social relationships.

“I used to have friends with common interests in engineering. But now I have a lot of friends from different backgrounds and different interests,” Yoon said.

Currently, all students receive full scholarships for the 15-week course and accommodation. They also receive scholarships, including, round-trip airfare, accommodation and monthly stipend, during their overseas internship period.

The vice president noted that the Asan Academy is slowly building its reputation, luring talented young students.

He said that students, in particular, appreciate its unique internship program as the door to get through to the world stage.

“After completing internships in international organizations, students will build up confidence and widen their view, and they’ll realize they can work on the global stage,” Kim said.

“We’re committed to expanding our program to nurture creative and innovative young talent,” he added.

The Asan Academy admits third and fourth year university students and postgraduates. According to the school. The Academy will start recruiting the fourth Asan Yong Fellows class in July, with the new term scheduled to begin in August this year. For more information visit

By Oh Kyu-wook (