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An Interview with Seongryeol (Ryan) Park, Foreign Law Intern

Today’s interview is with Seongryeol (Ryan) Park, a foreign law intern working with Foreign Law Specialist Sayuri Umeda in the Global Legal Research Directorate of the Law Library of Congress.

Seongryeol (Ryan) Park. Photo courtesy of Duck Chul Cha.

Describe your background.

I was born and raised in Seoul, the capital city of the Republic of Korea (South Korea; ‘ROK’). I took the North Korean threat for granted as status quo until the historic inter-Korean summit was held in Pyongyang, North Korea, for the first time in 50 years after the Korean War in 2000 when I was a freshman in university. Studying arduously to understand the key factors behind the Korean division and pathways to unification, I became a volunteer teacher of some young North Korean defectors. I guided them over several years in preparation for university entrance exams and life in the ROK. I learned from them that freedom is not free. These experiences led me to be a central government officer at the Ministry of Unification, which is in charge of relations with North Korea and inter-Korean issues.

What is your academic/professional history?

I obtained bachelor of law and master of public policy degrees from Seoul National University and a bachelor of economics from Korea National Open University. I completed mandatory military service in the ROK Air Force as a lieutenant for three years. Since 2008, I have worked at the Ministry of Unification, ROK, focusing on North Korea and inter-Korean issues. At the Ministry, I have held several positions including on the Unification Legal Affairs Team, the Inter-Korean Cooperation District Policy Planning Directorate, and the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Bureau. I have served on several task forces as well, including the Minister’s Task Force for Denuclearization and Peace, the Task Force for Establishing the Inter-Korean Liaison Office, and the Task Force for Building the “Center for Unified Korean Future.” While keeping my position in the Ministry, I recieved the Korean Government Long-term Fellowship for Overseas Studies. I came to the United States to undertake an LL.M. course in National Security and Law at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., and completed the degree in February 2022. Then I worked at 38 North in the Stimson Center as a visiting fellow in 2022. I passed the New York state bar exam in summer 2022.

How would you describe your job to other people?

I am interning in the Global Legal Research Directorate and assisting Sayuri Umeda with requests from the United States Congress, federal agencies, and the general public. I provide answers to legal questions for Korean-speaking jurisdictions: South and North Korea. In addition, I update the online research guide webpage of North Korea and write articles for the Law Library of Congress blog, In Custodia Legis, and for the Global Legal Monitor on legal news in the Korean peninsula.

Why did you want to work at the Law Library of Congress?

As a law graduate, I have found the world’s biggest law library to be a very interesting place. When I visited the Law Library of Congress as a field trip with Georgetown Law professors, I checked the South and North Korean collection of the Library. I wanted to help the Library to supplement and update its Korean collection.

What is the most interesting fact you have learned about the Law Library of Congress?

It is so old. While the U.S. strengthened its legislative function by launching the law department of the Library of Congress in order to nourish its democracy, Northeast Asia was still ruled by premodern monarchistic kingdoms running national libraries mainly for government officers. When the era of the Law Library of Congress began, Korea, which is expected to become the 6th largest trading country in the world in 2023, encountered the Western trade order. In 1832, when the Law Library of Congress was established, the Joseon dynasty that was ruling the Korean peninsula received a request for trade ties, for the first time, by British merchant ship Lord Amherst, which belonged to the East India Company. The Joseon dynasty had closed Korea’s doors to the outside world at that time and continued to keep their ports closed. It is very interesting to see that the establishment of the Library overlapped with the Joseon Dynasty, which ruled Korea from 1392 to 1897, and to see the changes over the last 190 years in both the library and in Korea.

What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?

I was an official soccer referee authorized by the Korean Football Association. I refereed games in the U-15 or U-12 official regional league in ROK for almost five years.

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