Mason students work on international projects through Diplomacy Lab partnership


George Mason University students are working with the U.S. Department of State to find out what motivates students to study abroad, specifically in Southeast South Korea.

Cortney Rinker works with her students in their Diplomacy Lab course. Photo by Ron Aira/Office of University Branding.
Cortney Rinker works with her students in their Diplomacy Lab course. Photo by Ron Aira/George Mason University.

Global affairs students in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and the Schar School of Policy and Government students from Mason Korea and the Fairfax Campus are collaborating with the Diplomacy Lab on two projects. The first project aims to help the Busan Consulate increase study abroad of U.S.-based students in Busan, roughly 150 miles outside of Seoul. The second project aims to address allegations of violence by the security forces in Senegal, West Africa. 

“The problem is that a lot of American students don't go to South Korea at all, they typically go to Europe,” said Mason Korea student Leah Tudor, who is working on the study-abroad project. “If they do go to South Korea, it’s for universities in the greater Seoul region.” 

Universities in the Busan region are asking how they can be more attractive to U.S.-based institutions and students for study abroad, explained Cortney Rinker, director of Mason’s Global Affairs Program, who teaches the Applied Approaches in Diplomacy course where the students are taking on the projects. 

The Diplomacy Lab is CHSS’s first institutional partner and provides students an opportunity to participate directly in solving real-world problems.  

“This was an excellent project for our program because it’s similar to one of the goals of the Global Affairs Program, which is to get more Fairfax students to attend Mason Korea,” said Rinker. 

In her research for the project, Tudor, who is a junior global affairs major with a minor in Korean studies, has found that students who are more exposed to foreign languages when they're younger are more likely to travel in the area(s) that speaks those languages since they're less likely to experience language barriers. 

“This course has shown me how to communicate with people at the intersection of higher education and diplomacy,” said graduate student Seihoon Lee, who is working on a master’s degree in higher education and student development. “Being a bilingual and bicultural student, I always seek opportunities to be a bridge that brings these worlds together.” 

Seihoon Lee and his group present their research in the Diplomacy Lab course. Photo bib Ron Aira/Office of University Branding.
Seihoon Lee and his group present their research in the Diplomacy Lab course. Photo by Ron Aira/George Mason University.

In the class there are ethnic and non-ethnic Korean students, as well as other students who have very different lives, said Lee. “[Because of these experiences], we have very intense conversations of how we should approach this project and our research questions, and it's really stimulating.” 

This is the last research project before graduating for senior global affairs major Inn Kyung Seo, who agreed with Lee’s sentiment.  

“I try to compare what I feel in the U.S. as a Korean student with what foreign students in Korea might feel,” said Seo, who participated in various diplomatic camps hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Korea.  

“This course is an opportunity to reflect more deeply on the difficulties international students face and resolve those issues,” he said.  

An advisory board of faculty members with expertise either in the region or on the topic guides the students on each project.  

Advisory board member Soyoung Kwon, associate professor of global affairs and director of security policy studies–Korea, said she provides support to students and faculty involved in the project, including advising on research methodologies, offering insights on relevant topics or issues, and facilitating connections with external partners, such as the U.S. Consulate in Busan.   

Kwon, who has taught GOVT342 Diplomacy at Mason Korea since 2017, believes that this partnership will expose students to different approaches to diplomacy and teach them about the most effective public diplomacy strategies while being part of public diplomacy project, she said. 

Rinker and her students will be traveling to Washington, D.C., on April 19 to present on the projects at the State Department’s Diplomacy Lab Fair, where all of the participating institutions are invited to present their work. 

“I am definitely going to teach this course again next spring,” said Rinker. “We hope to expand it in the future so that other students and faculty members can become involved in the Diplomacy Lab as well.”