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“Involvement brings more motivation to learn”: Interview with Prof. Kadir Jun Ayhan

In this Spring 2021 semester, new professors will be joining the Ewha GSIS faculty. One of the professors is Professor Kadir Jun Ayhan, who will teach courses in International Relations, with a very distinguishing method of learning. This interview with Prof. Ayhan will give you a better idea of what is behind his teaching philosophy, his academic experiences that are closely related to GSIS, and his advice for young academia, especially those who are interested in joining the Public Diplomacy field.

Could you please introduce yourself a little bit, especially why you decide to become a scholar living in Korea?

My name is Kadir Jun Ayhan. I’m originally from Turkey, but I left Turkey after high school. So it’s been a while overseas. I did my undergraduate in New Zealand at the University of Auckland, with a major in Economics and International Trade. After that, I decided to come to Korea. Basically, there were many variables. I had exchange student friends from Seoul National University in New Zealand, and they advertised the university quite well. I was interested in studying international politics, and I thought Korea could be an option, and there were good scholarship opportunities. So, I first came here for my Master’s. I studied at Seoul National University GSIS as a master’s student, and I continued to study there for my Ph.D. with the Global Korea Scholarship (GKS) or Korean Government Scholarship Program (KGSP).

In my Master’s, I worked with professor Lee Geun, who is now the current president of the Korea Foundation. And I wanted to continue to work with him. So, I did my Ph.D. with him as well. After that, I started teaching there at the Seoul National University GSIS and Ajou GSIS as a lecturer. So, I’m quite familiar with many of the GSIS in Korea. Then, there was a job opportunity at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. Again, it is a Graduate School of International and Area Studies, GSIAS, which is similar to GSIS at Ewha. I went there and worked there for three years. I worked for one year at a Division of International Studies. And here I am now.

Regarding my research area, I did my master’s and Ph.D. in International Studies. My Master’s and Ph.D. were more International Relations focused, but my Ph.D. was pretty much on Public Diplomacy, which is my main field of research. That is what Ewha GSIS is very strong at. As far as I know, we have Professor Cho Kisuk, Professor Brendan Howe, Professor Kim Hwajung, etc. So I’m happy to be joining a strong Public Diplomacy program. 

One more thing about me. I’m originally from Turkey, but I got Korean citizenship back in 2018, or almost three years ago. So I’m a Korean citizen now.

One of your research interests is active learning pedagogy for International Relations. Could you please explain more about it?

I started teaching at Seoul National University in 2015, and I was quite frustrated because, yes, I know my area, I know what I study, I can teach International Relations related courses, but when we do our PhDs, we are not getting formal education to teach. This is not just in Korea but all around the world. Basically, we know our stuff, but we don’t know how to deliver it to the students. And I was quite frustrated about it. I wondered, “How do I deliver it to students in a meaningful way, in an effective way?” So, I started researching about this, and I realized there are many journals, many books, many studies on the pedagogy of International Studies, pedagogy of International Relations, pedagogy of International Politics.

So, I started researching them, and after I started teaching more, especially at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, I started using what I’ve learned, especially regarding active learning methodologies. If I give you a very short summary of my teaching philosophy, even the word teaching is instructor-centric. It’s kind of one way. We teach, and then students are passive learners. My philosophy is more student-centric. Their learning rather than my teaching is at the center. And I try to make them take their own learning into their own hands so that they are in charge of their own learning. Cognitively speaking, they know what they are learning. They know the learning objectives of different exercises in my classes.

Professor Kadir Jun Ayhan

According to education scholars, there are three kinds of learning. The first one is “no learning.” Students don’t learn anything. Second is “rote learning,” which is very much like memorization, in which students learn something, but it’s only for the test. And students forget about it right after the exam. The third is called “meaningful learning.” Meaningful learning is when students learned something in class or something from the readings, and they can apply this knowledge to another setting. This is what we call meaningful learning. And this is more sustainable. This stays with these students longer than what they have memorized. So, my teaching philosophy is based on this. I have active learning exercises in class, for example, rather than doing a final exam. I never do exams, rather than doing a final exam on International Relations theory.

For example, I give students a film, and I ask them to explain what happens in the film with IR theories. And I give, of course, guiding questions to that test.

Next semester you will offer two courses in IR major. What are the special learning methods implemented in these courses? 

For the International Security class, we will play a board game. That board game is called Diplomacy. It could be played offline on the board, but it could also be played online. I plan to play the online version. It takes quite a long time, but it involves so much strategy. So, this game can be used to teach or to learn about IR theories. But for this class, we will mainly focus on different aspects of security. What can we learn from this game? Students will have fun. But that’s not the main goal. We are not playing this game to have fun. This will help students learn things from readings, from lectures, from class discussions, and apply them to a new setting, which is completely fictional. And there could be so many different outcomes because they are playing the game, and they are involved. Involvement brings more motivation to learn. How do we make sense of what happened in the game using what we have learned in class? 

We are not playing this game to have fun. This will help students learn things from readings, from lectures, from class discussions, and apply them to a new setting.

I also use a lot of simulations in my classes. For my other class International Relations of East Asia, we will do a North Korea-related simulation. We will be simulating the United Nations Security Council. Every student will be representing a member of the United Nations Security Council, including permanent and temporary members. And we will role-play and come to a conclusion. So there will be an outcome at the end of the simulation. 

We will discuss both after the game and after the simulation. We will have debriefing sessions where we will discuss what just happened, how do we make sense of what happens using the knowledge that we learned from the lectures and the readings? So this is my understanding of active learning. Students are actively involved. It’s more like hands-on learning.

Apart from the different methods of teaching, what are your academic experiences and perspective that students can expect from these two courses?

For the International Security class, if you go on the internet and search for different syllabi of International Security, you would see that there are hardcore International Security courses, which mainly talk about war and military-related contents. They talk about interstate disputes and are quite state-centric. You would also see that most of the authors, probably 95%, would be male. 

In my class, I tried to have a more balanced syllabus for International Security so that we can talk about other aspects of security, which are not necessarily related to wars. For example, status and reputation. This is very important for security, even for wars. Rising powers, for example, may not be satisfied with their status and it can lead to wars. This is just an example. We will be talking about status, for example. The realists take the survival of the state for granted. This is their main interest, but there are also other interests of the states, such as their identity and maintaining their identity as such. So, this is mainly about ontological security. We will also be discussing this. We will also discuss feminist approaches to security. So, we will be talking about different aspects of security that are more contemporary and also using contemporary materials, not only traditionally classics of security. I also try to be more balanced in terms of authors that I assign, especially in terms of gender.

For the International Relations of East Asia. In that class also, I try to begin by questioning the Western-centricity of International Relations theory in order to understand International Relations of East Asia. Do we only have to use IR theories that are European or Western-centric? Do we only have to know about the Peloponnesian war to understand what’s happening in East Asia? So we will question the very basics that we take for granted, and then move on from there to discuss history and order of East Asia and more recent discussions regarding regionalization and regionalism, especially centered around ASEAN, and then move on from there to the three biggest countries, in terms of economic and military power: China, Japan, Korea. Of course, we will have the North Korea issue, which doesn’t only involve North Korea but involves all major regional powers. We will have three or four weeks on the North Korea simulation. So, we will be talking about many issues regarding nuclear issues and cooperation, conflict, United Nations Security Council, and order in East Asia, centered around the North Korean nuclear problem in the simulation.

It would be great to have more students for both the International Security and International Relations of East Asia classes because it would be more fun to have more students for the diplomacy game and the North Korea simulation.

Do you have any concerns about starting the new role in this new environment in Ewha GSIS?

I would say I’m quite familiar, actually. I feel like I’m really happy that I will be working at Ewha GSIS. I’m quite excited. I’m looking forward to meeting the faculty and the students. But I also feel like it’s not a big change for me because, as I said before, I’m quite familiar with the GSIS setting. And I’m also familiar with some of our faculty. I’ve been working closely with Professor Cho Kisuk and Professor Brendan Howe. I’m familiar with Professor Thomas Kalinowski’s work as well. It’s not a huge change for me, but it’s a good change. And I know, for example, I know Professor Kim Hwajung from her student days, when we were both students, and we were friends. I’m quite familiar with how great Ewha students are while I was also a student.

You are now also the editor in chief of the Journal of Public Diplomacy, which is published by the KAPD since it is newly established. Do you have anything to say about this journal and your expectation for future submissions?

Public Diplomacy is a field that actually has just started. As a concept, it started in the 1960s, but it was only recently in the 1990s when the soft power concept was coined by Joseph Nye, and there was a renewed interest in the study of Public Diplomacy. But then again, it was only after 2000, especially after 9/11, that we see more scholarly research on Public Diplomacy. So the field is very young. There aren’t many scholars worldwide who study Public Diplomacy. 

Because of that, there are not many journals that publish Public Diplomacy works. We have the Hague Journal of Diplomacy, which is not necessarily a Public Diplomacy journal. They publish all other aspects of diplomacy as well. We have Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, which started off as a marketing journal for place branding and only recently included Public Diplomacy.

The Journal of Public Diplomacy is not going to be a regional journal or a national journal. This is going to be a global journal. One should not expect that scholarly work would only be centered in America or in Europe

Our journal, the Journal of Public Diplomacy, I would say, would be the third related to Public Diplomacy, or probably the second that’s directly related to Public Diplomacy. Since we initiated the journal, we have received very good feedback from scholars worldwide. Everybody told us this was definitely needed. And we assured them that this is not going to be a regional journal or a national journal. This is going to be a global journal because one should not expect that scholarly work would only be centered in America or in Europe. We hope that this journal, Journal of Public Diplomacy, which is based at Ewha GSIS, will be a central platform for the scholarly discussion as well as for the practice of Public Diplomacy. Our editorial board is almost like an all-stars of Public Diplomacy globally. So, we are lucky that we were able to initiate this journal, of course, thanks to Korean Association for Public Diplomacy and its president, Professor Cho Kisuk. We have high expectations, and we hope that Ewha GSIS students can also submit their work. We don’t have any prejudices against students, so we will publish any good scholarly work, whether it comes from the top scholars, senior scholars, junior scholars, or students.

Could you please give any tips on being a prolific and productive researcher? Some of the master’s students often think that we are not good enough to write something worthwhile.

I think COVID-19 made many of us question ourselves. I see many similar discussions going on Twitter among scholars. For example, “How could we be models for our students?” Because we always complain about being so busy. We are productive, having difficulties managing the balance between family life and work life. I don’t know if it would be realistic, but my main tip would be to take good care of yourself first. Always put your health, both your physical and mental health, which includes your sleep, your relationships with people, spending some time for yourself, for relaxing, for doing things that you like that make you happy, or spending time with your family or with your loved ones. That should always be the priority, and everything else should come next. Basically, we sometimes focus too much on society’s expectations from us that we forget about these.

Having said this, for research productivity, I think planning is very important. So especially if you want to publish, if you want to write, if you want to continue in academia, planning is very important, and planning starts from daily planning, weekly planning, yearly planning, to long-term planning. Where do you want to see yourself? And in order to achieve that goal, what do you need to study, and what do you need to publish? Do you need to publish book chapters first, journal articles first, blog first, book reviews first? Oftentimes, these kinds of things are very difficult to decide on your own. So, consulting with experienced people is always very important. And there are very good books, kind of self-development books for Ph.D. candidates or for master’s graduate students to become scholars or a blog post. 

Recommended reading list from Prof.Ayhan

Reading those kinds of tips or following what they do would also help, but without, again, depriving yourself of relaxing, sleeping, or spending time with family. So planning is the most important and then deciding your priorities in terms of scholarly work. Don’t do everything at the same time. It’s difficult to keep up with so many different things. After some time, you lose focus, and you lose interest in all of the different things that you work on. So, you just want to get them out of your desk as soon as possible. If you’re focused on certain things, for example, journal articles, which are much more important, especially in Korea, than book chapters. But many of us receive book chapter invitations, and they’re relatively easier to publish. We sometimes say yes, but then it becomes a burden because we work on so many book chapters that there isn’t much time left for journal articles. I’m not talking about myself, but scholars in general. So, prioritizing and being realistic about expectations is very important.

From your perspective in the Public Diplomacy field, what are the interesting trends or issues that, if we would like to continue to work in this field, we should be familiar with?

I think two areas are non-state actors’ roles in Public Diplomacy and non-Western Public Diplomacy. There has been so much research on the US, Canada, Australia, UK, France, Norway, and other European countries. But there isn’t as much work in Korea, Japan, China, Thailand, or other countries that are in the non-West, or smaller countries. So, it would be interesting to study these countries. North Korea Public Diplomacy would definitely be interesting. These are more like case studies.

Professor Kadir Jun Ayhan

But if students want to challenge themselves and want to do the next big thing, they might study Public Diplomacy from different perspectives. Most of Public Diplomacy research is done by communication or public relations scholars, so there isn’t as much work that connects Public Diplomacy to foreign policy or International Relations theory. Theoretical work or empirical work in that area would be very useful. It’s not a trend right now, but it would be trendy. It would be a kind of new thing that students can do. That’s also the kind of thing that I’m also personally interested in. Another thing could be, for example, experimental work using social psychology, especially social identity theory. Public Diplomacy is a field that is very interdisciplinary. Students can approach it from different perspectives. These kinds of things would be interesting and publishable.

Do you have any advice or something to say to the students at Ewha GSIS?

I’m joining Ewha during a pandemic, a very long extended pandemic. So, I want our students to know that they should definitely take good care of themselves. Yes, our classes are important. The grades that we give are important for writing your thesis. But, again, your health is the most important. Personally, I am very flexible in terms of meeting students’ needs, especially if they have health-related issues, be it physical or mental. I am always open if students want to discuss anything. If they have an excuse that requires them to delay their work, they should feel comfortable reaching out to me. My door is always open to students as well for a consultation about their scholarly work, their careers, or research on Public Diplomacy or journal, or pretty much anything else. So, my physical door will also be open, but they can also feel free to reach out to me by email, or we can have zoom meetings like this. 

Last comments?

For both of my classes, I don’t have exams. Instead, we have active learning exercises. Instead of the final paper, we will also have a very interesting exercise. I planned to do a zombie film, where students would discuss International Security aspects. But then I decided to change it because some students may not enjoy watching a zombie film (laugh). It will be a hypothetical case. I don’t want to talk about it right now. It will be a surprise. And students will write a final paper on that. Instead of the mid-term, we will have a paper based on the diplomacy game. So it will also be fun because students will be playing the game and writing about their own experiences, and connecting it with what we have learned in class.

For International Relations of East Asia, instead of the midterm, we will have a paper based on the simulation. For the final paper, students will be writing anything that’s related to the topics that we have covered. That paper could be publishable in the future. Of course, I don’t expect a submission-ready paper for the course, but one of the reasons why I assign papers instead of exams is that when students write in the exam, only I read it, and it’s kind of a waste of time and energy. But when students write something for my class, they can improve it in the future and may publish it as a blog post, a journal article, or even make it their dissertation. Many of my students did so. 

Many students wrote final papers for my class. They publish them either as book chapters or as their dissertations. This has been my philosophy that students do something meaningful in my class that they can improve in the future.


Published by Khing Amatyakul

Thai, Working at SuperPlanet, IR grad from Ewha GSIS | @khingamat

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