For many college students, backpacking across Europe is the ultimate bucket list item. For new Business and Economics professor Dr. Joohyun Lee, it was a dream come true as a college senior — but it may not have been as romantic as it sounds.
“My senior year, I packed my bag and flew to Europe and stayed there for about two months. I went everywhere,” said Lee. “Sometimes I slept in the station. I didn’t eat good food; I ate biscuits and stuff like that. I was poor at the time, but I was very enthusiastic about exploring new things. So that changed my whole life.”
As a 20-year-old college student from South Korea, Lee did not travel with a guide, or a group, or even a plan. In fact, at the time, she did not speak any language other than Korean and knew “very little” about life outside of South Korea.
“I think, at the time, I was very, very brave. I don’t know why, or how. I just wanted to go somewhere and see the world,” said Lee. “Experiencing another culture, I think that’s very important for young students. That will change your whole idea about how to see the rest of the world.”
Lee’s commitment to exploration of place and culture has taken her all over the world and the United States. When she moved to the United States to continue her education, Lee began her English education at Rice University in Texas, then earned an M.A. at Radford University here in Virginia, a Ph.D. at Penn. St., and her first professorial position at Florida State University. In some ways, the move to Harrisonburg completed the circle for Lee — Radford is just a few hours south of Harrisonburg in the Shenandoah Valley.
“I have been in Virginia before, and I have had internship experiences in Blue Ridge Parkway, and I have driven these roads several times, so I felt like this was coming home again,” said Lee.
In other ways, however, this position at EMU is something new and different for Lee, who has learned and taught at some of the largest universities in the country. “I really like the small environment, too,” said Lee. “I have teaching experiences in big schools, but have never been able to develop intimate relationships with students. I taught like 50 or 100 students in one class; you’ll never be able to build those types of relationships — I couldn’t even remember their names. I just went into the class and taught class.”
The small classroom size and ability to interact with students reminds Lee of her time at Radford University, where a significant mentoring relationship changed the direction of her life. Lee wants to give back in that way to the students here. “EMU students should take advantage of that, because not many students from big universities could have that kind of relationship.”
With her international perspective and commitment to cross-cultural education, Lee seems to fit in well at EMU. “Dr. Lee brings a unique combination, in both in training and experience, of marketing in the recreation industry,” said Jim Leaman, Chair of the Business and Economics Department. “With the recreation leadership major moving into the Department of Business and Economics this year, Dr. Lee effectively meets the instruction niche in both recreation and marketing.”
Lee makes it clear, however, that she is also here to engage in community, not just to teach. “Many people think that I’m not really easily approachable, so it’s difficult to be a friend,” said Lee. “That might be true, but once you get to know me, I will be a friend for a long time. It may take time to be a friend, but once you become a friend with me, then it will be forever.”
Joohyun Lee teaches Business, Marketing, and Recreation Leadership classes at EMU. Lee’s husband, Darragh, and her eight-yearold daughter, Caitlin, live in Gainesville, Florida.