When Yu Kil-chun arrived in Byfield in 1884, he was not only the first Korean student to enroll at The Governor’s Academy, but he was also the first citizen allowed to leave Korea to study in the West.
Yu originally traveled to the United States as a part of a delegation to observe both industry and government. Yu stayed stateside longer than some of the other delegates, eventually enrolling at The Governor’s Academy for the first and second terms of the 1884-1885 academic year.
At the time, students followed a standard six year course of study including Latin, Greek, Geography, Mathematics, French, Writing, and various sciences. While there is no record of Yu’s specific course of study, one of his letters reveals details about an exam in Physics. In another letter, Yu described the students at the Academy as “intelligent, conscientious, and independent.”
In January of 1885, Yu learned of an attempted coup in Korea by some of his progressive colleagues. He curtailed his studies and returned to Korea where he was immediately arrested. Yu spent the next seven years incarcerated for his connection to the leaders of the coup.
While jailed, he wrote a book entitled “Observations on Travels in the West,” based on his experiences in the United States and Europe. The text was considered an inspiration for reformist Korean thinkers and is still revered today.
Today, 14% of the Governor’s student body is made up of international students, with the majority coming from China. The second highest population of international students, however, is from Yu’s native Korea.
“He was really groundbreaking,” says Sharon Slater, Manager of the Archives. “To come and study in the United States was a big deal. Nobody from Korea had done this, and so it was really taking a chance. And then of course to return to bring what he had learned to a very dangerous situation. It fits in with our notion of taking risks and then using what you’ve learned, what you’ve gained to benefit the larger community.”