The leaders of the U.S., Australia and Thailand, who are in Seoul for the Nuclear Security Summit, on Monday gave talks at three universities in the capital. It was the first time for a U.S. president to speak at a university in Korea and also the first time the leaders of three countries spoke at local universities on the same day.
U.S. President Barack Obama delivered a 30-minute speech at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies on Monday morning in front of around 1,200 people, including invited guests and 700 students. In the talk about Korea's role in the international community, Obama praised the country as "one of the world's most dynamic economies," "a modern reality of thriving democracy," and "a truly global Korea."
He opened his talk saying "Thank you" in Korean, modestly comparing his beginner's-level Korean with the advanced English he said was spoken by the students at HUFS, which is chiefly renowned for its foreign language programs.
The audience cheered wildly when Obama mentioned popular Korean social media Me2Day and Kakao Talk while discussing the country's technological prowess and the role the Internet has played in spreading the Korean Wave around the world.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard gave a talk at Yonsei University and answered questions from students relayed by video link from other buildings on campus. Gillard praised the cutting-edge digital system at the university. Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra visited Ewha Womans University, saying she wanted to "meet the future female leaders of Korea."
The talks drew huge crowds. At HUFS, a line formed as early as 5 a.m. stretching for 100 m in front of the hall where Obama was to speak as students wanted to secure a front-row seat. Obama's talk was televised live both in Korea and the U.S.
At Yonsei, around 300 students flocked to the 100-seater lecture hall where Gillard was to speak, prompting school authorities to broadcast the event by video link to other classrooms. At Ewha, around 170 students, faculty and diplomats filled up the lecture hall an hour before Yingluck was set to appear. Some students were disappointed when she left after only 25 minutes pleading another engagement.
Many students were spotted recording the talks on their smartphones or digital cameras.