Patriot Alumni in Korea Cheer Campus Opening

Posted: March 6, 2014 at 5:00 am, Last Updated: March 7, 2014 at 6:45 am

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By Buzz McClain

Mason graduates Brent Byers and Cesar Soriano show their Patriot pride at Gwangwamun Plaza, near the US embassy in Seoul. The statue is King Sejeong, who oversaw creation of the Korean alphabet. Photo courtesu pf

Mason graduates Brent Byers and Cesar Soriano show their Patriot pride at Gwangwamun Plaza, near the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. Photo by Marsha Soriano

The first degrees haven’t been conferred, but there are already several George Mason University alumni in or near Songdo, South Korea. And they’re thrilled that their alma mater has opened a campus nearby.

This ready-made alumni group isn’t a coincidence; it’s another example of George Mason’s global proliferation: Patriots are seemingly everywhere.

“As a loyal Patriots fan, I was very excited to hear Mason would soon have a campus in our backyard,” says Cesar Soriano, BA Speech Communication ’94. “South Korea is a perfect place for a Mason international campus.”

The far-from-home Patriot is one of two Mason grads with positions at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul. Soriano is a consular officer; Brent D. Byers, MA Telecommunication ’93, is minister-counselor for public affairs, dealing with embassy public relations. They didn’t realize they both graduated from Mason in the 1990s until last week when Mason’s Korean campus came up in conversation.

“I was very excited to learn that Mason was going to be one of the American universities to participate in the global campus experience here in Korea,” says Byers. “It is a great example of the vision and innovation that have become the hallmarks of George Mason.

“The Songdo facility is quite amazing and well-located near Incheon and Korea’s award-winning international airport,” he adds. “And the area is growing rapidly.”

As for the Korean students who visit Mason’s campuses in Northern Virginia, Byers points out that they will “feel right at home due to the large Korean American community nearby in the City of Fairfax and Annandale.”

Byers’ career is an example of Mason’s accessibility and global reach. In the 1980s he was news director and an anchor for News Channel 8, covering what he calls “Mason’s successful efforts to tie university research to the dynamic Northern Virginia tech industry.” He also began taking classes in Mason’s master’s program in telecommunications.

“What I liked most about the program was the flexibility and diversity of the study that included engineering, business management and communication law and theory,” he says. “The mix has served me well in my career in journalism, as well as during 24 years as a Foreign Service officer working in the area of public affairs.”

His final paper for the degree — an exploration of the impact of cross-cultural communication through television broadcasts between Israelis and Arabs — was completed while he was on his first State Department posting in Tel Aviv.

When he returned to Washington, he became an adjunct professor at Mason, teaching public relations. The experience and connections he brought to Mason as a student helped the program, “and when we were looking for someone to teach the public relations course, he came to mind,” says Communication professor Cynthia Lont, director of Film and Video Studies.

For his part, Soriano has taken a circuitous route to Seoul. The former journalist worked for several Washington, D.C.-area newspapers, including the now-defunct Manassas Weekly Gazette and the Washington Times, before ending up at USA Today. He covered “everything from celebrity gossip to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he says.

“In 2006, I was living in London and working at USA Today’s London bureau. This was a difficult time in journalism, when many newspapers were downsizing and closing foreign bureaus. It was time to look for a more stable career field,” he says. “I freelanced for several years out of London, including a long stint with Lonely Planet travel guides.”

On a whim, he says, he took the U.S. Foreign Service exam in London. “The rest was history. My first tour as a Foreign Service officer was in Manama, Bahrain. I was then sent back to Washington for nine months of intensive Korean language training at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, not far from the Mason Arlington Campus. In July 2013, we arrived at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.”

As a consular officer in the American Citizen Section, Soriano spends his time helping American citizens who are in Korea with whatever problems they might have.

 

“The Songdo campus will give Korean — and American — students the best of both worlds,” says Soriano. “For American students, Korea is a great place to live and study this fascinating culture and language. And I have no doubt Mason will catch on with Koreans.”

Write to Buzz McClain at bmcclai2@gmu.edu

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