Honesty is the Korean Policy

By Jennifer Donovan | Published

Suk-Jun returns Jonathan Clifton's wallet.
Suk-Jun returns Jonathan Clifton's wallet.

Is there a phrase as fraught with panic as: “Where is my wallet?”  Actually, here’s one that’s even worse. “I’m in a foreign country where I only speak a little of the language, and I’ve lost my wallet.”  

Jonathan Clifton knows that feeling all too well. The Michigan Technological University student is in Korea this summer, staying in Ansan, about 40 minutes by subway from Seoul.  That’s where his wallet went missing, although Clifton wasn’t aware of it at the time.

“When I realized I’d lost it, I freaked out,” he says.  It wasn’t about the money; the communication, culture and media major, who is starting his final semester at Michigan Tech this fall, had only about $10 in Korean bills in it. “But my wallet was full of private information—credit and debit cards and IDs—that was now in the hands of someone I didn’t know.”

“We looked around a bit and even posted signs in Korean,” Clifton says. His friend, Suji Kang, a Korean exchange student at Michigan Tech, helped him write the signs in Korean—“but a few days went by, and we didn’t hear anything. I was really down about it.”

Then he got a surprise call, from Michigan Tech’s International Programs and Services back in Houghton, Mich.  Someone had contacted IPS, whose number Clifton had in his wallet.  

It was Suk-Jun, a student at Seoul University, who had found the Tech student’s wallet.  

Concerned about a fellow student, he had taken the time to contact everyone whose business card he found in Clifton’s wallet: IPS, assistant dean of students Rob Bishop and computer specialist Henry King.

Suk-Jun and Clifton met, and the wallet went back in its owner’s pocket.  “He didn’t want anything in return,” Clifton says, “but I had to do something for him, so I went to Dunkin’ Donuts and got some snacks for him to eat while he studied for exams.”

Clifton, 24, is from Detroit. He hopes to return to Korea to teach English after he graduates from Tech, “so I thought it would be a good idea to get my feet wet now and see if I could survive,” he says.  He is staying with Kang and her family.

Clifton says he’s been amazed at how friendly and helpful the Korean people have seen. “My Korean isn’t very good, so it is hard to communicate, but people are still pretty patient with me.”  He’s been visiting with other Korean students whom he met at Michigan Tech and enjoying traditional Korean food made with pepper paste, “which is really very good,” he claims.

While at Tech, Clifton has been a resident assistant and a language coach and cook for Canterbury House. He also is a member of Alpha Kappa Psi professional business fraternity and works as student editor of University Marketing & Communications’ electronic newsletter, Tech Today.  

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.