He also promised help to an Ethiopian college student planning to study in Korea as a gesture of gratitude for the country’s aid during the Korean War.
On July 9, Lee delivered a speech after receiving an honorary doctorate in environment from Addis Ababa University.
Around 1,000 students, faculty and university employees were in the audience in the school auditorium.
A Q&A session followed and a female student walked up to the podium to ask a question. Consulting a sheet of notes, she spoke in Korean.
“I am deeply interested in the remarkable development of South Korea,” said the girl, whose name was Nebia, “for which my grandfather fought.”
Apparently, Nebia’s grandfather was one of the thousands of Ethiopian soldiers sent to fight in Korea during the 1950-53 war.
“I am getting prepared to get into the graduate school of Seoul National University,” Nebia continued. “What are your plans for advancing the relationship between South Korea and Ethiopia?”
Taken by surprise, Lee responded: “To be honest, I understood only half of what you said.
“But I am impressed by your efforts to compose a question in Korean, come up here and ask it,” he continued.
“[If you are enrolled in a Korean university] I will guarantee assistance for tuition and living expenditures,” Lee said.
The president’s offer delighted Nebia and drew applause from the audience.
Later that day, Lee visited a Korean War memorial in Addis Ababa and met Korean War veterans and their families.
“Korea never forgets Ethiopia,” a Seoul official quoted Lee as saying during the meeting. “We will try to find measures to expand assistance for the Korean War veterans or their families.”
When the Korean War broke out, Emperor Haile Selassie sent thousands of soldiers to fight for South Korea.
The Korean War Memorial Foundation, headed by Paik Sun-yup, who was South Korea’s Army chief of staff during the Korean War, told the JoongAng Ilbo it would follow through on Nebia’s dream of studying in Korea.
“If Nebia wants to study at one of the nine colleges that have signed MOUs with us to provide financial assistance (for students we recommend) including Yonsei University, Hanyang University and Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, we can immediately help her,” said Kim Sang-won, a director-general of the foundation.
The foundation has helped five Ethiopian students, relatives of Korean War veterans, study at HUFS on scholarships beginning in April.
Lee cited what Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had said during their summit talk that no advanced countries know how shameful Ethiopians feel when forced to ask for help.
In order to differentiate South Korea Lee pointed out the nation was an aid recipient country, which became a donor only two years ago.