Interview with Dee Dee Ugursal-Lee, MS, RD
IAAND South Korea Country Representative
By Lisa Dorfman, MS, RD, CSSD, LMHC, FAND, CR Chairperson
This Cyprus native, US educated, Wisconsin/Purdue graduate, always fascinated with Asia, met the love of her life, a South Korean, where she
has called home for the past 5 years. And while dietitian licenses are nearly impossible for an expat to obtain, Dee Dee has carved out an amazing career working on behalf of the Ministry of Health and Welfare of the Republic of Korea assisting in opening hospitals overseas in countries such as Mongolia and the UAE as well as enticing medical clients to come to South Korea for surgery, dentistry and medical procedures.
Meet Dee Dee Ugursal-Lee
The “mom” to two golden retrievers, Dee Dee has served as South Korea’s CR since 2012, from her home base about 1 ½ hours outside of Seoul in a city called Sejong. While Dee Dee spent 5 years after graduation in Singapore, she loves the diversity of South Korea, the opportunities and challenges of her job and learning new things despite mastering the language just a little at a time. Married 5 years, she anticipates staying in South Korea with the support of her husband & his family planning events, meetings, anything as the “eye” of the organization-the ability with her worldwide aptitude to sense the best strategies with each new MOU (Memorandum of Understanding).
Country Health Issues Impacted by Nutrition
Like other countries worldwide, South Korea’s adoption of Westernized eating and lifestyle habits has spiked an increase in chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. However, the most prevalent disease commonly seen is cancer, both lung and stomach which is thought to be a result of heavy smoking habits, hot spicy foods consumed and a multitude of factors which may include genetics and stress.
Despite the weather variations, cold to very hot, exercise is not popular in South Korea despite gyms available in most high-rise apartment buildings. Stand up paddling aka SUP as well as hiking are popular with active adults.
Opportunities & Challenges in South Korea Dietetics
With education a high priority in S. Korean households, young students seeking to study abroad have a difficult time gaining acceptance into US schools. Conversely, dietitians seeking to relocate to South Korea have a nearly impossible time since the RD exam is only given and must be passed in Korean. Most expats end up teaching English, freelancing or working in medical research instead of traditional dietitian positions in hospitals. There are about 11 dietitians, 7 who live and work in Seoul but are disconnected due to age gaps and practice modalities. Dee Dee says she tried to reach out, email, and invite the local dietitians to meetings and conversely offer guidance to dietitians looking to relocate to South Korea.
What are South Korean foods, seasoning, rituals and recipes special to you?
Dee Dee has grown especially fond of family Sundays, side dishes which include rice, noodles or soups-often substituted for drinks at mealtime. Other customs include eating with coworkers, team members at work lunchtimes which are considered imperative for connecting and learning behind the scenes communication necessities which can be taken back to the office for more effective working conditions. Accepting, at the very least trying all foods is expected, regardless of how it is presented or prepared. Rejecting a food is considered rude.
What Dee Dee loves most about IAAND membership and serving as a CR is:
To have the opportunity to see what other amazing dietitians are doing globally; to stay connected and make new friends online or onsite at conferences; to keep in touch with her European and US roots.
To connect with Dee Dee, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org