- Associated Press - Friday, February 24, 2017

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Two posters hang side by side on the wall of Sheena Chestnut Greitens‘ office - one declaring “Welcome to Pyongyang,” the other commemorating North Korea’s missile program.

Behind her desk is a painting of women in military uniforms gathered around an issue of Workers’ Daily, a North Korean newspaper. Greitens‘ decor illustrates her research specialties: East Asia and authoritarian regimes.

Books on the region, including her own published in August, fill her shelves, as well as family photos with her husband, new Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, and her older son, Joshua. She hasn’t had a chance to print more recent photos with 8-month-old Jacob.

Greitens, 34, joined University of Missouri’s Political Science Department in January 2015. After taking parental leave for part of the fall semester, along with accompanying her husband on the campaign trail, Greitens returned to the classroom at the start of the spring semester not only as a professor, but also as first lady of the state, the Columbia Missourian (https://bit.ly/2m4hY4A ) reported.

While her return to campus was met with curiosity from students, Greitens tries her best to keep her dual roles separate. The first day of classes even comes with a warning to students not to come to her with any issues with the governor or his administration, said Casey Edwards, a junior in Greitens‘ class.

The couple’s roles do overlap occasionally. The governor made an appearance at the opening of MU’s Institute for Korean Studies on Feb. 9, sitting ramrod straight as his wife gave a speech. The public reception was followed by a private dinner at the Governor’s Mansion.

On Feb. 2, Gov. Greitens slashed higher education funding in his budget recommendation, pushing the intersection of their careers further. But, the first lady said, she doesn’t “speak for the governor’s office.”

“When I’m on campus, I’m not here as the first lady, I’m here as their professor,” Greitens said. “My role is to teach and do research. My time is really a hundred percent devoted to my role as a professor and researcher.”

In the classroom two days a week, Greitens teaches a course on American foreign policy in Asia to undergraduate students, while also leading doctoral classes on democracy and dictatorship.

She spends the rest of her week writing lectures, working on research and overseeing the Institute for Korean Studies, which she co-directs with MU history professor Harrison Kim.

“Working with her is efficient, but at the same time makes you think,” Kim said. “She asks big questions, but also pays a lot of attention to detail. She’s the whole package.”

When Greitens was in the third grade, her family gained a new member. Catherine Chestnut, only a baby, was flown over from Seoul, South Korea.

Greitens - at the time Sheena Chestnut - couldn’t stop asking questions about her new sister.

What was Catherine’s life like back in Korea? What did that part of the world look like?

Driven by her curiosity, the Chestnut family embraced its newly adopted member’s Korean culture. They learned to cook Korean dishes. If there was a Korean-American event in Greitens‘ hometown of Spokane, Washington, they were there.

Greitens‘ fascination with Korea didn’t stop with childhood. Driven by deeper questions, she focused her political science degree at Stanford University on the region.

Remembering watching the fall of the Berlin Wall on TV as a child, she wondered: Why had communism survived in North Korea when it literally crumbled in Europe?

And so the studying began.

At the start of her sophomore year, Greitens took a one-month exchange trip to South Korea. Her senior thesis on North Korean smuggling networks ended up getting published in International Security, an academic journal so competitive that it was difficult for professors to get published, let alone undergraduate students, Zack Cooper, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said.

“She was doing work … that many people try to do in graduate school,” Cooper said. The two have known each other for about 12 years.

Her senior year, Greitens decided to take up Mandarin Chinese and continued learning the language through graduate school at Oxford as a Marshall Scholar.

Studying at Oxford confirmed her desire to pursue teaching and research on East Asia.

“I wanted to be able to do research to help understand a lot of the issues that were shaping East Asia and American involvement in Asia today,” Greitens said. “I also wanted to be able to share that knowledge with others.”

In 2007, Greitens began her doctoral degree in political science at Harvard University. It was there that she met Missouri’s future governor in 2009. After two years of leading his nonprofit, The Mission Continues, the Navy Seal was visiting the university to give a talk on veterans and leadership in public service.

“A mutual friend introduced us in a small group,” she said. “After that event, we went out for hot chocolate. That was it. That was the beginning.”

Two years later, the couple married and moved to Eric Greitens‘ home state of Missouri. In the fall of 2012, she applied for an opening in MU’s Political Science Department, a position for someone well-versed in democracy and dictatorships, specifically in East Asia.

Greitens was hired in 2012, wrapped up her doctoral degree and started working as an assistant professor in January 2015.

As an educator, Greitens said she hopes to leave students understanding the relevance of what they’re learning and how even things that happened across the Pacific can still relate to home.

When discussing the Chinese Civil War, she tells students about Edgar Snow, a Missouri School of Journalism alumnus who wrote the earliest accounts of the Chinese Communist Party. A lecture on the Korean War comes with an explanation of MU’s Korean exchange program, one of the first in the nation, that was spearheaded by President Harry Truman.

Greitens spent most of the campaign season at home with her sons, making sure 2-year-old Joshua got to bed on time and taking care of Jacob, who was born in June, leading up to the primary election in August.

When possible, the whole family would hit the campaign trail on the weekends, traveling to parts of the state Greitens had yet to experience.

“I’m a Missourian by choice,” she said. “I had met students from all over Missouri, but I often hadn’t been to their hometowns. I really enjoyed getting to know the state in a very different way that ended up being a lot of fun.”

Greitens said she juggles her roles as professor, first lady and mother one day at a time, making an effort to be home most nights of the week for family dinner.

“My husband and I really see ourselves as a pretty normal, two-working-parent family with small kids,” Greitens said. “We both love what we do. It’s really important to us to do our jobs, to do them well.”

Greitens has already started work on a new book project, interviewing North Korean defectors and refugees on their experiences resettling into democracies around the world.

“Many of the people I’ve worked with and that I’ve met over the years who come from North Korea have several funny stories, or often very poignant and touching stories, about the moment that difference really came home to them,” she said.

Greitens said she also hopes to dive deeper into her role as first lady as her boys get more settled into their new home.

In the past, Missouri first ladies have taken up a cause to support while their husband holds office, much like the national first lady.

Drawing inspiration from her sister, Catherine, Greitens said she hopes to advocate for adoption services and foster care in the state.

“Having an adopted sibling is something that is really important to me,” Greitens said. “It’s something that as a mother, as a teacher and now in this new role (as first lady) I really care about. So I’m excited to find out from people what we can do to support that system and make it work better.”

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