Italian man proud to fly Korean flagOn national holidays, those feeling a bit patriotic can plant a little flag outside their home. For 101 reasons, people simply forget to put out the flag, even if they own one. Many do not have a flag.
For a non-Korean to own a flag, never mind display it ― and in a foreign country no less ― would be unusual to say the least. Unheard of, even.
Maurizio Riotto, a 44-year old Italian, fits that unusual mold. A taegeukgi flies at the home of this associate professor of Korean studies at Naples University.
“In Italy we have an old saying that the one who feeds you bread and butter is your father,” says the professor, speaking in fluent Korean. “This country [Korea] has given me much more than that. I got my wife and son from here as well.”
Mr. Riotto, has Caucasian features but inside he may be more Korean than, well, some Koreans. He is on a different plane than most so-called Korea experts who speak the language and claim to know what is going on in the country.
The professor’s knowledge of Korean history and culture extends so deeply, he can even read and understand texts that are written in old forms of Chinese and Korean characters ― a task not many native Koreans can do!
After obtaining a master’s degree in antiques at the University of Palermo in Sicily, Mr. Riotto, delved into Korea’s bronze age for his Ph.D., which he received in Rome in 1987. Shortly after, while studying art history at Seoul National University, he fell in love with a decidedly non-academic aspect of Korea: his wife-to-be, Hwang Yang-suk.
Finally, he secured a teaching position at Naples University, the only school in Italy to offer advanced coursework in Korean studies; in 1997 he was appointed an assistant professor there. Among his many achievements, he has translated seven Korean novels into Italian.
“To study Korean archaeology, it was essential to study the language at a very sophisticated level as well as the country’s ancient customs,” Mr. Riotto, says, adding “that is why I majored in Korean literature, too.”
During the World Cup soccer matches in 2002, he stayed active penning columns on Korea while most Italians were grumbling over their team’s loss to Korea. “Many [Italians] didn’t know anything about Korea,” he says. “I thought it was important to make people understand the country better.”
It may be that Mr. Riotto, is a bona fide Koreaphile, but the professor thinks the two countries share many common features. Citing the fact that both lands are situated on peninsulas, he says, “I think similar geographical circumstances have led to somewhat similar personalities among the two nations’ peoples. Italians have a sanguine temperament. They care about people, and once you get to know them are completely open, just like Koreans.”
Nowadays, six students are pursuing master’s degrees in Korean studies under Mr. Riotto’s tutelage.
by Lee Man-hoon