Putting the ‘liberal’ in liberal arts
College is indeed getting weird, and for good reason: weird majors attract students. Unconventional departments not only allow schools to offer their students more choices, but also enable the schools to build reputations for themselves in educational niches. Doing so might attract criticism ― students do, after all, face a tough job market ― but Lee Seung-ju, the spokesman of the Korean Council for College Education, said that majors that appear frivolous might be needed sooner than people realize.
It might be that the tough job market is encouraging students to look into more eccentric professions. The youth unemployment rate stood at 7.2 percent as of last month, and the Federation of Korean Industries has issued statements decrying the difficulty of finding talented college graduates who can immediately enter the workforce.
But if there’s a pure love industry, it must be ecstatic.
Department of Rabbits and Hats
The first days of college might be a magical time for any freshman, but for some students at the two-year Dong-A College, the feeling is quite literal. The school offered magic classes as an elective for a year to gauge the students’ reaction; spurred by the class’s success, last year it opened a Department of Magic. Korea has plenty of magician schools, but Dong-A became the country’s first magic college.
Kang Hyeong-dong, a professor in the department, said that the school not only teaches tricks but also approaches the subject academically, instructing students in the field’s history, psychology and management. The school also teaches ballet, modern dance and how to make stage props.
What qualifies a person to become a professor of magic? Most of the instructors have years of experience in the field. For classes, however, they have to use imported books on the subject, Mr. Kang said.
“I’m not sure if it’s a good idea to study magic at college, but it’s good that students can focus on magic and get a degree,” said Kim Ju-no, 38, a magician at the performing troupe and instruction institute Alexander Magic Family. “I think that to some degree, it’s irresponsible to make trendy departments just to attract students interested by some fad.”
But Lee Jin-kyu, 23, a student at Dong-A’s magic department, said he doesn’t regret signing up for the classes, even though some were too remedial for him. Before studying at Dong-A, Mr. Lee had already won several magic competitions.
“I wanted to learn more about magic more thoroughly,” Mr. Lee said. “The history, skill, renowned magicians, how the trick names originated and how to understand people’s minds, stuff private institutes can’t offer.”
But another student at the school, Moon Chang-min, 22, said majoring in magic wasn’t necessarily a wise idea. Because of the unstable job market, he recently took the examination for public officials. “I spent about five years, including two years at college, learning magic and dance, but right now I’m heading in a different direction. I feel like I wasted my time, even though I enjoyed it,” Mr. Moon said.
Department of Speeding
If Mr. Moon was looking for a major with better job opportunities, he could do worse than to enroll in the Motor Sports Department at Ajou Motor College. Expecting the demand for workers in the motor sports industry to dramatically increase by 2010, the college began offering classes in the field this year. Driving is just one thing students can learn; other areas are mechanics, engineering and race-team management. The department facilities alone cost 1 billion won ($960,000) and include a 550-meter (601-yard) go-kart course with a 170-meter beeline, according to Jang Hyun-tak, professor of the department.
The school also teaches driving on real race circuits at Taebaek, Gangwon province, and at Yongin, Gyeonggi province. It also exchanges information on formula or grand touring car manufacturing and technology with racing teams such as Sungwoo Indigo and E-Rain Racing.
Min Min-gu, 20, said he wants to be a motor sports engineer and is satisfied with the school. One of the course’s selling points is that it allows him to disassemble engines, study their construction and apply new ideas to existing technology. “I can do experiments in whatever I want to,” he said.
Kim Han-sik, 19, who wants to be a driver, said, “I thought that I would be a better driver after learning more about cars, engines and other car parts.”
Department of Butt-whoopin’
Kyungbuk College of Science is also offering a major in a sport that’s rapidly becoming popular in Korea: mixed martial arts, better known as K-1 in Japan. The school’s Division of Leisure Sports and Recreation started offering the major this year. Eighty student have so far signed up.
“Mixed martial arts, including K-1 and PRIDE Fighting Championships, have been popular in other countries like Japan, the States and Russia for the last 10 years,” said Hong Young-kyu, professor of the department. “Korea is a bit behind.”
“Noting that K-1 is a mixture of various martial arts, the school thought that it would be good to have such a major,” Mr. Hong added.
The problem is that there are not many experts in K-1. Mr. Hong is just one of a small number of professors who can teach martial arts, having studied it for about 15 years. He teaches Brazilian jiujitsu and Russia’s combat sambo style. The school also teaches Thai and Japanese kick-boxing in addition to taekwondo and hapkido, both of which are Korean martial arts.
Department of Chastity
Men like Lee Il-jae, however, aren’t fighters: they’re lovers. Specifically, Pure Lovers.
Mr. Lee is a professor at the Department of Pure Love at Sunmoon University (which was established by Moon Sun-myung’s Unification Church). The love taught here is considered “pure” because it emphasizes abstinence before marriage, although it also teaches students about contraception.
“Society is extremely open about sex and pure values seem to have eroded,” Mr. Lee said. “We teach people about sex by showing them true moral values.” The education is based on the values of the Unification Church, Mr. Lee added. The church emphasizes the value of virginity prior to marriage.
The students learn how to deal with victims of sexual violence, and to teach sex education to middle and high school students. Mr. Lee said about 60 percent of the course graduates are working abroad for the church teaching sex education or doing missionary work.
Lee Jung-won, 24, the first male student in the department, said he applied for the Pure Love major after learning that purity is not only about virginity but also about living an honest and pure life.
And after graduation?
“Of course, I have realistic worries, about whether I can make a living,” the student said. “But I ultimately want to be a professor in the department after experiencing life in foreign countries. And I think that I can find ways of solving social issues like sexual crime, abortion or pre-marital sex, by letting people know about what I learned at school.”
Department of Glam
Less interested in love than in attraction, the two-year Seoul Hoseo Institute of Technology is creating a “Broadcasting Coordination Make-up Department”; classes are to be offered beginning in spring 2006.
“As more high school students are interested in working with actors, the college found that it was necessary to make a department that mixed the beauty and fashion majors,” said Hwang Hae-jeong, a professor in the department.
The school also has a Total Beauty Design Department, covering everything a student needs to know about looking beautiful: make-up, nail care, skin care, hair and more. Ms. Hwang said the new department also instructs students in how to match colors and clothing styles, to help them select the right fashions for characters in soap operas or movies. Students will also have a chance to go practice at real film shoots.
by Park Sung-ha