[VIEWPOINT]Take a closer look at the world

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[VIEWPOINT]Take a closer look at the world

One of the most important things that Korea needs to do to become an advanced country is to research various regions of the world.
Studies about areas such as the Middle East, Africa and Central and South America were used by empires to help themselves during the era of imperialism. During the Cold War era, studies were used by the United States and Soviet Union to rationalize their world strategies.
When Korea was under colonial rule, circumstances didn’t allow regional studies to take root here.
After liberation, the South-North confrontation caused studies on relations between the two countries as well as domestic politics to be the focus of mainstream academic studies for a long time.
Even after Korea became the world’s 10th-biggest economic power, it was still difficult to get research about other countries and regions.
I think that is a reason the political circle and public opinion have always focused on issues related to the Korean Peninsula.
Needless to say, relations between South and North Korea have always been an urgent issue, and the research on the two Koreas and Northeast Asia has certainly been a primary task.
However, the activities of Korean businesses and the country’s pending diplomatic issues beyond the regional boundary of Northeast Asia seem to be out of step from the situations in different regions in the world.
The most important fields in regional studies are politics, the economy, modern and contemporary history and cultural anthropology.
In my international relations major, most of the Korean students who studied abroad got their doctorate after years of hard work, before coming home. In many cases, however, their theses were focused on issues related to Korea.
Professors in foreign universities tend to suggest research on Korean studies because originality is an important factor for doctoral dissertations.
In fact, when Korean students at British or U.S. universities express their desire to write their theses on themes such as European disarmament, or the histories of the United States or the Middle East, many professors suggest that they try something else. Since there are many bright local students, professors tend to recommend that Korean students, who have not been in the country long, study issues related to Korea or Northeast Asia rather than touching on an unfamiliar field.
As a result, although Korean students adopt research methods developed in Europe or the United States, they often choose fields related to Korea as the subjects of their research.
It is true that the trend has largely contributed to the development of academic studies at home and contributed to enhancing understanding on Korea internationally.
But seen from the viewpoint of Korea’s academic circles, it seems that it has resulted in a lack of specialists on different regions.
The method that Japan employs can be considered a breakthrough on this problem. Japan not only supports students studying abroad, but also educates specialists on various regions by providing a variety of support and a high standard of training to students who study other regions at Japanese universities.
Students who work on their doctoral dissertation in Japanese universities, enroll in master’s degree programs at universities in the United States or Europe for a year or two concentrating on learning English and collecting data.
Instead of putting all their energy into writing a thesis for a doctorate in a foreign language, they focus on practical research related to core pending problems of various regions that have an effect on Japan.
After they get their doctoral degrees, they are encouraged to participate in academic meetings overseas and are maintained as a group of specialists through government support for their employment.
Most of the books on regional studies, such as studies on Northern Europe and the Middle East, that can be found in Japanese bookstores have been published after rewriting these doctoral dissertations.
Korea, which is on the verge of becoming an advanced country, cannot wait any longer to set up an infrastructure for the diverse and in-depth study of different regions.

* The writer is a lecturer in political science and international relations at the University of Aberdeen in the United Kingdom. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Seung-young
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