Push Korean studies overseas, scholars say

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Push Korean studies overseas, scholars say

For more than a decade, the Korean government has been trying to pump up the country’s profile. One strategy it employed was to support Korean studies programs overseas.
During a two-day conference last week, the Korea Foundation, a government agency at the forefront of the publicity drive, focused on the theme of “public diplomacy” as the ideal way to achieve the foundation’s long-term goals. A group of professors, researchers and past fellows of the organization met in the foundation’s conference room to discuss and evaluate their work over the past 15 years.
During the afternoon session last Monday, James Lewis, professor and director of the Korean Studies program at Oxford University, stressed the need for the government and Korean businesses to support overseas programs for students in foreign universities and to expand internship opportunities in Korea to raise Korea’s world profile.
“I think that ‘public diplomacy’ is about the education of other people’s children, foreign children, and I know something about this,” Mr. Lewis said. “Any normal Korean person would ask: ‘Why should I bother with them? My own children’s education is difficult enough.’ The reason is because the greatest problem facing Korea abroad is not whose land is Dokdo or whether the Doha Round will damage Korean agriculture... The greatest problem facing Korea abroad today is its low profile.” Mr. Lewis stressed how difficult it is for Korean studies programs to survive in overseas universities.
In Europe, he said, many Asian studies programs closed after suffering major budget cutbacks. Korean studies was dropped at the University of Tubingen in spring 2004. Durham University shut down its entire East Asian studies program in 2003; Newcastle University ended its Korean language instruction course in 2004.
Niu Linjie, dean of the College of Korean Studies at Shandong University in China, provided an overview of research projects related to Korean studies in China from 2001 to 2005.
“There are over 1,000 papers written about Korea that had been published in China over those five years,” Mr. Niu said. “In the Chinese academic sphere, this is a surprising accomplishment.”
Jo Hang-rok, president of the International Association for Korean Language Education, stressed the need for overseas Korean language education programs; Paik Hak-soon, director of the Sejong Institute, talked about support for think-tanks and forums. “Providing Korean language education is one of the most efficient strategies for promoting Korea in the international community,” Mr. Jo said. “Yet it’s been less than 10 years since the government started paying attention to the need to educate more non-Koreans abroad.”
In Korea, the first Korean class for foreigners was set up in 1959 at Yonsei University, according to Mr. Jo’s report. Prior to that, a Korean studies department was first set up at the Tokyo Foreign Language School in 1880; in 1897, Korean language classes were offered at the University of St. Petersburg.
Chung Hyung-min, director of Seoul the National University Museum of Art, said that since the foundation’s start, it has funded a total of 15 rooms featuring Korean art set up in overseas museums.
“It’s important to organize shows in overseas museums that put together an overview of Korean art divided into genres,” Ms. Chung said. “But they could also create an impression that they are simply promoting the national image. To avoid that, we need to support art shows that are more specific and delve into special periods.”


by Park Soo-mee
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