A survey conducted at the end of 2006 found that 735 universities in 62 countries had Korean studies programs that covered everything from the Korean language and society to its history and politics. That marks a five-fold increase from the 151 programs in 32 countries that were operating during
the 1990s. While today Korean studies programs can be found everywhere from Thailand to the UK, the most respected programs reside in the United States. Programs at esteemed universities like Harvard, Columbia and Stanford offer students courses in Korean economics, anthropology and, of course, language and history. Today, Korean studies programs can be found in more than 140 US universities.
Many of the early Korean studies researchers from the US were stationed on the peninsula as military or Peace Corps personnel. James Palais (1934-2006)— the so-called “Godfather of Korean studies” — was one of these men. After getting his undergraduate degree from Harvard University in 1955, Palais enlisted in the army where he studied the Korean language. Palais then spent two years researching documents at Kyujanggak, the Joseon Dynasty’s royal library, before receiving his PhD from Harvard. While teaching in the United States, Palais actively supported the pro-democracy movements in Korea of the 1970s and ‘80s. After a celebrated career at the University of Washington’s Korean Studies Program, Palais returned to Korea to be the dean of the international studies program at Sungkyunkwan University between 2002 and 2004.Palais left behind a number of important works, including the 1,500- page Confucian Statecraft and Korean Institutions: Yu Hyongwon and the late Choson Dynasty, published in 1996. The book is a comprehensive overview of the late Joseon Dynasty and modernization period between the 14th and 18th centuries, offering readers an in-depth understanding of the class structure and various land, military and finance reforms that were undertaken during that period. As the chairman of the University of Washington’s Korean Studies Program, Palais trained many of the current authorities on Korea in the United States, including Carter Eckert of Harvard University, John Duncan of UCLA, Michael Robbins of Indiana University and Clark Sorensen of the University of Washington.
|Vietnamese students learning Korean at Hanoi University (Photo from Yonhap news)|
Another early influential Korean researcher was Edward Wagner (1924-2001). From 1946 to 1948, Edward Wagnerworked for the Department of Foreign Affairs of the US Army Military Government in Korea. He earned his PhD at Harvard in history and East Asian languages after returning to the United States. In 1981, Wagner founded Harvard University’s Korea Institute and became its first director, holding the position until 1993. Today, a new generation of scholars is following in Wagner’s footsteps, including the Korean Studies Institute Director David Kang at the University of Southern California, who studies North Korea, and Theodore Hughes of Columbia University, who researches modern Korean history.US universities have seen a steady increase in the number of professors and students studying the Korean Peninsula. While up until the early 2000s, 90 percent of students in Korean studies programs were of Korean descent, today a much wider range of demographics are attending these programs. In the case of a 2009 fallsemester Introduction to Korean Studies course at Columbia University, more than half of the 60 students attending were of non-Korean descent.Universities with East Asian programs have traditionally focused on Japan and China, but this too has been changing. Korean Studies in Europe
|Students in Korean cultural classes (Photo from KOREA Magazine May 2011)|
While US researchers often study Korean politics and governance, European universities have traditionally focused on Korean language, culture, history, folklore and art. The first Korean studies courses were held in the United Kingdom in 1953 at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. William Skillend, a scholar of ancient Korean literature, created the university’s Korean studies curriculum, which became offered as an independent major in 1989. After studying for a full year in Korea, students spend their junior and senior years researching Korean novels and essays in preparation for their final thesis paper. The SOAS currently offers a master’s and PhD program in the Korean language, literature, arts, politics, economics, musical traditions, media and movies. In Germany, interest in Korean studies is growing rapidly, with the University of Bochum, Free University of Berlin, University of Frankfurt and University of Tubingen all offering courses on Korea. The University of Tubingen was the first to open a Korean studies Master’s program in 1979, and currently has the largest Korean studies library in Germany.
Russia had the earliest Korean studies program outside of the peninsula and has been a leader in academic research. The first Korean studies courses were opened in 1897 at the St Petersburg State University’s Department of East Asian Studies. Interest in Korea expanded with the rise of communist and socialist ideologies. Up until 1991, when South Korea established diplomatic relations with Russia, most Korean studies programs focused on North Korea. Today, many South Korean courses are part of Russian universities’ Asian studies programs. The Far Eastern National University located in Vladivostok, Russia,is the only institution to have a College of Korean Studies. Around 250 students, with 50 to 60 freshmen each year, are enrolled in the five-year program offered at the college focused on Korean history, economy and language. In 2008, Lithuania became the first country in the Baltic region to establish a Korean studies department. Thanks to the influx of Korean TV dramas and pop music as part of Hallyu, or the Korean wave, 15 students are currently studying Korean culture, history, politics, economy and language at Vytautas Magnus University.An Academic Hallyu
|Students using brushes to write Hangeul characters in a Korean studies class at the University of Rouen in France (left). The Academy of Korean Studies hosts cultural classes every August for students majoring in Korean studies (right). (Photo from KOREA Magazine May 2011)|
In China, the popularity of Korean dramas like Winter Sonata and groups like Girls’ Generation has led to an interest in the Korean language. Forty-two universities in China now have Korean studies courses, including Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, the Beijing International Studies University, Minzu University of China, Beijing Language and Culture University and Jilin University. In 2009, Peking University created an independent department for Korean studies, which was previously part of the East Asian Language Department. Korean studies are also blossoming in the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and Latin America. Many of these Korean education centers have been established as countries in those regions grow politically and economically closer to South Korea.
|Seminar at the World Congress of Korean Studies (left). In 2008, the 4th Congress was held in Seoul and was attended by 135 Korean studies specialists from more than 20 countries (right). (Photo from KOREA Magazine May 2011)|
The increase in business between Korea and Chile and the 2004 Korea-Chile Free Trade Agreement has created an interest in Korean studies in that country. In 2004, Universidad Maritima de Chile became the first university in Chile to offer Korean language courses. And in 2006, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile established Korean culture and language courses.
Vietnam began offering Korean studies courses in 1993, one year after diplomatic relations was established with South Korea. Vietnamese students can now study the Korean language, culture, history and more at 10 universities, including Hanoi University, Vietnam National University in Hanoi and Vietnam National University in Ho Chi Minh City. Both Thailand’s Prince of Songkla University and the National University of Malaysia also have Korean studies departments, while Cambodia and Laos offer Korean language education programs.