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Korean Studies See Surge at European Universities

Posted October. 31, 2009 07:55,   


Hallyu, or the Korean wave, is starting to enter Europe, with more students in France, Germany and Britain interested in Korea’s economy, politics, history and language.

This emerging trend apparently stems from the improved image of Korean conglomerates such as Samsung, LG, Hyundai and Kia in Europe. Younger Europeans are also showing heightened interest in Korean pop culture.

Lee Jin-myeong, a Korean studies professor at the University of Lyon 3, said yesterday, “My Korean class had 50 students last year. This year, I had to offer two classes of 35 students each since 70 signed up.”

Also teaching at the University of Paris 7, Lee said, “Fifty-four students took the class at the University of Paris 7 but that number has jumped to 70 this year,” adding, “I had to change the classroom to a large auditorium because a 30 to 40-seat classroom was too narrow for my class on contemporary and modern Korean history.”

Since 1999, the number of students taking Chinese at the University of Paris 7 has increased 2.5 times, and that in Japanese has doubled. The figure for Korean, however, has nearly quadrupled.

While the number of students majoring in Japanese or Chinese has largely remained stagnant or even declined, that of students majoring in Korean has increased significantly.

Lee Eun-jeong, a Korean studies professor at the Free University of Berlin, said, “Students who applied for the Korean studies program numbered just 32 last year, but the figure more than doubled to 68 this year,” adding, “We had no choice but to filter out 40 students to meet the quota of 28.”

“Fifty to 80 students have rushed to take classes such as ‘Introduction to Korean Politics,’ ‘Introduction to the Korean Economy,’ and ‘Introduction to Korean History,’ filling classrooms to capacity.’”

James Grayson, chair of the East Asian Institute at Sheffield University in the U.K., said “More students are seeking degrees in Korean studies at Sheffield University and the University of London,” adding, “At Sheffield, 270 students took Korean studies classes last year.”

Students cited a number of reasons for taking Korean studies, but the practical goal of finding employment involving the country was the main factor. In a survey of more than 60 students majoring in the Korean language at the University of Paris 7, about 80 percent said they want to work for Korean companies or in cultural exchanges between the two countries.

Students singled out electronics, cars and shipbuilding as business sectors in which Korea is competitive. They were also well aware of Korea’s major brands Samsung, LG, Hyundai and Kia.

Korean pop culture was also popular with European students. Many knew of acclaimed Korean movies such as “Oldboy,” the work of director Kim Ki-duk, and even films that won no awards such as “My Sassy Girl,” “200-Pounds Beauty,” and “A Bittersweet Life,” as well as TV dramas such as “Full House.”

Also popular with European students were Korean pop music acts such as Rain, Big Bang, Girls’ Generation, Lee Hyo-ri, and Wonder Girls.