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Korean Studies around the globe

Indonesian Korean Studies students at graduation (Yonhap News)

Korean Studies, which focus on different aspects of Korean culture, economics, politics, history and other subjects, are an important part of how people around the world learn about and understand Korea. From Southeast Asia to Europe to North America, Korean Studies programs are a way for students and communities to connect with Korea and pursue studies while increasing ties between Korea and people around the world. Meanwhile, Korean Studies forums, conferences, symposium and publications bring a wider view of Korea to both academics and non-specialists.

Korean Studies programs, like many other area studies, emerged primarily after the Second World War, when people around the world started to realize the importance of having interdisciplinary academic programs to study and understand other countries and cultures.

Although the term itself dates back to the 1940s, most Korean Studies programs were several decades later. Taking an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates a wide variety of academic disciplines including sociology, economics, folklore, literature, art, history and others subjects, it strives for a holistic and complex view of Korea.

Often part of broader East Asian studies programs, Korean Studies have expanded dramatically over the past few decades, reflecting Korea’s increasingly prominent role in world affairs. Most of the best-known programs are in the United States and Europe, but more and more programs, lectures, and opportunities in Korean Studies are opening up in new parts of the world like Africa and Southeast Asia. (Right: Prof. McCann of Harvard University gives a lecture on sijo (Yonhap News))

In 1991, the Korean government established the Korea Foundation to help promote academic and cultural exchanges worldwide, and affiliated with the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs. They have invested heavily in Korean Studies programs around the world, and offer a variety of scholarships and grants, as well as organizing forums, conferences, exchanges and publications related to Korea.

The United States and Canada have some of the world’s oldest and most respected Korean Studies centers and programs. The University of Toronto has the oldest Korean Studies program in Canada, dating back to 1976, but is only one of dozens of universities across Canada with active programs concentrating on Korea. The University of Hawaii has one of the largest and oldest Korean Studies centers in the world, having been established in 1972 and home to the largest concentration of Korean scholars and resources outside of Korea itself. Meanwhile, Harvard, Columbia, UCLA and the University of Washington are home to some of the most respected academic programs dealing with Korea in the world.

Europe can boast several world-renowned programs as well, including at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, the Universities of Sheffield and Leeds. Germany and France both have several universities with programs that allow students to specialize in Korean language and culture. Korean Studies programs have also begun to spring up in other parts of the world, including the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia in response to increased ties between Korea and the rest of the world.

Like many academic programs and disciplines, Korean Studies as a field has experienced setbacks in funding and other areas, but it has also shown remarkable growth over the course of just a few short decades. It has also proven itself an important area of study for people around the globe, reflecting Korea’s changing international status and academic importance as a discipline. Korean Studies conferences, forums, programs and publications continue to flourish and expand as Korea’s role in the world increases.

Korean Studies conference in Orlando, Florida, US (Yonhap)

by Jennifer Flinn English Editor and Staff Writer

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