Korean Studies Still Struggles In Its Infancy
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Korean Studies Still Struggles In Its Infancy
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  • 승인 2002.09.04 00:00
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Suppose that you are in the United States, walking down the streets, and you spot a bookstore across the street. Out of curiosity, you want to check out what kind of books on Korea they sell in America. You step into the bookstore and go to the section on Asia, and find loads of books on China and Japan. Now that you have found so many of books on the neighboring countries, you look for the same number of books on your own country stacked neatly in the bookracks. However, your anticipation is clashed when your effort ends in a disappointing result of finding only one or two shelves of them. Thinking that this is hard to believe considering the incredible progress Korea has been making, you go to another bookstore, only to face the same reality.

It is true that Korea has won worldwide recognition after having made a remarkable development from the ruins of colonization and civil war. As a result, Korean Studies programs havebeen on the rise as well.

"There were about 30 schools that had Korean program in the 1980s. Now, there are over 100 universities with programs on Korea," says Professor Wang Hye-sook of Brown University. University of California, Berkeley had only one Korean language class with less than seven students until the early 1980s ever since it was first established in 1943. In the early 1980s, the number of students increased to 40, and now there are over 200 students in four levels.

Though it seems like Korean Studies has established a secure position in the realm of academics in the U.S., "it is safe to say that Korean Studies programs are still in their infant stages compared to those of other East Asian countries," says Clare You, the co-chair of the Center for Korean Studies at UC Berkeley. Most major universities in America have departments of East Asian Studies, and almost all schools offer B.A."s in Chinese or Japanese, whereas a degree in Korean is not offered at all, or often only as a minor.

Also, there are many more intensive courses that cover various aspects (history, religion, culture, literature, etc.) of Chinese and Japanese societies, whereas Korean Studies programs are usually adopted on language basis only.

There are many factors that can explain the current situation of Korean Studies in America. One is the relatively short history of Korean immigration to the U.S. Another is the lack of resources on Korea. There are not many qualified teachers, books, and teaching materials that support teachers. For example, when we type in "Korea" in the search engine of UC Berkeley Library, we get 23,010 results. We get 80,601 for "Japan," and 91,721 for "China," respectively. "Also, the number of teaching posts open to Korean majors is extremely small, which is a very discouraging factor," adds You.

However, what is more important is not hard figures, but something that has to do with mentality. "Many Americans have misconceptions that China represents the soul of Asia, and Japan the golden pot of Asia," says Wang. "Korea is overshadowed by these two powers. To overcome this, Korea frequently needs to be exposed to media to attract interest among the general public."

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