Thursday, July 31, 2014

Update from Seoul

               My name is Adena Peckler and I am an undergraduate Korean Language Fellow enrolled in an intensive summer study at one of South Korea’s prominent “SKY” institutions, Seoul National University. Prior to arriving in South Korea, I was aware of the value this experience would hold regarding contemporary Korean culture, as well as my grasp of the Korean language. I was not prepared for the valuable insight I would also gain into the various opinions regarding South Korea’s future potential.
While in Seoul, I have come to realize that in order to understand the importance of South Korea’s influence in Asia, one can simply look at the composition of students enrolled in the language schools. The number of participants in Seoul National University’s summer language program is in fact quite small, with a typical class size of fourteen students. Despite the small size, there are key trends to note. The first is that many of the students in the program are either gap year students, or college graduates, who hope to work or study in South Korea. The overwhelming majority of these students are from China, Southeast Asia, and Australia. For some classmates, their motivation for Korean language study was a lack of academic and professional opportunity due to immense competition, while others are seeking a degree which they believe will be of a higher value given its origination from Korea (also consider that the program is held at one of the premier institutions in Asia). Thus, for the students from China and Southeast Asia, the vast majority began studying Korean at level 1 and plan to proceed to level 7 in order to take the government-sponsored TOPIK and KLPT proficiency exams.

Similarly, there is a large contingent of Australian students participating in the program as well. Many are here on language grants provided by the Australian Government, as well as a vast array of scholarships originating from city and district offices, versus national grants. Such opportunities also exist in the United States, but it does not seem comparable to the sheer scale of the Australian government’s promotion of language study (presumably to increase trade as well as influence within the region). For example, to study in Indonesia, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia Vietnam, etc. many large grants are available.
Myself and classmates enjoying the best fried chicken the side-streets of Seoul has to offer!
On the surface, it seems that there is either a conscious or latent push from China and Australia, as well as a distinct pull from Korea, to invest in the Korean marketplace. In fact, during my summer at SNU, President Xi Jinping of China came to give a talk at the university. This singular visit was, and continues to be, coveted with much fanfare in Korea as signaling a key alliance between the two nations. As for the Australian students, many have observed that there is a need for their country to capitalize on both the skills and connections such programs can provide
What I have come to realize is that South Korea is viewed within the region as a land of opportunity. In the United States, interest in Korea is often limited to Korean pop-culture and the tacit peace with North Korea. This narrow focus is furthered by the lack of a developed Korean Studies program in many US universities offering a degree in Asian Studies. Yet in Asia, Korea’s value is seen as untapped, and interests in the country span much farther beyond the pop-culture of the Korean Wave.
I have had an interesting time in Korea thus far, and there are still plenty more experiences to be had during my time here! Keep a look out for another post which will expand on my life here. Until then, I hope you are having a good summer . . . wherever you are!
Nighttime shot outside of my apartment in Seoul.
Adena Peckler
B.A. Asian Studies, International Affairs 2015
Sigur Center 2014 Korean Language Fellow
Seoul National University, South Korea

For more posts from Korea:
Seoul Wanderings

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