The number of students enrolled in Korean language and culture courses at the University has increased over the past decade despite the small size of Korean language studies and staff.
This trend is more pronounced among non-heritage students, who now outnumber the traditionally higher number of heritage students in many classes in the Korean department. Heritage students are those who are ethnically Korean but do not speak the language fluently.
An increase in registrations
Hye-Sook Wang, associate professor of East Asian studies, arrived at the university as a Korean language teacher in 1993. Throughout her time at the university, Wang said that she did not not noticed such an interest in the culture and study of the Korean language until now.
During this fall’s purchase period, Korean language courses garnered unusually high interest from the student body, resulting in one class being over-enrolled, KREA 0300: âKorean Intermediateâ. Wang said the department has finally created a second section of the course for the fall semester of 2021, which itself was nearly full.
âA lot of students showed up and they didn’t want to leave. They kept saying, ‘I want to take this course,’ âWang said. âWe only had to present a file to the department, and possibly to the university. In my 30 years of working here, this had never happened.
Wang added that the trend of increasing enrollment in Korean language courses “has continued for several years.” But she pointed out that one of the most notable changes in Korean language classes has been the changing class composition. Non-heritage learners outnumbered heritage students in most Korean language courses at the University.
âWhen I first came to Brown, for a while the Korean classes were filled with heritage speakers from a Korean ethnicity,â Wang said. âGenerally, heritage learners have the motivation to talk with their extended family in Korea and find their roots. “
Wang said that over the past decade, the interest of non-heritage speakers has grown not only at university, but also in Korean language classes across the country.
âI conducted a survey around 2009 targeting several universities on the east coast to see if there is a trend right now in terms of class composition, student education, etc., as I noticed in Brown that there had already been changes going on, âWang said.
Growing cultural influence abroad
Regarding the reasons why non-heritage learners want to learn more about Korean language and culture, Wang said there are different reasons. âAs you can imagine, the popularity of Korean popular culture, K-pop, K-drama, K-film, K-food, K-beauty, K-game,â she said. “Many non-heritage speakers are very interested in Korean popular culture.”
She added, âThese days more and more students are interested in going to Korea. At the start of our classes, we collected the student information sheetsâ¦ I (was) particularly interested in finding out more about a lot of students saying, âAfter I graduate, I would like to go to Korea. and work there in K-music. or the film industry K. ‘ (Some students) would also like to teach English in Korea, which I really hadn’t seen some time ago.
Wang also said that there are a number of complex factors that go into the success of K-pop and K-drama. “It is not only the people who made the drama or the music, but also the Korean government has spent a lot of money to promote these Korean products.”
According to Ellie (Yunjung) Choi, visiting assistant professor of East Asian studies, âthe whole ‘highlighting Korea on the map’ really started with ‘Gangnam Style’ and Psy, (the song artist who) opened the door to bands like BTS. The main reason Korea is so popular is also the power of fans and social media to transcend national media boundaries. Choi added that with the help of movie streaming platforms such as Viki and Netflix, K movies have also become increasingly popular.
She further cited social media exposure and financial resources as other major factors that pushed Korean entertainment to spread: âKorea has been a member of (the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) for a long time. long, andâ¦ social media allows fans to transcend national borders and regions and connect.
In the Department of East Asian Studies, Choi teaches courses related to Korean History, Korean Youth and Identity and Nation, Korean Cinema and K-drama, Media Korean and Korean trends. âI try to deliver what is relevant to young peopleâ¦ The students really appreciate the issues that are relevant to their lives,â she said. âRight now we’re talking about historical trauma and Korean-American parents and how hereditary mental health affects Brown University students who are (of Korean descent).â
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Students who took classes with Choi shared different reasons for their decision to study Korean language and culture.
Maliha Islam ’22, a non-heritage student, said she decided to take a Korean film class with Choi because she wanted to take a film class. âIt was not an easy course, but it was a course that was well worth it,â Islam said. âFor Korean lessons, I had a friend who followed them. She said that when she took these classes she liked them very much, so I decided to give it a try.
Islam also liked the atmosphere of Korean classes and the East Asian studies department. âI remember when I was taking language lessons, they used to make Korean language tables, where there was a lot of food and snacks, a lot of talking and movies. There were very good vibes. The teachers were also very accommodating,â¦ if anything else happened, they would support you and teach you how to say it in Korean as well.
Thomas Sze ’22, another non-heritage learner, cited various motivations. âI’m Japanese, American and Chinese, so I think by approaching Korean history, you can see how these three countries are really having lasting effects in the region, so it was a fascinating way to approach my own culture. and historyâ¦ I was also interested in K-pop and K-media as an Asian trying to seek representation in the media.
Heritage students had different reasons for their study than non-heritage students.
âI’m Korean-American, but I grew up quite far from Korean culture,â said Isabel Kim ’22. Kim’s parents immigrated to the United States when they were young and “don’t (really) speak Korean.” As a result, she grew up “quite American”.
But while in high school, Kim became more interested in her Korean heritage. She discovered K-pop and K-dramas before further exploring Korean culture and history beyond the Eurocentric lens of the history classes she took.
âFor the first time, I felt proud to be Korean,â she said.
Before taking classes with Choi, Kim said she idealized Korea in her mind as the ultramodern home of K-pop. “But in the lessons (from Professor Choi) you learn a ton about the very complex history of Korea, which is filled with a lot of pain and trauma, and you also learn about this hidden and insidious nature of the culture. . “
Sumera Subzwari ’21 is half Korean, but hadn’t learned Korean while growing up. She took Korean classes at university “to learn how to connect with and talk to my mother’s family in Korea, while learning more about that side of myself that I didn’t yet have.” explored, including cultural traditions and family history â. Subzwari added that she was able to talk to her extended family and grandparents and is grateful that she was able to take Korean lessons.
Regarding K-pop and contemporary Korean culture, Subzwari said she would not have predicted the rise in popularity of Korean culture a few years ago.
“It’s heartwarming to see that people are increasingly exposed to Korean culture by being introduced first through K-pop, K-dramas and other aspects of pop culture, and then genuinely interested in traditions and historical culture as well. âshe said. âAs a child, people often made fun of Asian culture or just lumped Korean culture together with the vast Asian continent and didn’t think it was a rich and beautiful culture in and of itself.â
Isaiah Paik ’22, another heritage learner, also said that “my sociological interest in Korea and what it represents about world capitalism and (the) future, really inspired me to take courses (in Korean)”.
Regarding the rise of K-pop, Paik said that “the increase in enrollment in Korean classes at Brown is a good thing, especially for Korea – it is both the result of some people naturally interested in the latest media and what’s going on and a deliberate plan by Korea to bring Korean media out to the world and get people interested.
Looking ahead, Wang said she would like to add more sections to introductory and middle-level Korean courses and create more regular Korean teaching posts.
âMaybe everything has (its own) timing,â Wang said. âNow it’s time for the Korean curriculum to grow, and our students are supporting it by signing up for the courses. “