University of Iowa Korean Studies Research Network connects academics


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When Hyaeweol Choi joined the faculty of the University of Iowa in 2018, she saw an opportunity to bring together academics whose disciplines were related to Korean Studies.

Something came out that would be of use to academics beyond UI.

The Korean Studies Research Network, or KoRN – an acronym worthy of Iowa – is a research center where Midwestern students can learn about a nation whose influence is growing dramatically, through seminars, lecture series. and workshops.

Choi is the C. Maxwell and Elizabeth M. Stanley Family and Korea Foundation Chair in Korean Studies. The Korea Foundation is an organization that promotes this nation globally.

In creating KoRN, Choi felt that Iowa could play a leadership role in the Midwest, especially in states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Missouri that do not have separate research institutes. for Korean studies.

Hyaeweol Choi, the creator of a Korean Studies Network that serves the Midwest, poses in her office on the University of Iowa campus last week.

“Whatever resources we have, we could share those resources for the best maximum result,” Choi said.

Choi also felt a duty to foster the next generation of scholars.

KoRN, she said, is targeting Korean researchers – postdoctoral fellows, assistant professors, graduate students – who will lead the field for years to come. Ideally, these young scholars will be able to interact with seasoned scholars like Choi through KoRN to get feedback on their research and network with each other.

It’s also about facilitating mentoring opportunities for the younger generation, said Choi, on how to navigate an increasingly “competitive” and “rigorous” professional world.

KoRN’s collaborative spirit extends elsewhere.

Asian studies, including Korean studies, Choi said, is an interdisciplinary field, spanning history, literature, gender studies, political science – pretty much anything under the humanities and social sciences.

Choi designed KoRN to foster collaboration between disciplines that are different from each other.

“It seems to me that any in-depth study requires a wider range of perspectives in order to provide a nuanced and complex picture of the phenomenon,” she said. “This is the reason why this interdisciplinary research is developing rapidly.

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How the Korean Studies Research Network was formed in Iowa

When Choi arrived at UI, she noticed that there were professors involved in Korean studies, but they were spread across different departments.

Choi initially wanted to find a way for UI academics to present monthly seminars related to Korea for feedback.

But Choi, who has a working relationship with the Korea Foundation – which is also one of the leading funding agencies in the development of Korean studies around the world, she said – had the opportunity to stand up. meet with one of its representatives.

Choi’s proposal for KoRN, not as something to serve the user interface but to reach out to other universities in the Midwest, was an idea supported by the Korea Foundation, giving him the initial funding that supported the network’s activities. research this year.

Although KoRN was officially established in 2019, it was not until November of this year that the research network hosted its inaugural conference.

The two-day virtual event brought together speakers from universities across the Midwest, all of whom presented topics related to Korea.

The goal of future conferences, ideally both in person and virtually, is to bring the “latest cutting edge research to the community at large,” Choi said.

Prior to funding from the Korea Foundation, UI International Programs was an early supporter of Choi’s plans.

Thanks to a grant from International Programs, Choi was able to officially launch KoRN with a series of monthly seminars in December 2019 presented by UI students or faculty.

International Programs is a sponsor of KoRN, according to Russell Ganim, vice-president and dean of international programs.

KoRN is the first of its kind at UI, a “formal mechanism” that Ganim says brings people together and promotes research related to Korea, as opposed to the previous “loose assembly of colleagues” from Korea who occasionally met and discussed their interdisciplinarity. interests.

“The Korean Research Network (Studies) and the conferences and conferences it sponsors provide early career researchers, graduate students and post-docs with an outlet to present their research, which is invaluable in terms of professional development. “said Ganim.

Ganim has visited the Korea Foundation on several occasions to explain how the University of Iowa’s programming is being built to make the university a “hub” for Korean studies in the region.

This is something the Korea Foundation has been receptive to, said Ganim, and willing to support.

Ganim started at UI as Director of the World Languages, Literatures and Cultures Division in 2011.

“I saw it as a real opportunity to develop Korean language and Korean studies at the same time,” he said.

Interest in Korean studies grows at UI alongside interest in Korean pop culture like BTS

When it comes to studying a geographic or cultural region, Ganim said language is key.

Enter Korean professor and program coordinator Sang-Seok Yoon, whom Ganim considers “a real force behind the growth of Korean studies” alongside Choi at UI. According to Ganim, Yoon increased enrollment in Korean courses, worked with Korean student associations at UI, and developed community courses at UI King Sejong Institute.

A King Sejong Institute is sponsored by the Korean government to promote language and culture through courses. There are around 230 King Sejong Institutes in the world and, according to Yoon, less than 10 in America.

Free Korean language classes for the public, cooking classes and a series of lectures from teachers on Korean studies have all been offered by the institute.

Before Yoon came to UI, he said that there were Korean lessons offered by a graduate student who was finishing his doctorate. These attracted around fifty students per semester.

Many of the students, Yoon said, were Chinese.

Yoon came to UI in 2012 as a lecturer teaching Korean lessons. In the same year, a Korean pop song became an international sensation.

It was Psy’s “Gangnam Style”, with an equally popular dance.

Class enrollment has increased, and Yoon said he has nearly 100 students, offering two Korean language classes in first year and one in second year. UI started offering a Korean course in the third year. Increasingly, Yoon said, his classes were made up of students from countries other than China.

Ganim – interested in developing this Korean studies program – and Yoon traveled to Korea to facilitate an exchange program for IU students at universities there.

Yoon said Ewha University for Women and Korea University have become the main partners in this program.

In 2014, around 15 UI students in a study abroad program had such positive experiences in Korea that, through word of mouth, interest on campus increased, Yoon said.

The challenge, as Yoon found, was that the growth in the number of students taking Korean lessons outpaced the number of professors teaching them.

Currently, Yoon and another full-time teacher are teaching Korean classes at UI.

Yoon also saw a specific demographic growth among his students which coincided with the fame of Korean boy groups like BTS.

“As (Korean boy bands) have become more and more popular in America, we have had more and more American female students who are interested in this Korean language (course), and not just this language,” did he declare. “So maybe they started learning Korean with the interest of these stars, but a lot of them got interested in other areas of Korean studies.”

Interest in Korea, Yoon said, is more “serious” now.

What started with a summer program in Korea has turned into a few students who stay for a semester or a year. There are UI students who intend to teach English in Korea, some are already doing so.

In addition, Yoon and Ganim were able to establish a minor in Korean studies in 2016. Each year, Yoon said, around 40 UI students do a minor in Korean studies.

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Research and academics can provide a more nuanced understanding of Korea

As Yoon started teaching at UI at the same time that “Gangnam Style” was topping the music charts, the next decade would see other huge Korean hits, like the Oscar-winning film “Parasite” in 2019, a surge in popularity. power of K-pop with bands like Blackpink and BTS, and most recently the hit TV show “Squid Game”.

It all emerged from the Korean Wave, or Hallyu – the rise in popularity of South Korean pop culture.

Choi said that what we are experiencing has much deeper historical roots.

“How is it that (the) Korean culture has become a kind of global juggernaut? Said Choi.

It’s not a sudden phenomenon, she replied.

According to Choi, this is where research and deep understanding can enlighten the general public.

“I just wanted to create this mutually beneficial, collaborative, but also deeply caring, (an) intellectual and cultural community,” Choi said.

To get involved with the Korean Studies Research Network, visit its website or contact Choi at [email protected] to be put on a mailing list.

Paris Barraza covers entertainment, lifestyle, and the arts at the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Contact her at [email protected] or (319) 519-9731. Follow her on Twitter @ParisBarraza.

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