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Korean Studies grows with changing global dynamics

Sun-Chul Kim, assistant professor of modern Korean society and culture, has observed a rising interest in Korean studies among Emory students. Emory Photo/Video.

On a quiet mid-week afternoon, 10 students are locked in discussion, dissecting the architecture of power and tactics behind social movements that have swept the globe east to west.

From Beijing student protests and striking trade unionists at Korea's state-run Hanjung industries to the philosophies of American community organizer Saul Alinsky and Indian nationalist leader Mahatma Gandhi — it's all lively fodder for discussion in the hands of sociologist Sun-Chul Kim, assistant professor of modern Korean society and culture in Emory's Department of Russian and East Asian Languages and Cultures (REALC), who leads the class.

This fall, Kim's courses mark Emory's latest additions to Korean Studies, which has found a firm foothold on campus, where demand for classes is on the upswing.

Kim's appointment — the second full-time position created in Korean Studies at Emory — is being funded initially with help from the Korea Foundation. An independent organization affiliated with the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the foundation strives to promote better understanding of Korea in a global context through scholarship and teaching, as well as academic and cultural exchanges.

Through a special grant, the foundation has partnered with Emory to financially "seed" a tenure-stream position on modern Korea, while Emory faculty conducted a search for the position, made the selection, and articulated course content.

With research interests in social and political change in Korea and East Asia, inter-Korea relations, and Internet-mediated mobilization of social movements, Kim will be teaching courses cross-listed with a variety of University departments and programs, including political science and sociology.

While at Columbia University, Kim was a top student of the late Charles Tilly, an esteemed social scientist and scholar. His recent appointment reflects Emory's broad commitment to international studies, says Juliette Stapanian Apkarian, REALC department chair.

"With his scholarship in multiculturalism in Asia, as well as the role of the Internet in social change, instructors like Dr. Kim are not only able to talk about what's important about Korea, but also what Korea reveals about other global dynamics," Apkarian explains.

"No country works in isolation — we see all the pieces interlinked," she adds.

This semester, Kim has been pleased with the variety of students — representing a range of majors — who've been drawn to his classes, "Making of Modern Korea" and "Social Movements East and West."  

He notes that about two-thirds of the students who've enrolled in his Modern Korea class are Korean-American. "They wanted to learn more about where they came from," Kim acknowledges.

"But there is also a strong incentive to learn more because of the rising status of Korea on the international stage. Today's Korea is more dynamic and democratic than it once was."

Growth in Korean studies

The new faculty appointment is among a wave of developments at Emory this academic year designed to further advance Korean studies, including:  

  • The Halle Institute for Global Learning is finalizing plans to host "Korea 2020: Technology, Commerce and Policy," an interdisciplinary conference to broaden and deepen engagement with Korea among students, faculty and the community this spring.

  • The launch of a teaching-assistant fellowship between Emory and Yonsei University, a private, Christian research university in Seoul, South Korea. This fall, Kyeongwon Yoon arrives at Emory as the first TA from Yonsei. The project was funded by a grant from the American Association of Teachers of Korean in partnership with the Korea Foundation.

  • Ongoing support for study abroad at Yonsei University, Seoul.

  • Plans to develop a degree minor in Korean Studies; a proposal will be submitted this year to the curriculum committee.

  • Faculty partnerships with other units at Emory to support new Korean Studies initiatives, including talks with Candler School of Theology as it explores a project at Methodist Theological University in Seoul.

  • Ongoing support from The Halle Institute for faculty study trips to Korea.

Kim's appointment will help reinforce an interdisciplinary foundation to Korean Studies and enhance the interface between social sciences and humanities — an important step beyond existing Korean language and other coursework.

"Our goal is not to create an island of Korean studies, but to bring it into the center with our institutional thinking about internationalization," Apkarian says.

Indeed, current coursework in Korean Studies serves not only the major and minor in East Asian Studies, but also such popular majors at Emory as international studies, she adds.

Though aspects of Korea have long been incorporated into Emory coursework and scholarship on East Asia, Korean studies were officially launched at Emory in fall 2007.

At that time, a grant from the Academy of Korean Studies helped fund the appointment of a visiting associate professor, who taught the University's first Korean language courses — a logical foundation, Apkarian notes.

Momentum was strengthened by the four-year grant from the Korea Foundation, which brought Kim to campus — after a competitive search — first in a visiting appointment and now as a tenure-stream hire. That grant is now in its third year, presented with the understanding that the faculty position continue with support from Emory College.  

Working with the Korea Foundation "was a very organic kind of development," according to Apkarian, who credits history professor Mark Ravina for authoring the current grant.

"We've always looked for partners in our efforts to develop strong and meaningful programming in Korean studies, not only internal partners, but external partnerships, too."

"Our department actually has a very long history of this over the years — Russian, Japanese and Chinese studies at Emory have all benefited from these kinds of partnerships," she adds.

"We saw how swiftly we could build upon our programs by using high-profile partnerships and grants. It doesn't mean external funders own the positions or projects, but they do share related goals and help provide important funding for the way we've shaped them."

Korea and Emory: A legacy

Development of Korean Studies represents a natural outgrowth of the University's longstanding history with Korea — a relationship that dates back more than a century to Emory's first international alumnus, Yun Ch'i-ho, a Korean politician and educator, who graduated from Emory in 1893, says Holli Semetko, vice provost for International Affairs and director of the Office of International Affairs and The Halle Institute for Global Learning, which sponsors faculty study trips to Korea.

The connection was strengthened through former Emory President James T. Laney, who had served in Korea in 1947 with the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps. A United Methodist minister, Laney later taught at Yonsei University in Korea and Vanderbilt University before becoming dean of Emory's Candler School of Theology.

After serving 16 years as president of Emory, Laney served as U.S. ambassador to South Korea from 1993 to1997, and was instrumental in helping defuse the nuclear crisis with North Korea in 1994.

Students from South Korea now represent the second largest international cohort among Emory's incoming freshman class.

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