The Korea Herald


[Korea Beyond Korea] Korean Studies gaining traction at Complutense University of Madrid

By Hwang Dong-hee

Published : Dec. 4, 2023 - 18:54

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Yang Eun-sook poses for a photo after an interview with The Korea Herald in Madrid in October. (Hwang Dong-hee/The Korea Herald) Yang Eun-sook poses for a photo after an interview with The Korea Herald in Madrid in October. (Hwang Dong-hee/The Korea Herald)

MADRID -- The Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) in Spain's capital boasts a rich history dating back to its establishment in 1293. As one of the world's oldest universities, it recently added Korean as a minor course within the Department of Asian Studies in 2021.

Professor Yang Eun-sook, who has led Korean Studies at the university for 15 years, expressed a renewed sense of excitement for the future during an interview with The Korea Herald in October.

Yang anticipates that Korean Studies will achieve official major status within the next three years. She began teaching Korean at the university's Language Center in 2008 and introduced the Korean Language and Culture course at the College of Arts in 2012.

"Especially with the growing popularity of Hallyu, interest in Korea has transcended generations. People of all ages are interested in Korean culture," added Yang.

She highlighted the influence of K-pop, acclaimed films such as "Parasite," "Minari," and the Netflix megahit drama series, "Squid Game," which have significantly piqued the interest of Spaniards in Korean culture.

This surge in interest has led to a noticeable increase in student demand, with approximately 50 students enrolling in the Korean language 1 class at the beginning of each year and around 38 students currently enrolled in the Korean language 3 class, Yang said.

With the establishment of a Korean minor course, UCM secured funding from Korea’s government-backed Academy of Korean Studies in 2021, but had to give up on the opportunity due to complications arising from administrative differences between the academy and the university.

The initial plan was to allocate research funds to a team of five Korean doctoral students, but the university was obligated to provide a specific monthly salary per person in line with the minimum wage set by the ministry, Yang explained.

"It's disappointing because we had envisioned numerous events to extensively promote Korean Studies, including presentations and publications. It's quite unfortunate how things unfolded," Yang added.

Nevertheless, she stressed the significance of attaining minor status as a crucial step towards gaining major status.

"We have essentially laid the groundwork for (Korean Studies) to gradually step up into a major course. Of course we need necessary administrative procedures, documentation and approval from the Education Ministry, but it’s a matter of time,” Yang said.

“I expect it will take approximately three years. During that period, there will be faculty recruitment, and we intend to establish partnerships with Korean universities to facilitate activities such as student exchanges.”

UCM Vice President Damaso Lopez Garcia visited Korea in October to discuss ways to enhance academic exchanges with the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

Yang expressed her hope for a positive outcome.

"In the 2000s, Koreans studying and living abroad held a strong sense of devotion to our homeland," Yang said. " It was a barren land here, in terms of Korean Studies. I felt responsible to introduce and represent Korean culture properly. That's how I began, and I've carried on with it throughout the years.

"UCM has a rich history and is situated in the heart of the capital. If Korean Studies becomes a major course, I expect more vibrant and dynamic activities in the future."

"Korean Studies Beyond Korea” explores the current landscape of Korean studies through interviews, in-depth analyses and on-the-ground stories told from diverse world areas. This series delves into the challenges and opportunities facing the field as Korea's rise as a cultural powerhouse has drawn interest from scholars, researchers and leaders from around the globe. -- Ed.