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00707012
2012.10
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Future Brightens for Korean Studies in Southeast Asia/5th KoSASA Conference Attests to Heightened Interest/About 100 Korea-related researchers and representatives from relevant institutions in nine countries participated in the fifth conference of the Korean Studies Association of Southeast Asia (KoSASA), held on August 29-31, in Hanoi, Vietnam, under the sponsorship of the Korea Foundation. The participating nations included Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia and Korea.


Sharing Korean Studies Experiences

It was gratifying, most of all, to see that the conference was largely a result of voluntary participation. They gathered together to share their experiences and find ways to achieve their common goals toward the development of Korean Studies in Southeast Asia. It may sound ironic but I was grateful because they were there out of their own needs, not because we needed their presence.

Conference participants mingle during a break. There were several reasons for me to feel grateful. About 30 years ago, when we began offering Korean language education for foreign students, a tiny number of students were interested in coming to Korea to study the language. Moreover, even those students were provided living expenses as well as tuition. The 1988 Seoul Olympics had contributed to increasing interest in Korea in the international community, but it was little more than simple curiosity. Then, about 10 years ago when we visited Southeast Asian countries to prepare the inauguration of KoSASA, we would be excited with any favorable response to just consider cooperation. But they now gather gladly to share their experiences to improve education and research in Korean Studies in order to meet their own needs.

Even more impressive was the fact that the participants included representatives of leading universities and research institutions in their respective countries. You can say that the future is bright for Korean Studies in the Southeast Asian region because all of these institutions play vital roles in their own countries. Moreover, in view of the fact that it is a gathering of countries at different levels in the development of overseas Korean Studies and language education, the conference deserves continued attention as an exemplary endeavor to broaden the horizon of Korean Studies.


Innovative Efforts toward Specific Goals

Professor Han Jae-young, fourth from left, meets Korean language educators, including KOICA volunteers, at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I was moved by the diversity of themes and depth of discussions at the latest KoSASA conference. The plenary session on the first day, conducted under the theme of “Current Issues and Directions of Korean Studies,” was not much different from those of previous years in offering an overview of the current situation of Korean Studies in different countries and renewing the determination for future endeavors. However, this year’s session set itself apart with individual countries disclosing their enthusiasm for advancing forward, or even moving a step ahead of the others. For example, the University of Malaya in Malaysia reported that it had established the Korean Studies Center on its campus ahead of all other universities in the region. I was touched to realize that the university has been trying to establish the most comprehensive Korean Studies program in Southeast Asia, rather than simply teaching the Korean language to its students.

The second day had panel discussions on more specific subjects. At Panel I, the deans of Korean Studies departments at major Southeast Asian universities discussed policy measures for Korea-related education and research, while Panel II was dedicated to more detailed issues of Korean language education and research. Panel III focused on comparison of politics, economy and government policies of Korea and Southeast Asia. Panel IV delved into more practical and concrete analysis on comparative research of the society and culture of Korea and Southeast Asia. I was overwhelmed to witness the remarkable progress of Korean Studies that has been achieved since the last conference.

Particularly, Panel II, which dealt with Korean language education, had a large number of Vietnamese students who actively asked questions and joined in the discussion, conducted in Korean, after listening to presentations given in Korean. Their questions and feedback were valuable as they revealed their unique feelings and ideas about the Korean language. For example, they asked how the three Korean words abeoji, buchin, and seonchin differ from each other in meaning and usage. [Abeoji is a vernacular Korean word for “father”; buchin and seonchin are both Chinese-originated honorific forms, meaning “your father” and “your deceased father,” respectively.] They also pointed out specific matters that we need to keep in mind for Korean language education in the future, such as including more sample examples using appropriate vocabulary in dictionaries and developing electronic reference devices. As the conference was winding up, several universities volunteered to host the sixth KoSASA conference, but the University of Malaya was selected as the host institution of the next conference. It was indeed a pleasure to see such a keen interest among those universities.

Prospects for Korean Studies in the World

Lastly, I saw the path ahead. The greatest relevance of the fifth KoSASA conference could be found in that it carved out the direction that Korean Studies in the region should take in the future. Korean Studies abroad has so far been carried out primarily with support from Korea. Of course, Korea’s assistance was absolutely necessary at the early stage when we started out with language education. However, in order for Korean Studies to take firm root as an independent academic discipline in Vietnam, Thailand or any other country and further to spread in the world, it is most urgent to strengthen the research capacity and personnel in each country while networking them so that they can share their experiences and assist each other. The recent KoSASA conference manifested clear potential toward this process.

A panel session of the fifth KoSASA conference is underway.

Cambodia and Laos, which debuted in the KoSASA conference two years ago in Indonesia, should probably take the latest conference as an opportunity to learn how to minimize trial and error from other countries with more advanced Korean Studies and language education programs. Ahead of attending the Hanoi conference, I visited Cambodia and Laos to better understand their current situation of Korean language education. And I could notice the situation I had observed in Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia 10 years ago was recurring in both countries. If Cambodia and Laos can learn from the experiences of Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia in regard to the development of educational materials and instruction methods, training and securing of instructors, and compilation of dictionaries, they could greatly reduce the time they need to advance their Korean Studies. As such, Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia will also face the challenge of further enhancing their research abilities in Korean Studies.

This approach can be one of our strategies to spread Korean Studies beyond Cambodia and Laos to Myanmar, India and countries in the Middle East, and further to Africa. In this sense, with the path ahead of us so clearly defined, it is up to educators and scholars of Korea to maintain this very positive momentum.

Han Jae-young
Professor of Korean Literature Hanshin University

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