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I want to compare and research the New Community movement in Korea with the FELDA movement in Malaysia

Interview with Nurliana Kamaruddin, the Korea Foundation ASEAN Fellow

Nurliana Kamaruddin, 30, had a blue-gray hijab on her head and a cheerful expression on her face. While working as a researcher at the Asia-Europe Institute at the University of Malaya, she was selected to take part in the KF ASEAN Fellowship, a scholarship program for professors of Korean Studies at major universities in Southeast Asia. As part of the program, she started a doctoral program in international relations at Ewha Womans University graduate school. Kamaruddin had already finished her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Korea, making this her second time to study in the country. She is busy getting ready for the new semester, but she took some time out to talk with the Korea Foundation.

Q. How did your connection with Korea begin?

“After taking part in an international English debate competition that was held at Ewha Womans University in 2005, I ended up being recommended by a professor there for the Ewha Global Partnership Program. Thanks to this, I enrolled in the department of international studies at Ewha in 2006 and later completed a master’s program at the international graduate school at Yonsei University.

Q. How did you become interested in international studies?

“As I prepared for the debate competition, I naturally became more interested in international issues. In terms of its geopolitical location or its experience in modern history, Korea is a fascinating country from an International Studies point of view. I thought it would be great to study there.”

Q. Did you experience any difficulties while you were studying in Korea?

“I was familiar with some aspects of Korean popular culture, but I hardly knew any Korean. It wasn’t easy, but I was able to stick with it thanks to my Korean friends at the dormitory and because I had a lot of English classes. It also helped that I had a lot of friends who had studied abroad or who had lived overseas.”

Kamaruddin smiled as she recalled how her friends in the English club had taken good care of her and called her “our biggest sister” because she was pretty old for an undergraduate student. She said that her master’s program, on the other hand, had been so “globalized” that half of her friends had been from other countries.

Q. Can you compare university life in Malaysia and Korea for us?

“They’re not that different. The biggest difference is that, since Malaysia is a Muslim country, people hardly ever drink alcohol when friends get together.” That was the reason Kamaruddin was not really able to enjoy cultural activities in the Hongdae area (near Hongik University). She also thought it was too bad that it was hard to find food that conformed to Halal dietary restrictions.

Q. What area are you planning to focus on for your doctoral studies?

“I want to compare and research the New Community movement in Korea with the FELDA movement in Malaysia. Both of these movements were aimed at modernization. Since the FELDA movement is still underway in Malaysia, I think that the Korean experience could be helpful.”

Kamaruddin has had a wide variety of interests in her studies, including Malaysia under the Japanese military occupation and Korea during the Japanese colonization and models for the economic development of the two countries.

Q. What are your planning to do after you complete your doctoral program?

“I’m planning on returning to the University of Malaya to teach students. Research in economic development is an important theme in Malaysia, which is aiming to become a developed country. In addition, I think that educating the next generation is one of the most important things that an individual can do.”

“In the past, some Korean friends of mine asked me in all seriousness about what Africa is like,” Kamaruddin said in response to a question about the most memorable thing about her time in Korea. But she is surprised at how things have changed: “Now when I go to Namdaemun Market, there are even some shopkeepers who greet me in Malay.”

Kamaruddin says that Jeju Island is more beautiful than Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia and I hope that her love for Korea will remain strong. I also hope that she will teach the young people of Malaysia the truth about Korea when she returns and that she will become a trusty point of connection for exchange between the two countries.

- Kim Sung-Hee (Adjunct Professor of Communication & Media Studies, Sookmyung Women’s University)

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