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Thoughts on the KF Korean Studies Assembly 2015
Korean Studies Advances its Worldwide Presence

From all accounts, the KF Korean Studies Assembly 2015 (July 24) was hugely successful in terms of the gathering’s productiveness in helping to advance Korean Studies throughout the academic world. Indeed, the event served as a timely opportunity for the Korea Foundation as well as the invited Korean Studies academics (36 professors from 15 countries) to reflect on the truly remarkable achievements that have been realized in the four years since the previous assembly session in 2011, not to mention the many positive outcomes since the KF’s launch of its support programs for Korea-related studies over two decades ago.
 Of course, the Korea Foundation can take much pride in its steady endeavors to build a broad infrastructure for the advancement of Korean Studies worldwide; however, it is unlikely that anyone could have foreseen the extraordinarily fruitful results of its program support, which are so evident today. Today, Korean Studies is a living organism, growing and diversifying into somewhat unexpected areas such as the social sciences.
 Above all, the KF should be immensely gratified by the fact that Korean Studies today might be enjoying a kind of golden age, marked by the robust growth and evolution of Korea-related programs at such a large number of universities around the world. And while the KF’s support programs have no doubt been instrumental in attaining this forward momentum, much needs to be said about the exceptional talent of the individual Korean Studies practitioners, whose dedication, professionalism, and passionate exuberance are quite astounding. Other academic fields such as Chinese or Japanese Studies might have similarly dedicated professionals, but there does seem to be something more with the Korean Studies “evangelists,” who are highly committed to the pursuit of their personal dreams, ideas, and projects, and in large part with their own efforts.
 The conference venue was abuzz constantly, from the time of registration to every coffee break, and during the luncheon and dinner events as well. This animated atmosphere was a product of the obvious camaraderie among the audience and invited guests, which included a mixture of elder statesmen, recent and fast-rising stars who are already doing noteworthy work, and relatively younger specialists with fewer years of experience but no lack of enthusiasm, along with academic figures and students from Korea, and a group of Korean history doctoral students from abroad.
 Overall, the future for Korean Studies is bright thanks in part to the KF’s investment that has led to the emergence of such ambitious academics. And despite the daunting challenges ahead, which are rooted in a desperate need for additional financial resources, there might be a lesson to be learned from the Korean government’s recent formation of MIKTA, a grouping of so-called middle powers for the advancement of their common interests.
 Above all, MIKTA shows that Korea, which had long conveyed an ambiguous image of being a developed country and a still-developing country depending on the relevant circumstances, has now declared its identity as that of a middle power. Similarly, it seems futile for the KF to look for ways to better compete with Chinese and Japanese Studies, which maintain clear advantages vis-a-vis the Korean Studies situation. Rather, being an underdog provides its own opportunity, wherein every victory, big or small, is a kind of upset that itself will be even more rewarding.

KF English Copy Editor
Dean J. Aoki

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