<<“Fighting!” for SDSU Korean Studies Program>>
<<SDSU 한국학 프로그램을 위한 ‘파이팅!’>>
<How SDSU’s faculty, students, and supporters are working together to establish an official Korean Studies Program>
By Vong Phonsiri Jr.
What is it about Korean culture that has so many non-heritage people curious and captivated? Could it be the charm of those sweet yet corny dramas? Perhaps it’s the flashy and catchy wonders of K-pop. Or maybe it is Korea’s people and history.
Whatever that attractive aspect is, Korea’s culture and language definitely have experienced a significant rise in popularity and interest in the last few years among non-Koreans here in the States. However popular it may be though, Korean culture is much more than just dramas, movies, and k-pop music. And those with the interest have looked into local cultural organizations and universities to satisfy their need to learn more.
Let’s take San Diego State University, for instance, which has had incredible growth in its Korean Program in the last few years. But despite its successes as a program, SDSU still lacks its own minor in Korean Studies. SDSU has enough courses for a Korean Studies minor at the very least, so why not? I’ve taken Korean classes at SDSU and many of my peers also seem to be hopeful for a Korean minor.
I had the opportunity to chat with Professor Soonja Choi, the program director and professor of linguistics. From my conversation with her, I learned that there are two major reasons for SDSU’s lack of Korean minor: funding and tenure approval from the University.
“There is a strong relationship among funding, enrollment and the growth of the Korean program,” says Professor Choi.
Believe it or not, the current program at SDSU is only partially funded by the university or the state. Much of the Korean program has been graciously funded by outside private funding and private donors. Thanks to the help of private funding, the Korean program at SDSU has steadily grown. Just the fact alone that much of the growth has come about from private funding offers some idea of the desire and need for a Korean program at SDSU.
Receiving approval from the University is of another great importance. For any program to be approved as a Minor, at least one tenure-track faculty is required for the program. Despite its growth, the duration of its existence too has played a role in why there is no minor today.
Actually, the department has made clear its importance for a Korean program and has been quite supportive. With 10 different courses and about 100 students expected to enroll in the fall semester, the department has acknowledged the successful growth of the Korean program. Support from the school and community can also be a factor in determining how fast a program needs to be approved.
Despite the wait, the near future still looks very bright for SDSU’s Korean program. ” We’ve proposed a Korean Studies Certificate, which could be approved in about a year’s time,” says Professor Choi.
“A Korean Studies Certificate would require a total of 12 units with 6 units in advanced Korean language courses, and 6 units in Korean culture. A student seeking out a Korean Studies Certificate would have to demonstrate an understanding of language and culture in upper division levels. The certificate could potentially lead to better opportunities. For example, if you wanted to go to Korea to teach English, a Korean Studies Certificate would look much more appealing to employers, which would give the student many more options.”
In the long term, Professor Choi hopes to create an integrated and interdisciplinary Korean Studies program that teaches students Korean culture and language. As the program grows and develops, the program may even be able to open up Korean internships, where students could receive credit for their internship work in Korea-related companies and organizations in the San Diego region.
“I feel touched by non-heritage students interested in learning about Korea. As a Korean, it makes me feel proud. As a researcher, I want to investigate what is it about Korean Culture that excites students to want to learn about Korea. It is the students that keep me excited and inspired me to make an even better Korean program in the future,” says Choi.
If you would like to show you support for the Korean program at SDSU, I highly recommend voicing your opinions to Dean Paul Wong at firstname.lastname@example.org or Director Soonja Choi at email@example.com.
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Vong Phonsiri Jr. is a senior at SDSU and serves as President of SDSU’s Korean Student Association.