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Berlin becomes hub of Korean studies in Europe

Free University educates German experts in Korean social sciences

BERLIN ― After speaking with Hannes Mosler for five minutes, one might wonder whether he is German or Korean.

Although he has no Korean background, Mosler not only speaks flawless Korean, but also perfectly understands its culture and customs. 

“I first got interested in Korea in 1994, when I visited the country during my backpacking trip. Since then I started to learn the language, and now I visit Korea almost every year,” he said.

Mosler joined Free University in 2009 as a research fellow at the Institute of Korean Studies after completing his doctoral degree at Seoul National University.

“I studied Korean politics, and found it really fascinating,” Mosler said in his office. 
Hannes Mosler, research fellow in Korean studies at Free University
Hannes Mosler, research fellow in Korean studies at Free University

Korea, in fact, has much value in social science, the German researcher said.

“Korea is of great interest to students and scholars. For instance, the rapid development of Korean democracy is a fascinating subject to study,” he said.

Mosler, however, feels there is still a lack of interest from overseas academia.

“Some universities in Europe teach Korean language and literature, but only a few teach Korean politics,” Mosler said.

“But that’s why our university is so special,” he added.

Korean Studies at Free University, he said, is not only focused on providing a language course, but also lectures on Korea’s politics, economy and society.

Korean Studies was first taught at Free University in 1980 as a subsidiary subject of the Japanese and Chinese Studies Departments. It took more than two decades until the Institute of Korean Studies finally became an independent division. 
Students outside the Institute of Korean Studies building. (Oh Kyu-wook/The Korea Herald)
Students outside the Institute of Korean Studies building. (Oh Kyu-wook/The Korea Herald)

The Institute of Korean Studies offered its first undergraduate courses in 2005 and graduate school courses in 2009.

Despite its relatively short history, the institute has seen rapid growth both quantitatively and qualitatively, said the German researcher.

In 2008, there were around 10 students in the Korean Studies program, but the number jumped to 132 in 2010, according to Mosler.

The department has also conducted various research projects, and held numerous seminars and workshops over the past five years.

In 2010, in particular, marking the 20th anniversary of German reunification, the institute launched a special project called “Twenty Years of Reunification in Germany and its Lesson for Korea.”

The one-year research project, which was co-managed by Lee Eun-jung, director of the Institute of Korean Studies and Werner Pfennig, an East Asian foreign policy expert at Free University, produced a great body of work that totaled 22 volumes with 14,500 pages in both German and Korean.

In November 2010, the Institute of Korean Studies also held a special workshop for school teachers in Germany with support from the Korea Foundation. Ten lectures were given to social studies teachers to give them a better understanding of Korea’s history, politics, society and culture.

Also, since 2009, the institute has been conducting a five-year research project titled “Circulation of Knowledge and Dynamics of Transformation,” with the Ruhr University in Bochum, with support from the Academy of Korean Studies.

One good sign for Korean Studies at Free University, claimed Mosler, is that there are now more German students than ethnic Korean students.

“At the beginning, we had more Korean-German students than German students, but the situation has reversed now,” he said, noting that the recent Korean culture boom helped attract more local students.

Vincent Kreusel, 21, said he decided to learn Korean after playing Korean computer games.

“I loved playing StarCraft. I watched a lot of Korean game programs. And when I started to learn about the country I got more interested in it. I found that Korea has very interesting history which is very similar to German history in some ways,” he said.

Daniela Claus, 29, a master’s degree candidate, said: “My mother is Korean, so I always wanted to learn the language. When I was in Korea I was unable to talk to my family, and that made me really sad. So I started to learn Korean.

“But right now I have deeper interests in its culture and society and politics. Now I’m interested in minority rights and civil movement,” she added.

The main objective of the Korean Studies program at Free University is to become a hub of Korean social science in central Europe, said Mosler.

“The number of foreign experts on Korea is quite small, compared to that of China and Japan. But it also means there are a lot of opportunities for new studies. I believe the importance of Korean studies will continue to grow,” he added.

By Oh Kyu-wook, Korea Herald correspondent  
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