It was a rainy afternoon, but a small classroom at a South Korea-sponsored Korean language school in Tehran was packed with 15 young people eager to learn a foreign tongue.
The students were good enough to complete a few simple sentences although they were in the beginner's class.
They looked quite serious while practicing conversation in Korean in pairs, such as, "How did you get to the King Sejong Institute?" "I came by taxi."
The King Sejong Institute opened two years ago with 52 students in three classes, and it now has 116 students in eight classes. It runs the classes for 2 1/2 hours, three days a week, at a school for Koreans in Tehran. This is proof of the growing interest among Iranians toward the Korean language although exchanges between the countries have been restricted due to the international sanctions imposed on Iran.
"It'd be better if a student could finish all five courses in a row. Unfortunately, however, we're unable to do so because there are so many on the waiting list," said Choi Yeon-suk, chief of the institute, on Wednesday.
Choi says a considerable number of the applicants already have experience learning Korean by themselves.
About 90 percent of them were women whose interest in Korean TV dramas and K-pop music has spilled over into Korea and its language.
Some of them are dreaming of landing a job or going to South Korea to further their studies, according to Choi.
"I'm learning Korean with a plan to study at a Korean university," a student said. "I practice Korean and its writing system by watching 'Descendants of the Sun' these days."
Broadcast simultaneously in South Korea and China from Feb. 24 through April 14, the military-romance drama became a sensation in both countries, as well as other Asian nations.
Demand for learning Korean has soared recently with the lifting of the sanctions on Iran.
As Korean firms rush to grab business opportunities in the new market, the demand for manpower who can speak both Persian and Korean fluently is ever rising, the head of the language institute said.
Iranian college students attending the King Sejong Institute, in particular, are considered assets to Korean firms because in many cases they also have good English skills.
"Iranian people favor Korean companies because they have a favorable impression of the country," she said. "The number of applicants also grows with the older generations as they want to get a chance to work for Korean firms." (Yonhap)