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Korean culture promoted from many angles

 
Korea Fans holds a weekly screening of Korean films at the King Sejong Institute in Ankara on June 26 (Kim Hoo-ran/The Korea Herald)
Korea Fans holds a weekly screening of Korean films at the King Sejong Institute in Ankara on June 26 (Kim Hoo-ran/The Korea Herald)

Korea studies at university level suffers from lack of resources


ANKARA ― More than 40 people are packed in a classroom at Ankara University Tomer on a recent Sunday paying close attention to a presentation on Korean totem poles, “jangseung.” The 10-minute presentation precedes the screening of “Hello Ghost,” a Korean comedy starring Cha Tae-hyeon.

The topic of totem poles is appropriate as a prelude to the film that is based on Korean culture’s concept of life and death and features the Korean tradition of shamanism. Many questions are raised about Korean totem poles before “Hello Ghost” is screened in Korean with Turkish subtitles.

The weekly screening of Korean films is organized by Korea Fans, the largest of the Korean culture-related online communities in Turkey that boasts a membership of over 40,000 throughout Turkey. The space is provided by the King Sejong Institute in Ankara.

“Our movie team leader decides on the film to be screened,” said Hilmi Kesenek, an archeologist who serves as the president of Korea Fans. Films screened so far include “Radio Days,” and “Welcome to Dongmakgol,” among others. The focus is on films that are suitable for all audiences.

The subtitles are created by the Korea Fans’ subtitle team which translates English-language subtitles into Turkish. It also publishes a monthly magazine on Korean culture, daily Internet newspaper as well as operating an Internet radio station. In fact, with 300 administrators and regular offline meetings held in 20 cities, Korea Fans is run like a well-disciplined army.
Korea Fans members hold up Korean and Turkish flags(Kim Hoo-ran/The Korea Herald)
Korea Fans members hold up Korean and Turkish flags(Kim Hoo-ran/The Korea Herald)

The fact that the group is indigenous and voluntary holds the key to continued interest in Korea. “The group is completely voluntary and independent. The members have many ideas for promoting Korean culture,” said Cho Dong-woo, counsellor at the Korean Embassy in Ankara. For example, the community is petitioning for a street to be named Seoul Street. Last year, 400 members registered to volunteer to work at events marking the anniversary of the Korean War in several cities in Turkey.

The Korea Fans members are eagerly looking forward to the opening of the Korean Cultural Center in Ankara in October. The opening of the center will coincide with Korea Week, slated for Oct. 13 to Oct. 22, which will be held in Ankara and Istanbul. Among the planned events is a symposium on literature at Ankara University whose participants will include Hwang Sok-yong and nine other acclaimed Korean writers. Korea Week will also feature Korean theater productions, dance as well as a joint concert by the Turkish national orchestra and traditional Korean musicians.

To make the cultural center an easily accessible place, Cho plans on opening a caf on the first floor. “We looked at over 20 properties before deciding on the building. The aim was to find a building that is in prime location that is easily accessible. In fact, the cultural center building is a lot nicer than the embassy building. But this is good because more people will visit the cultural center than the embassy,” said Cho.

The cultural center will also have facilities for teaching Korean cooking since there are no Korean restaurants in Ankara.

The cultural center is organizing a K-pop singing contest at the end of November with trips to Korea offered as the grand prize.

“Turkish people have a very good impression of Korea. They are proud of Turkey’s participation in the Korean War,” said Cho.

Taekwondo diplomacy

Soccer is Turkey’s national sports but taekwondo occupies a proud second place with more than 250,000 registered players. “There are some 3,000 instructors, 1,000 organizations and 5,000 referees in Turkey,” said Ramazan Ercin, coordinator of executive committee of Taekwondo Federation of Turkey.

Last year, the federation and the Korean Embassy in Ankara initiated the “Turkey Southeast Project” that offers after-school taekwondo programs at two impoverished cities in southeastern Turkey. About 200 students participated in the program for which the embassy provided the instructor’s salary and uniform. By popular demand, two more cities will be added to the program starting this September.

“Taekwondo is the category in which Turkey earns the most number of Olympic medals. That is one of the reasons why the sport is very popular among Turks. We also see it as the sport of our ‘brother country,’” said Ercin.

Korea studies in Turkey

While the popularity of K-pop, Korean dramas and films are on the rise, Korean studies as an academic discipline has made little progress in Turkey.

The Korean Studies department at Ankara University established in 1988 offers courses in Korean language, literature and history. Each year 20 students are admitted to the department. 
A pagoda in Ankara commemoratingTurkish veterans of the Korean War(Kim Hoo-ran/The Korea Herald)
A pagoda in Ankara commemoratingTurkish veterans of the Korean War(Kim Hoo-ran/The Korea Herald)

“Whereas before we had students who entered the department by chance, these days students know how they can find jobs if they learn English and Korean,” said Professor Ertan Gokmen at Ankara University. “I get students who are hooked on Korean dramas and who become curious about life in Korea. This rise in interest in Korea is good,” he said. In fact, three of the freshmen this year speak better Korean than seniors, Gokmen noted, explaining that the students are somewhat proficient in the language before they start studies at the university.

Despite the growing interest, the conditions for taking up Korean studies is not favorable, said Gokmen. There is a shortage of teachers, a problem that cannot be fixed in the short term. At the moment there are four students in the master’s program and one student in the Ph.D. program. “I envision three professors three years later,” said Gokmen.

A major struggle for the Korea studies program is finding the necessary funding. “Until last year, the Korea Foundation provided for one Korean professor each year. I was abruptly notified in January that the foundation will not be extending the funding for the coming academic year,” said Gokmen. “We suddenly found ourselves without a Korean professor for the next year,” he said.

The Korean language program at the Middle East Technical University faces an even more uncertain future. Prof. Suh Jae-mahn who has been teaching three courses at graduate level is leaving the university after three years without a successor. The Academy of Korean Studies which has been funding the program at the Middle East Technical University since last year when the Korea Foundation terminated its funding has so far been unable to find a professor to replace Suh.

“The situation is regrettable. Students know about the technological advances of Korea. The Korean studies program here should not be allowed to just die out,” said Suh.

By Kim Hoo-ran, Korea Herald correspondent (khooran@heraldcorp.com)
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