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British Council hopes to boost U.K. education’s profile

The inside view of the British Council office in central Seoul (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
The inside view of the British Council office in central Seoul (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
University of Edinburgh to commemorate late President Yun Bo-seon in autumn

This is the third of the series introducing cultural centers of different countries in Seoul ― Ed.

For anyone interested in studying abroad ― especially in the U.K. ― the British Council office in central Seoul is the place to be next month.

The British cultural institution will be holding a special event where representatives from six or seven of the U.K.’s world-class universities will share information on what each school can offer both academically and culturally, as well as different ways to collaborate with Korean universities.

“We hope there is a greater recognition in Korea of the U.K. education whereas Korea has been in the last 40 to 50 years or so very much focused on American (education),” Roland Davies, director of British Council Korea, told The Korea Herald on Feb. 14, in his office in central Seoul.

“We’ll be running programs which will focus on student mobility, which means more Korean students studying in the U.K., and more U.K. students in Korea. So it’s very much a two-way event. So we’ll be getting together with the VIPs from the British universities, some students who studied in the U.K., and British students studying here and talk about what’s the value of global perspective, how did they get to study overseas, and how we could encourage more people to do this and more.”
British Council Korea’s director Roland Davies speaks during an interview with The Korea Herald on Feb. 14. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
British Council Korea’s director Roland Davies speaks during an interview with The Korea Herald on Feb. 14. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

First established in Seoul in 1973, British Council Korea has been offering quality English language education programs and opportunities to study in the U.K. for the last 39 years. The institution has gone through a series of changes since its establishment, mostly because Korea is very different from how it was in the early 1970s. Davies said the British Council has changed to a “cultural relationship institution” from a “cultural promotion organization” and developing mutually beneficial relationship with Korea is the core of their work.

“In 1973, Korea was probably more a recipient of support from other countries,” he said. “So some of the work we did originally then I think was connected with education assistance ― for example, scholarships for people who’d like to study in the U.K. That was how it was back then. And nowadays, if I think about our work particularly in higher education, it is much more a relationship of I would say a partnership where Korean universities and British universities are looking into ways to collaborate on research, exchanging faculty, while some are starting to look at joint degree programs.”

Aside from the March event, British Council has an exciting year ahead of them. In the fall, the University of Edinburgh will hold a special event remembering the life of Yun Bo-seon, who served as the president of Korea from 1960 to 1962. He was one of the first Koreans to study in the U.K.; he graduated with a master’s degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1930. “The event will look at some of the historical links between Korea and the U.K.,” Davies explained. “Yun was kind of groundbreaking because I think he was the first person to go study in the U.K.”

In June, Cathy Graham, the head of music at the British Council in London, will attend the International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA)’s 26th Congress in Seoul, and give a speech as one of the guest speakers. The institute is also supporting British contemporary dance troupe Hofesh Shechter’s upcoming Seoul performances ― “Uprising” & “In Your Rooms” ― which will be staged at the LG Arts Center in Seoul from March 22-23. It is also preparing many cultural events for the upcoming London Olympics.

The institute’s English courses are open for everyone, and they run a separate program for children. British Council Korea has two more teaching branches in Seoul and Incheon ― one near Gyodae (SNUE) station on Subway Line Nos. 2 and 3, and the other at Gyeongin National University of Education in Incheon. Starting last year, about 50 North Korean refugees began English language courses at the British Council for free. Among them, two are currently working as interns.

“I think it’s probably fair to say that the outcomes of English language learning in Korea have not been very good when you think about the level of investment and time and money,” Davies said. “I think a lot of that has to do with the way language is being treated as an academic subject, such as emphasis on memorization. And there’s an interesting theory that they call as affective filters and it’s really about when you are learning a language, your emotional attachment with the target language is quite important. That’s not true with math and science. You can dislike them and still be good at them to an extent. Whereas with languages, because of the kind of learning that happens, then your feelings become important. And if they are negative, I think it inhibits your language development.”

Davies also addressed some of the “stereotypes” Koreans have about the U.K. and its culture.

“What we think we are very conscious of is that there are several misconceptions of British education,” Davies told The Korea Herald. “That Britain is a very conservative and mono-cultural society, and that British men drink tea and wear hats. But these are outdated stereotypes. If you go to British cities in particular, the first thing you see is how multicultural these societies are. Universities, for example, I think the average is about 16 or 17 percent of across all university students are all from overseas. So you do get very multicultural campuses as well. So yes, there is tradition ― but what we call it is traditional innovation.”

For more information about British Council, visit or call (02) 3702-0600.

By Claire Lee (
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