Korean studies burgeoning in Argentina
By Park Si-soo
Korean pop culture has crossed the Pacific Ocean to touch down in countries on the opposite side of the world.
A recent showcase featuring Korean pop songs and performances in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital, received a hot reception from young people there.
Yet the craze fell short of kick-starting academic activities that will help widen their view of the Asian nation that is still largely imagined as being in dismal terms; the 1950-53 “Korean War” and “a divided nation.”
Against this backdrop, the president of the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) made his first visit to Seoul Wednesday to set the stage for exchange programs between his school and Korean universities and research institutes. UBA was the first school in South America to open a department for Korean studies in 2005.
“I’ve seen a noticeable increase in the number of students interested in Korea and Korean language,” Ruben Hallu, president of Argentina’s top university with more than 300,000 students, told The Korea Times. “They are still small in number. But it keeps increasing in the wake of growing awareness of Korea.”
Less than 10 graduate students are registered with the department, according to Choe Yang-boo, former Korean ambassador to Argentina who initiated a campaign to open the department.
Hallu said just several years ago many Argentine people didn’t even know where Korea was, but today it’s portrayed as home to the world’s leading information technology.
During his visit through Friday, the president will sign memorandums of understanding (MOUs) with Seoul National University, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, and the Korea Foundation, a state-run institute facilitating academic and cultural exchange programs. Such bilateral academic activities are expected to take shape next year.
“We plan to run the program with financial support from the Argentine government and corporations,” he said. “I will discuss financial matters with my Korean counterparts during my visit. If the Korean government gives a helping hand in the form of scholarships or subsidies, the fledging program will take off smoothly and quickly reach a stable stage.”
He said UBA will initiate other campaigns to provide its students with more opportunities to learn the Korean language. “To learn the language of a county is the first step to learning about a nation,” he said.
Seoul and Buenos Aires established diplomatic ties in 1962. The trade volume between them totaled $1.16 billion in 2009, the latest statistics available. Korea imported $670 million worth of minerals, grain, leather and marine products, while exporting $490 million worth of cars, machinery and chemical products.