Education Center Bridging Korea, Uzbekistan
The Korean Education Center in Tashkent has long served as a bridge linking Uzbeks to Korean language and culture.
And Kim Jung-seuk, the center director, is a man with high hopes for the campus as a Korean seat of learning.
He is something of a visionary _ he knows the center has challenges up ahead _ but, for now at least, what satisfies him greatly are the many alumni who walk away happy with the time they spent learning in its classrooms.
``I am especially happy that we can help nurture ethnic Koreans here and create excellent manpower for the future,'' Kim told The Korea Times in an e-mail interview.
Established in May 1992, the center has been devoted to promoting Korean language and culture in a country which holds the largest number of ethnic Koreans in Central Asia.
With a number of classes on language and culture, it is the largest of a total of 39 Korean education centers spread across the world.
It bears 32 lecture rooms, along with an auditorium, library, conference rooms and dormitories. During the spring semester, there were 1,370 students studying Korean language and 170 attending teacher training sessions and computer classes.
The center stages an arts festival and traditional plays during a summer school program to help Uzbeks better understand Korean culture and tradition. It runs two episodes of Korean dramas daily and films weekly for free.
Kim, who has headed the center since August 2007, said he hopes the Korean government can provide more financial aid to help with the staging of more events and festivals.
Uzbekistan has a population of 22 million people, who make up a wide spectrum of ethnic groups and cultures. It shares borders with Kazakhstan to the west and to the north, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to the east, and Afghanistan and Turkmenistan to the south.
The country has shared a culture and traditions with Korea throughout history. The Uzbek language is very similar to Korean. Because of this, Uzbeks love Korean traditional plays, dramas and movies, Kim said.
``Korea is a role model for them. They are trying to learn how Korea was able to develop the country to what it is today in such a short period, as well as our IT technology,'' the center's sixth director explained.
The ethnic Korean population in Uzbekistan was forcibly relocated to the region from the Soviet Far East in 1937-38. And some 2,000 Korean nationals have immigrated to the country since 1991.
``Ancestors of the ethnic Koreans here were forced to emigrate from their home country to this country 72 years ago. However, they learned the Russian language to survive at that time and their offspring have lost their mother language. Unfortunately, it is very difficult for them to learn Korean as Korean and Russian are very different,'' Kim said.
``It is very natural that we have to teach them the Korean language and it is very meaningful to inspire love toward their origin country. So our mission is to help ethnic Korean here to understand their roots and to create a better relationship with Uzbekistan by increasing the number of Korea-friendly Uzbeks. It will benefit Korea in the long run."
Quality Korean Teachers
But the center has hurdles to overcome. Currently, it is suffering from a shortage of Korean teachers.
``There are some universities in the country that have departments of Korean language, but many graduates from the department are reluctant to work at schools as they cannot earn enough money. So the center allows (even) those who hold level 3 in the Korean language proficiency test to teach at our center,'' Kim continued.
To improve the quality, the center is now providing them with more opportunities to participate in language programs in Korea every year and a teacher training program twice per week. They are also required to undergo training sessions during summer school.
This year, the center plans to hold intensive training programs for three weeks in an effort to offer quality Korean language education and invite professors from university departments of Korean studies along to its programs.
``We will also improve the quality of Korean studies at universities. So we will focus on educating and training university professors rather than merely increasing the number of scholars studying Korean,'' he said.
Last year, 40 Uzbekistani students came to Korea on a government-run scholarship program. But, this year, the economic crisis has curbed the financial support.
``I want to expand Korean language programs during my term. I have targeted making Korean language teachers attain level 4 or 5 in the Korean language proficiency test and help professors of Korean studies to gain level 5 or 6,'' he said.
More than that, the head hopes to develop the center into a more comprehensive education site by creating classes in traditional dance, song and martial arts.