Korean pop star sparks cultural curiosity in Brandeis students
K-pop megastar Psy has racked up lots of personal firsts: more than 1 billion views of “Gangnam Style,” making it the most-watched YouTube music video of all time; designation as an “international sensation” by the United Nations; and accolades as MTV’s “Viral Superstar of 2012.”
Now, the glitzy K-pop phenom is inspiring a surge of interest in learning Korean at Brandeis.
This fall, the university’s first-ever Korean language course, Korean 10A, launched, exceeding enrollment limits in a couple of hours. Most of the 18 students in the class are not Korean but were introduced to the language and culture by the chubby singer/dancer who air-rides a pony in his signature music video.
“Asian cultures put a lot of importance on being more reserved, and while Koreans are polite and humble, they are really outgoing, too,” gushes Leah Ditmore ’16. “I also think the food is awesome and I love K-pop!”
“Psy did increase my curiosity about the Korean language,” says Sara Brande ’15, also in Korean 10A. “I knew Psy was a really famous comedian so I wanted to learn Korean to understand his jokes.”
Two years ago, students created the Brandeis Korean Course and Language Initiative (BKCLI) to promote interest in all things Korean, and Psy’s appearance on the global music scene seems perfectly timed to whet their appetite for the language. “The demand for the Korean course has been simply astounding,” says BKCLI president Ku Jung ’14.
Last year, ChaeRan Freeze, associate professor in Near Eastern and Judaic studies, introduced Jung to the Korea Foundation, affiliated with the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for funding to hire a full-time instructor. Graduate student Sung-Chul Hong is teaching Korean 10A.
BKCLI also runs the Korean Language Table, a peer-tutoring program in Korean. Student tutors use textbooks from Yonsei University, one of South Korea’s top schools, and help other students with learning the Korean language and culture.
BKCLI is also focusing on securing permanent Korean courses and eventually, a full curriculum, though no club has ever established its own department, says Jung. Korean is currently limited to one course per semester, though club members and administrators are discussing whether to keep beginning Korean for incoming students next year, or offer advanced Korean for those who decide to continue with the language. President Lawrence’s upcoming visit to Korea is an opportunity to introduce BKCLI to Korean alumni in Seoul.
“Whether or not we end up with a full Korean curriculum over the long run, I believe BKCLI can continue to help students in many ways,” says Jung.
“I really want to study abroad and work in Korea after graduation,” says Ditmore. “Maybe one day I’ll even become a translator or interpreter who can help young, international Koreans grow accustomed to America. That would be a dream job for me.”