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Regular version of the site

Korean Studies: ‘We’re Talking about an Absolutely New Form of Partnership’

This academic year, a course in Korean Studies began at the Higher School of Economics School of Asian Studies. Alexey Maslov, Head of the School, told us about the new programme.

― Dr. Maslov, this year you launched a Korean Studies course at the HSE School of Asian Studies. Can you tell us more about this?

― Korean studies is an interesting area, and a rather promising one, especially taking into account the development of interaction between Russia and Korea. It’s important to understand that we are talking not only about Korea as a country, but as a cultural historical region, which includes both North and South Korea. I would like to talk about three factors which explain our interest in this region. The first factor is Korea’s close location to Russia: we have a common border with North Korea. And the problem of unification of the two Koreas is also Russia’s political problem. Since this important historical process is taking place next to our border, we need experts who will be ready to participate in it or at least to give it an accurate evaluation. Since the process is quite complex (it also involves China and the USA), we should have professionals who understand the specifics of this negotiation process.

The second factor is the development of economic relations between Russia and South Korea. Today the volume of our trade with this country is equal to that, with, for example, India, and amounts to about 20 billion dollars. If you think about the number of Korean goods which are sold in Russia (from pc monitors to cars), you can understand how important it is for Russia. And in addition to this, there are many new joint enterprises with Korean companies, and it is interesting to see how this process will develop.

There is one more factor. For most people the Far East is under the umbrella of Chinese and Japanese cultures. But many people forget that Korean culture is every bit their equal in terms of age and variety. Moreover, Japan as a state and nationality developed under Korean influence. Among the first colonists in Japan were expatriates from the land of Korea – and this was before Japan formed as a separate ethnicity. That’s why there is a huge interest in Korean culture as a whole, starting from the preservation of Korean shamanism and Buddhist traditions to such achievements as Oriental medicine in its Korean form.

― How in demand are experts on Korea in the labour market?

― We, Asian studies professionals, do not form the market, but react to it. For example, Japanese Studies is an extremely popular field,, but the demand for specialists in  the Japanese language is not so high today, mainly because many people speak English in Japan. The demand for experts on China is high, and the number of students on Chinese studies courses is considerable. But, despite the high demand for experts on Korea, the enrolment in this course is very low.

― What is the details of the Korean studies course at the HSE?

― In Russia only a few centres train experts on Korea: in the Far East, Moscow and Saint Petersburg. We decided not to copy their programmes, but to choose our own progressive way. A specific feature of our course is that it is run together with several largest Korean universities. Our main partner is Seoul National University which can be called the number one university in Korea. We are talking about a completely new form of partnership, where professors from Seoul University regularly read online lectures to our students.

The second specific feature of our programme is that we have many opportunities for scholarships to Korea. The Korea Foundation which is located in the South Korean Embassy is actively involved in this. We set some requirements in terms of training and teaching. The Koreans responded to our inquiries, and today we share mutual high standards of education. The students are tested both by ourselves and Korean lecturers.

The third factor is that we work very actively with Korean organizations in Russia. Those are both commercial companies and various foundations, since they are potential employers of our students. For example, we have started working with the Korean community in Russia, with Korean schools in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, are now negotiating with Hyundai and some other companies.

― How relevant, in your view, is the issue of Korean unification today, and what consequences might it have for Russian-Korean relations?

― In Korea there are many debates on the future development of their society: it is a serious challenge to exist next to such a giant as China and to such an economically developed country as Japan. And the unification of Korea would demand huge investments. For us, it is interesting to participate in the economic, political and often ideological discussions which take place in Korean society. Russia has many chances to play a positive role not only in the process of the peaceful unification of Koreas, but to reap political and economic profit from these processes. But here we need not only a political solution, not one-time actions, but a considered long-term strategy which takes into account many components: from the general situation of political forces in the region to national traditions and psychology. And for this we shall need many new-generation professionals in Korean studies: and it is these people who we train at the HSE School of Asian Studies.

Liudmila Mezentseva, Andrey Shcherbakov, HSE News Service

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