Community raises $100K to support Korean studies at PSU
Author: Cristina Rojas, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Posted: February 12, 2019

Interest in Korea and Korean language is growing at Portland State. Some credit the heightened attention on North Korea; others say it's because of the "Korean Wave," the craze for all things Korean that has swept across Asia and beyond, from television dramas, movies and K-pop to kimchi and barbecue.

Whatever the reason, PSU has been able to offer new courses and public lectures to meet that demand — thanks to the generous support from the Korean government and local Korean community.

Ken Ruoff, a history professor and director of PSU's Center for Japanese Studies, says a group of faculty members have long wanted to build up Korean studies at PSU. With encouragement from the Korean consulate in Seattle, they applied for a grant in 2016 from the Korea Foundation to support a three-year professorship. 

PSU received $108,000 with the provision that the local Korean community would match those funds. This month, that goal was met and exceeded, with the help of 64 donors and six organizations who contributed more than $100,000. Donors included members of the region's Korean community, PSU faculty with ties to Korea, and former Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright Scholars, among others.

"Koreans are very proud of their culture and they love that PSU offers Korean classes," honorary Korean consul Greg Caldwell said, adding that there's an estimated 35,000 Koreans in Oregon. "They're proud that their contributions helped secure a professor."

Danny Kim, a Korean historian who is now in the second year of his visiting professorship at PSU, says both the interest from students and the support from the community has been encouraging.

His courses have been so popular that enrollment has had to be capped — though he lets in as many students as he can until there's no more chairs. 

Topics have ranged from the history of the northern half of the Korean peninsula to 20th-century Korea through literature, film and music, and the history and debates over comfort women, or the tens of thousands of women who were forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Kim says that his courses provide students with important context about Korea, a strategic Trans-Pacific trade partner for Portland, equips them with critical thinking and writing skills, and helps them build empathy in an increasingly diverse world.

"It's important to build well-rounded citizens that can empathize with people that aren't the same skin color or consider the context of people that are different than themselves," he said.

Kim's public lectures have attracted standing-room-only crowds. Other Korean studies talks have drawn good attendances. And enrollment in Korean-language courses has seen an uptick.

"Since the program has been doing well, the outpouring of support from the Korean community has matched that," Kim said. "It's a very tangible and concrete show of support and it's been encouraging for me to see that people feel like it's something worth investing in."

Ruoff called Kim a fantastic professor who has built momentum for what he hopes will become a more robust Korean studies program.

"Portland is a great Pacific Rim city and Korea is one of the major players in the Pacific," he said. "There's a lot of people in the community and at PSU who think we need to have serious Korean studies at PSU. We've taken one big step in that direction by being able to bring Danny on board."

Join us for Danny Kim's next lecture:

ABOUT: "The (Non)Virgin Suicides: The Rose of Sharon Alliance, Feudal Morality, and the Debate over the Concept of Chastity in Colonial Korea" explores the activism of the Rose of Sharon Alliance vis-à-vis this battle over chastity in the late 1920s and early 1930s in Korea under Japanese rule.

WHEN: Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019 | 6 p.m.

WHERE: Smith Memorial Student Union, Room 327

Free and open to the public