Fall 2017 is the Korea Semester at Missouri Southern State University. In coming weeks, a wide variety of lectures, performances, films and other events will focus on the Korean culture.
Korea and the islands around it are an ancient country. From 1910 to 1945, the Japanese ruled Korea. Then, after World War II, the country was split at the 38th parallel.The Korean War in the early 1950s took nearly 37,000 American lives. Korean deaths were far higher. South Korea lost almost one million people. In the North over a million and a half laid down their lives.
The fighting ended on July 27, 1953 but no peace treaty was ever signed. Technically, the two Koreas are still at war.
South Korea today is technologically quite advanced. The nation has the world’s eighth-highest median household income.
Over the last few years, North Korea has shown a willingness to be an uncomfortable, even threatening a member of the Asian community. Despite widespread poverty and a lack of consumer comforts, leader Kim Jong Un has pressed ahead with the development of nuclear weapons.
Dr. Chad Stebbins is the director of the Institute of International Studies on the Missouri Southern campus. He says a deliberative process takes place before a selection is made for the theme semester at MSSU.
STEBBINS: The theme semesters every year are chosen by a faculty committee. We’ve concentrated quite a bit on Europe in recent years and so the decision was made a year or two ago for Fall 2017 to focus on Korea. Some people automatically assumed it would be just a South Korea concentration but we’re calling it the Korea Semester to also take care of North Korea in the same time. We’ve been fortunate that the countries we have selected have been at the epicenter of the world’s attention. It seems the entire world is focused on the Korean peninsula so we feel it’s very timely to select Korea for Fall 2017.
HOST: How much does the average American know about Korea?
STEBBINS: The average American, I am almost certain, owns products made in South Korea, whether they realize it or not. And they may have encountered Korean food at some point or another. But probably now there is a sense of dread when they hear the word Korea with these nuclear missile tests when they hear Kim Jong Un is running, trying to send a nuclear missile to Alaska or Hawaii or even Seattle. So, we are going to spend quite a bit of time trying to understand North Korea but at the same time we want to celebrate South Korea and the many contributions South Korea has made to the world’s culture.
HOST: Last year, the United States ended the year with a trade imbalance of over $27 billion dollars with South Korea. President Trump sharply criticized Korus, the U.S. – Korea Free Trade Agreement. Have our leaders have seen a trade imbalance as the price for having a free South Korea and a strong strategic presence in that area?
STEBBINS: I That’s probably the case, although we tend to focus a little more on the trade deficits than we have in the past, Certainly, the U.S. desires a strong presence in that part of the world. While there is a dramatic trade imbalance with South Korea, we certainly appreciate having that strategic stronghold in that part of the world. I’m looking right now at my cell phone. It’s a Samsung, made in South Korea. Certainly, we benefit by having the quality products that we do import to the United States.
HOST: Dr. Stebbins says the Korea semester will include a presentation by Sheena Greitens, co-director of Korean studies at the University of Missouri the morning of Thursday, September 7. Greitens, wife of Missouri Governor Eric Greitens will speak on East Asia and North Korea.
The Fresh Ideas Food service on the MSSU campus will present “A Taste of Korea” at MSSU the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 12. Ten days later a Korean restaurant will make a presentation in Corley Auditorium. On October 2, MSSU professor Dr. Michael Garoutte will speak on International adoptions. Other presentations will be made on Tai Kwan Do and the Korean language and a variety of subjects
HOST: Two years ago, South Korea spent about 4.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product on all levels of education. A staggering 80 percent of high school graduates go on to college. In South Korea, graduating from college is a pathway to marriage, employment and social mobility. Students who don’t graduate from college in the nation are often left on the outside, looking in.
Dr. Hyunjung Kim teaches New Medi and Research Methods at Missouri Southern. She has a Ph.D. in Communication from SUNY at Buffalo, and her doctoral thesis is online knowledge sharing behavior in marketing and health communication.
Dr. Kim says students in South Korea have a tradition of political activism.
KIM: Actually, young people in Korea are very politically active. Historically, the democratic society in Korea has been made by young people. To build the demo society in Korea, many young people sacrificed themselves. In the 80s, many college students were expelled. Many went to jail, even though they didn’t do anything wrong at the time. Because of their sacrifices, we can live in a peaceful society.
HOST: We asked how closely are the U.S. and South Korea are linked and why that is.
KIM. As you know economically these two countries, U.S. and Korea are important trading partners to each other. Based on FTA, Free Trading Agreement, they have been influenced by each other for a long time. They have been influenced by American culture, brand or product, such as Coca Cola, or Starbucks. WE have been influenced by American culture a lot. Politically, to my knowledge, you know, Korean and the U.S. sustain similar political agendas. Based on these similar political agendas, these two countries are working to sustain many political matters together.
HOST: And . . . how open is the media in South Korea?
KIM: In the past, the 1970s, Korean govt., they had extremely sensitive censorship for Korean media press. So at the time, like the 1970s, Korean news reporters should speak what government wanted. However, since we built our democratic society in Korea, we have had enough freedom of expression .… in Korea. Actually, anyone can make their voice heard in.
HOST: Consumer goods drive the Korean economy. Dr. Kim says two companies, Samsung and Hyundai, would be most familiar to Americans although she laments the fact they’re sometimes thought of as Japanese companies. Despite that industrial and technological achievements in at least one area, Korea comes up lacking.
KIM: Agriculture in Korea is lacking now. Compared with the United States, Korean agriculture industry is small and it is not massified. Which means it is not that systematic. That is why it is hard for the Korean agriculture system to compete with the agriculture system from the United States. That is the reason.
HOST: Always, in Korea, the presence of North Korea, the aggressive and more volatile neighbor to the north looms in the background.
KIM: If you watch recent news from North Korea, you’ll know there are some threats, recently. The people in South Korea, have serious concerns for these threats from N. Korea. It seems the people in S. Korea are trying to live their lives pretty well, with great courage. I think the people in South Korea have strong hope and courage for this sensitive matter.
Actually, I do not know what kinds of agenda or plans the Korean leaders and some experts have into this matter. However, I can say that many people in South Korea really hope the peaceful unification of North Korea and South Korea, that is all I can say.
HOST: One interesting feature of the Korea Semester is the Korean Film Festival. The festival will present a selection of films made in Korea. It’s a great opportunity for movie fans to learn more about the film industry in the Asian nation. The series takes place on Tuesday evenings in Plaster Hall at MSSU All the films are free and open to the public including two on Halloween.
KIM: I am so proud of the creativity of Korean movie directors. I know some might have watched Korean movies but some didn’t. We will show several movies on campus. They are comedy movies or Jungbe movies or other several movies on campus. I hope our students can stimulate their own creativity and can have the chance to understand the society and Korean people’s lives by enjoying these creative Korean movies.
HOST: Dr. Hyun-junnn Kim, a Communications professor at Missouri Southern State University.
To learn more about the Korea Semester at MSSU, including a list of activities, go towww.mssu.edu/academics/international-studies on the worldwide web.
For Missouri Southern State University, I’m Stephen Smith.