GW works to build Korean studies

GW may establish a Korean studies program if it beats out four other area schools for an endowment from the Korea Foundation, an organization that promotes Korean studies, said GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.

Korea Foundation delegates, GW administrators and students discussed funding possibilities for the program at a meeting Thursday.

“We’re all in agreement that we want to do more (to expand the Korean program),” said Bruce Dixon, Sigur Center director and East Asian studies professor. “It’s just a matter of getting funding to do it.”

Trachtenberg and Harry Harding, dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs, have emphasized the Korean component of the East Asian studies program for several years, said Young-Key Kim-Renaud, Korean language, culture and international affairs professor.

But negotiations with the foundation still are in the early stages. Competing universities have yet to submit formal proposals.

Kim-Renaud said she expects an endowment of $2 million to be matched by up to $1 million by GW.

She said a previous proposal was halted when the Asian economic crisis hit Korea. But the prolonged crisis has tightened the foundation’s budget, which may affect the size of the endowment.

“If we do not get the grant from the Korea Foundation, we will continue to look for other sources of funding especially from our alumni who are active in the Korean-American community,” Kim-Renaud said.

“Because (the effort) is heart-driven, it’s not going to die,” said Sam Yi, a Korean-American Student Association board member and an East Asian studies major.

A two-week petition drive, spearheaded by the Korean Student Association and KASA, has received more than 400 signatures to support the program’s expansion.

“We wanted to show the Elliott School and the Columbian School (of Arts and Sciences) that there was an enormous amount of student support backing the expansion and consolidation (of Korean studies) at GW,” said KSA President Casey Reivich, an East Asian studies major. “The petition was not done out of anger, but to make a point and support something.”

The drive to establish a regular Korean studies program began when KASA was founded early last year.

“To understand East Asia, you have to understand Korea,” said Reivich. “If we have a strong Korean program, GW could be one of the foremost institutions in East Asian studies.”

“To try and study Japan without studying Korea is like trying to eat with one chopstick,” Trachtenberg said. “You have to have two.”

GW’s East Asian studies program emphasizes China and Japan. GW needs two additional Korean literature courses to establish a minor, Kim-Renaud said. Students currently take courses through the Washington-area consortium, which allows GW students to take classes at participating campuses.

“Taking classes through the consortium is just not practical with my schedule,” Reivich said. “I would much rather GW had (the Korean program).”

Dixon said the foundation will announce its decision soon.

The foundation has funded GW’s Sigur Center as well as several conferences at GW, including a $100,000 endowment for a Korean humanities series.

Harding and Kim-Renaud are expected to meet with Korea Foundation officials in early December. Administrators said they did not know when the foundation would decide which school will get the endowment.

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