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Bryn Mawr Says 안녕하세요 (annyeong haseyo) as Korean Joins the Curriculum

June 20, 2024 Melissa Scott
Seoul Landmark Bongeunsa Temple Buddha Statue at Night

As a complement to the 2023 Flexner Lectures on Korean television drama, the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures (EALC) hired Visiting Assistant Professor Youngji Son for a one-year position in which he taught Elementary Korean, Introduction to Korean Culture and Society, and K-Pop and the Korean Wave. This marked the first time students could take Korean in the Tri-Co.

Now, thanks to a three-year Korean language and culture seed grant from the Korea Foundation, students interested in the language will have even more options starting this fall. 

The grant, plus an additional three-year pledge from Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges to continue the program, guarantees Bryn Mawr will be able to offer an even fuller Korean curriculum through the 2029-2030 academic year as a pilot program. 

Beginning in fall of 2024, the program will offer introductory and intermediate Korean language courses and two culture courses every year. This means that EALC majors can take two of the three years of their language requirement in Korean at Bryn Mawr. The third year can be fulfilled at another institution or by studying abroad. In addition, with Professor Son, there is now a faculty support network for students interested in centering their senior thesis topic on Korean studies. 

”Asia is the most populous region in the world, and our students recognize the importance of studying this region and, especially, of East Asia. Since coming to Bryn Mawr in 2012, I have hoped for the opportunity to include the study of Korean language and culture as an integral part of the Bi-Co Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. I am so pleased that the Korea Foundation decided to fund our application to expand our offerings in Korean language and culture studies. I can already tell from initial student interest that this will be a wonderful addition to our department," says Shiamin Kwa, co-chair and professor of EALC. 

For some students, like Kylie McCombs ’26, exposure to K-pop and K-dramas first piqued their interest in studying Korean.  

“But that wasn’t really the main reason I wanted to go into Korean,” says McCombs, who previously took elementary Korean at the University of Pennsylvania. “It was actually the history behind it. How the language was crafted out of a time of hardship.”

For others, the courses were a way to learn about their ancestry.  

“It was mostly because I really want to be able to speak with my grandmother and connect with that part of my culture. I think the other piece is that I hope to study abroad in Korea during my junior year. The experience, while possible with English, would only be enriched if I spoke Korean, which is also a big motivator,” says Isa Choi-Orr ’27, who is half-Korean and took elementary Korean both semesters and the K-pop and the Korean Wave course.  

Portrait of Youngji Son
Visiting Assistant Professor Youngji Son

Whatever a student’s motivation, both McCombs and Choi-Orr say the program and Professor Son provide the support necessary for success.  

“I think you can do well in class because he wants you to do well. He truly desires that all of his students learn Korean,” says Choi-Orr. 

“Nothing felt impossible to do despite it being a whole different language. I feel like the class built its own familywe were all in it together. All of my classmates were in group chats, and we would talk and eat lunch after class,” says McCombs, who decided to switch her major from computer science to East Asian Languages and Cultures in large part because of the new Korean curriculum.  

Looking ahead to next year, Son will be offering a new culture class in spring 2025 titled K-drama and Identity, which will look at identity in recent works such as Squid Game and Parasite 

“I can’t emphasize enough how exciting it is that we have this at our institution,” says Kwa. “The students are having fun. They’re learning language, and it’s just wonderful.” 

Studying East Asian Languages and Cultures at Bryn Mawr

The Bi-College department aims to foster learning about East Asia through rigorous language study and through deep and exploratory engagement with prominent themes and sources from East Asian countries.