Psy's 2012 hit 'Gangnam Style' is one K-pop song that was a big hit North America
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Korean language class: lengthy wait-list at U of T

The Korean language is increasingly popular with Canadian students, specifically those attending the University of Toronto.

Andre Schmid is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of East Asian Studies at U of T. He says they’ve always had a core of about 30 students, but over the last 10 years that has grown steadily and now there 100 to 150 students taking the language courses, with another 100 on a waiting list.

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Schmid credits the rise of what’s known as the Korean Wave which includes the K-Pop phenomenon that has captured young people around the world.

The Korean Wave

“Since the late 1990’s the Korean government and Korean industry have been investing large sums of money into the entertainment industry to try and create cultural commodities that they can export to other countries” Schmid explains.

He says, “Just like Samsung is exporting its phones, K-pop is exporting music”. The Korean television and film industry operate with the same export motivation, and even Korean food is growing in popularity, certainly in the big cities in Canada.

Schmid says “the world’s changing”. He says, “as a teacher, I’m supposed to be teaching them about the world but they’re often teaching me about what’s important”.

“It may be counter-intuitive to the older generation that grew up under the influence of the Euro-American cultural commodities”

“Just a few years ago iTunes noticed that so many people were downloading Korean pop-music that they created its own category on iTunes so you can just go and find what’s available from Korea. That’s a huge change, no other country in the world has a country-specific channel on iTunes” he explains.

Professor Schmid says it may be counter-intuitive to the older generation that grew up under the influence of the Euro-American cultural commodities.

But this new generation, he says, is more aware of the world, “19 – 20 year-olds, they’ve grown up with it.” Schmid says “the students in our class could meet somebody from South Africa, Latin America, from the Middle East, Israel, and talk about Korean music; it’s one of the things that allow them to join in a sort-of shared cultural understanding.”

And social media is one of the drivers of this global trend.

As for the dichotomy between South Korea and a K-Pop culture, and the North where the internet is forbidden and life is so dismal and horrific for many young people, Professor Schmid says his students are aware.

“I think what happens with our students is that as they get drawn to Korea through pop music, certainly the ones that are interested in the language, are drawn into larger issues about Korea, about the economy, about politics, and of course in politics you can’t but talk about North Korea.”

Schmid teaches the language as well as the history of North and South Korea. With the recent Korean Wave, as it’s known, he added a lecture to talk about the internationalisation of Korean culture.

“Many of our students that graduate go on and get jobs in Korea,” Schmid told CBC Radio in a recent interview. “K-pop is a phenomena of the growing importance of the Korean economy. It’s a big industrial effort that’s getting people around the world interested and it transfers into jobs for people.”

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