What’s driving increased interest in Korean?
Though enrollment in foreign language courses dropped almost 7 percent from 2009 to 2013 in the U.S., one language course has experienced growth both nationally and at the University of Maryland: Korean.
In a study conducted by the Modern Language Association, the number of students enrolled in Korean classes jumped from about 8,500 in 2009 to more than 12,200 in 2013. Of the 14 most studied languages, Korean, Chinese, American Sign Language and Portuguese experienced increases in enrollment from 2009 to 2013.
“These days … there is always wait lists [sic] and requests for over-subscriptions,” said professor Younghi Ramsey, who has been teaching Korean at UMD for 26 years. “That’s [sic] the situation for the past 3–4 years.”
For non-heritage students seeking an introduction to learn Korean, KORA101 is the foundational course. In fall of 2012, Ramsey received a record 19 students into her KORA101 course, which seated 15 students. Two years later, she again opened her class to four extra students, receiving a total of 18 students.
At UMD, enrollment in each non-heritage classes KORA 101, 102 and 201 jumped by more than one quarter each from 2009 to fall 2013, according to data from the Office of the Registrar. KORA 202 enrollment climbed more than 40 percent.
Overall enrollment in UMD’s Korean classes for non-heritage students increased from 2009 to 2015. The above graph details the number of students who enrolled in these four classes each semester. For help reading the graph: F09 = Fall 2009, S10 = Spring 2010; the y-axis gives the exact number of students in a class. All courses normally seat 15.
UMD is one of the first Korean programs in the country to offer a two-track technique, according to Ramsey. One track is for Korean heritage students — those who have a Korean cultural background and basic Korean skills. The other track is for non-heritage students, who do not have the same background and proficiency.
Until a few years ago, most students signed up for Korean courses to fulfill language requirements or because of their Korean friends, according to Ramsey. But students are now enrolling for a larger variety of reasons.
“Nowadays, yes, there are many students hooked on Korean pop culture,” she said.
Junior Bria Cunningham said she decided to study Korean a couple years after becoming a fan of Korean pop music.
“In the beginning, my only purpose of learning how to read Korean was so I could sing along to my favorite songs,” Cunningham said.
Not long afterwards, Cunningham chose to minor in Korean studies to receive credit for the classes that she was taking for fun. She is currently learning intermediate Korean while studying abroad in South Korea.
Similarly, Ellen Levine, a junior English major, said she developed an interest in learning Korean because she and her friends liked a lot of Korean musicians. She self-studied the language before taking Korean 102 this semester.
However, not all students take Korean because of an interest in Korean pop.
“I want to improve in my Korean because sadly, coming from a Korean family and Korean not being my first language, it has been difficult for me [to communicate with my relatives],” said freshman Justin Chung, who started attending Korean school when he was seven years old but stopped after eighth grade.
Ramsey also observes students taking Korean because of their interest in Korea’s economic growth in technology or because they love Korean food.
Samsung is one Korean electronics company that has been competing with Apple in the smartphone industry. The company received over 20 million preorders for its recently released Galaxy S6, according to the IB Times. Korean food has also grown more popular, with restaurants like Kangnam BBQ in College Park and Honey Pig in Germantown both opening in the past couple years.
Maryland’s Korean classes hosted their semesterly Korean Culture Day on April 23 at the Language House in St. Mary’s Hall. The event centered on K-pop, traditional dance, K-pop dance and Korean street food.