Edinburgh Global

Strengthening relationship with Korea

With the appointment of Dr Youngmi Kim, Senior Lecturer in Korean Studies, and the inaugural Yun Posun Distinguished Young Scholar Award, it’s clear the University of Edinburgh is committed to strengthening its relationship with Korea. How has our connection with Korea grown over the years, and what are the ambitions for the future?

Korean development is growing worldwide. South Korea recently ranked as sixth-largest exporter in the world. Global brands are attracted by the potential in the region with Unilever recently investing £2bn in the prosperous beauty and medical industry in the country. This growth is being felt in academia too.

2017 has been a significant year for Korean Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Dr Youngmi Kim has joined the team in East Asian Studies as the first senior lecturer in Korean Studies.

East Asian Studies sits within the Department of Literatures, Languages and Cultures. It was there that I spoke with Dr Youngmi Kim and Professor Natascha Gentz, Professor of Chinese Studies, Director of the Confucius Institute for Scotland, and Assistant Principal for China to find out more about the ambition for the future of the University’s Korean connections, as well as how the development of Korean Studies at the University of Edinburgh has been going so far.


The focus on Korea can be traced back to 2009. Staff working in the region at the time, including then VP International Steve Hillier, saw the vibrant atmosphere and potential for partnership and teaching collaboration.

As a result the first Yun Posun Memorial Symposium was launched in Edinburgh in 2010, with the event held annually ever since. The symposia honour our alumnus President Yun Posun, and have developed a network which has aided the development of Korean links and strengthened the case for launching a Masters programme in Korean Studies.

The University of Edinburgh is the first institution in Scotland to have Korean Studies, and there are only a handful in the whole of the UK that offer it. Natascha explained that “You can see in other universities that when they start a programme in Korean Studies they really grow and they are very popular. Big Korean Studies programmes, like in Tübingen in Germany, are huge programmes, even bigger than Chinese.”

Youngmi agreed, saying “I have heard that in the other institutions that offer it, there has been an explosion of students applying to Korean Studies. Certainly in the last few years the application numbers have gone up rapidly to those courses, so I think this is the right moment for us to pursue this too.”

Indeed, supporting connections to Korea have not been limited to the development of Korean study options. We have also had an active recruiting presence in South Korea for over 20 years, and a Regional Centre for East Asia based in China.

This is certainly tied with the economic growth in East Asia as a whole and in South Korea in particular, with other reasons being the opportunities for young people in South Korea as well as the demand from students who are already interested in studying other aspects of the East Asian region.

Natascha told me that “We have a programme that is East Asian studies and it only does Chinese and Japanese so far, and we thought it was a significant component that we should have Korean studies. There is so much interaction between these three countries both today and in history. You cannot just ignore one part of this region, and I think for students, the east Asian programme is very popular and some students prefer to look at the region as a whole rather than one country.”

We are one of two or three universities left in the UK who still teach classical Chinese and Japanese, and we think it’s really important.

Natascha Gentz


Now that Youngmi has started in her role, it’s clear that there some great ambitions for the future of Korean Studies at the University.

The team is brimming with ideas for cultural and creative activities that would showcase Korea to Edinburgh, with ideas including a Korean film festival, a culture day and an exhibition of Korean artists, potentially working with several organisations around the UK and in Korea to do so.

Natascha Gentz confirmed. “Yes, we’re definitely planning to do cultural things – it’s a good platform to raise interest in the subject among the public, mainly, but also staff and student.”

The University of Edinburgh is the first institution in Scotland to have Korean Studies, and there are only a handful in the whole of the UK that offer it.

Ms Cholong Sung playing gayageum
Gayageum performance by Ms Cholong Sung at a Yun Posun Symposium

Study opportunities

As a direct consequence of our links with Yun Posun Foundation, 2017 also saw the first year of the Yun Posun Distinguished Young Scholar Award at the University of Edinburgh.

This was established by Mr Sangkoo Yun, son President Mr Yun Posun. The award gives £300 to the author of the best dissertation in Korean Studies submitted by a University of Edinburgh student.

They are also forging ahead with laying the foundations for course creation. They are in the process of appointing another lecturer in Japanese and Korean Studies, with a view that the role would assist in building the programme.

Youngmi explained that the course content would “Cover history, culture, society, politics, and international relations. The idea is to add a bit more of the social science element because, in area studies, history and culture is very strong in Europe and in the UK but not on social science.

That’s what I’ve been working on, to add more on social science, because when it comes to contemporary issues it’s all about politics, parties and social activism, more about contemporary issues.”

Natascha explained that “Usually when you do Korean Studies it looks at social sciences, contemporary politics, and North Korea and South Korea - much less history and culture. That is why we are trying to do both, and that’s the same approach we have with Japanese and Chinese studies.

We are one of two or three universities left in the UK who still teach classical Chinese and Japanese, and we think it’s really important.”

Edinburgh Global activities in Korea is carried out by our East Asia Regional Team. Find out more:

East Asia Regional Team