University Launches Institute for Korean Studies

Ribbon-cutting and inaugural conference on humanities and the Korean diaspora mark opening of new institute.

January 12, 2017

Ahn Ho-Young, South Korea ambassador to the United States

Ahn Ho-Young, South Korea ambassador to the United States, addresses audience members on Jan. 12. He emphasized the importance of a strong U.S.-South Korea relationship. (Logan Werlinger/GW Today)

The George Washington University on Thursday officially launched the Institute for Korean Studies, which will aim to strengthen and grow GW’s existing Korean Studies program while promoting Korean humanities and research in the nation’s capital and beyond.

The institute, created through support from the Academy for Korean Studies, will be housed in the Sigur Center for Asian Studies in the Elliott School of International Affairs.

The university marked the occasion with an inaugural celebration and ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by a discussion, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, about Korean humanities and the Korean diaspora. Young-Key Kim-Renaud, professor emeritus of Korean language and culture and international affairs, moderated the day’s events.

“This is a great day for me,” Ahn Ho-Young, South Korea ambassador to the United States, told a packed City View Room audience.

He said he often thinks about the relationship between South Korea and the United States and its many layers—security, economic, global partnerships. While the layers are strong, he said they could be stronger, and humanities are often a way to strengthen them.

George Washington President Steven Knapp, in his remarks, said GW has a long history of engagement with South Korea, beginning in 1892 when Soh Jaipil received his medical degree from GW, becoming the first Korean to graduate from an American medical school. GW was also the first U.S. university to offer Korean language courses as part of its regular curriculum.

Today, GW’s largest alumni community outside of the United States is in South Korea and roughly 300 students from South Korea are currently studying at GW. The university also has a Korean Management Institute housed in the GW School of Business. Additionally, in 2012, GW held its third Global Forum in Seoul and in 2009 awarded Lee Myung-bak, the South Korea president from 2008 to 2013, with an honorary doctor of public service degree.

“The GW Institute for Korean Studies will ensure that Korean humanities will have a strong and abiding presence in the heart of this nation’s capital and will also help cement GW’s position as a global leader in Korean studies,” Dr. Knapp said.

The institute, said Director Jisoo Kim, will focus on three goals: expanding GW’s Korean Studies infrastructure and creating links between the humanities and fields such as business and engineering; engaging in outreach to professionals and policymakers to introduce fresh perspectives on Korea’s history, literature and culture; and developing a robust Korean Studies curriculum by creating a Korean undergraduate major and offering new courses, study abroad programs and internships.

“It is now time to move up to the next level,” said Dr. Kim, the Korea Foundation Associate Professor of History, International Affairs and East Asian Language and Literatures.

Doug Shaw, senior associate provost for international strategy, said there is an “urgent need” in D.C. and the United States to better understand the world, and he saw the opening of the Institute for Korean Studies as a “disruptive act” showing that knowledge of South Korea is important to what goes on in the nation’s capital.

The institute will be a “cornerstone” of future collaboration, Dr. Shaw said.

Ben Vinson III, dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, agreed and said initiatives such as the Institute for Korean Studies will continue to play a connecting role in a “world of silos” by “using humanities and culture as a bridge.”