The University of Iowa is home to one of seven King Sejong Institutes in the country.
The institute is a South Korean government-funded program that aims to spread the culture and language of the country throughout the world. Two of the seven institutes are on university campuses, the UI and Auburn University.
UI Visiting Instructor Yuh Joo Byun, who was dispatched from South Korea by the institute a year and a half ago, is the course instructor in Iowa City.
“I teach two courses, one for students to receive academic credit, and one for [the] citizens of the community,” Byun said. “Both courses highlight language and culture, giving the students a better understanding of life in Korea.”
According to data from the International Student & Scholar Services, 341 South Korean students attended the UI in the fall of 2015, representing the second-largest international-country population behind China.
“We get very little funding from the University,” said Sang-Seok Yoon, the coordinator of the King Sejong Institute program at the UI. “So I invited the King Sejong Institute to look around. They saw we were a growing department with many Korean students and decided to start the program here.”
Yoon said the institute funds the Korean program at the UI in an attempt to expand cultural influence. The relationship is mutually beneficial, Yoon said, as the students and citizens of Iowa City are provided with the opportunity to learn Korean, while Iowa City gets a share of the cultural scene of South Korea.
While King Sejong’s primary goal is to educate, the reach of the institute expands far beyond the classroom. In September, for example, the department celebrated Chuseok, South Korea’s version of Thanksgiving. The students were given the opportunity to dress up in traditional South Korean garb along with enjoying Korean-style rice cakes.
The institute also funds one student or participant from each location to take an all-expenses paid trip to South Korea. In September, UI student Nur Syazana Khairol Azmi was selected to take the trip.
“What stood out to me was the emphasis placed on tradition in the South Korean culture,” she said. “They are proud of who they are and where they came from.”
King Sejong invites any level of Korean learners into the program. Orientation, which provides additional information and placement, will take place Oct. 14 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in 114 Phillips Hall. The eight-week course runs from Oct. 17 to Dec. 9, offering a range of class times in the late afternoon and evening.
Yoon said the class is for everyone — students at home or abroad and all people in Iowa City.
“We want to grow the program,” Yoon said. “Both the department here at Iowa and in South Korea. That is the ultimate goal.”