Recently, many media outlets in Korea have reported that the French public has developed an explosive interest in Korean culture and Korean language due to the influence of K-Pop. Can it be true that the Korean wave is sweeping France? This is a significant question because the French have a superior attitude and pride in their culture. In this article, we will investigate how much the French know about Korea and if they have a favorable image of Korea. To that end, the Observer looked into the present condition of the Korean wave and Korea’s efforts to maintain and strengthen it by visiting the Korean Cultural Center and INALCO (National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations) in France.
Korea’s image in Europe
On January 18th 2012, KOTRA (the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency) surveyed 1,208 young men aged 18 to 30 in Europe about what comes to mind first when they think of Korea. According to the survey, young men in Europe recalled North Korea (9.1%), K-Pop (6.9%), Seoul (6.5%), the Korean War (5.4%), Samsung (5.1%), kimchi (2.7%), the World Cup in 2002 (2.4), taekwondo (2.0%), the tech industry (1.4%), and automobiles (1.4%) first. The non-response rate was 22.2% which was higher than the non-response rates for Japan (5.3%) and China (5.0%). A non-response meant the person who was asked the question did not think anything about that country.
Interview with French citizens
We interviewed 40 citizens in their twenties in Paris. First, we asked them “What comes to mind when you think of Korea?” After that, we asked them specifically about the location of Korea, Samsung, LG, Korean movies, K-Pop, and whether they ever tried kimchi. Thirty-five of 40 people knew Korea’s location, but most of them thought of the division of Korea into north and south first. Eight of the 40 people knew about Seoul. Twenty-three out of the 40 knew that Samsung and LG are Korean companies. Finally, only 2 of the 40 knew about Korean movies and K-Pop respectively. Out of the 8 people who knew about kimchi, none of them had ever tried it. Five people responded that they did not know anything about Korea at all. Four people had friends in Korea and they thought that Koreans are so kind. Someone replied that he loved makgeolli.
Korean Cultural Center in France
The Korean Cultural Center is located near the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris. The Korean Cultural Center in France opened in 1981, and was the first Korean Cultural Center in Europe. The center has a gallery, a conference room, a library, and a multi media room. The gallery is divided into an upper and lower floor showroom that is 180㎡ in area. In the gallery, we can see 40 to 50 pieces of art. The conference room is where Hangeul classes and lectures take place. Every month, one or two Korean movies are shown in the conference room. The library holds about 15,000 Korea-related books and magazines, and various audio-visual materials. The multi media room has 500 Korean movies that consist of old films to the latest releases with French subtitles or dubbing. There are also 400 Korean music CDs and video tapes. At the entrance, the Korean Cultural Center has installed Arirang TV and the KBS satellite broadcasting channel, so visitors can watch Korean news or Korean dramas.
The chart at the bottom of the page shows how much the coefficient of utilization of the Korean Cultural Center increased in 2011 compared with 2010. The Korean Cultural Center increased the number of Korean language classes, cultural lectures, exhibitions, performances, and events to give foreigners more chances to learn about Korean culture compared with 2010. There are activities that are offered inside the Korean Cultural Center. There are special exhibitions 10 times a year including contemporary art and traditional art. There are 15 Korean language lecture classes. Moreover, there is a workshop program which educates people in six artistic genres such as calligraphy, painting, weaving, paper arts, pottery, and martial arts. When the center plans a concert or invites performers from Korea, if the space is insufficient, the center makes arrangements with other local cultural institutions. There are also some annual seminars. At these seminars, French experts conduct seminars with themes such as Korean culture, the civilization of Korea, oriental medicine, and the phenomenon of K-Pop 7 to 8 times a year. To nurture affection for and an interest in Korea culture in French people at an early age, the center presents a Korean culture festival for children during the third week of November. At this event, the center coordinates with elementary schools and trains French students based on the theme of the diverse aspects of Korean culture such as storytelling, samulnori which is the Korean traditional percussion quartet, folk songs, origami, mask dances, calligraphy, and martial arts.
Interview with Jong-Soo Lee
Director of the Korean Cultural Center in France
Q) What is the role of the Korean Cultural Center in France?
A) Our role is to inform the French people about the overall culture of Korea. Ultimately, our job is to explain the various aspects of Korean culture in order to give the French people a clearer image of what Korea is all about. I believe that if we are able to pass on a deep understanding of Korean culture to the French people, they will respond well to it and make it a part of their consciousness.
Q) What efforts will the Korea Cultural Center make to continue the Korean wave?
A) We will continue to inform the French public about K-Pop separately, and we will also present pansori, traditional crafts, movies and B-boy dancing through opening a festival intended for university students. In order to properly inform people about our culture, we should introduce it in its totality to demonstrate its unique place in the world. Everybody has different cultural tastes, so we should continue our work through exhibitions and Korean language classes. For intellectuals, we will host conferences dealing with the subject of Korean culture and Korean civilization. K-Pop should be promoted in the private sector because K-Pop's purpose is to make profit. We will handle genres like pansori, geomungo, independent culture, and art that require public support and that can introduce Korea to the world.
Q)What do you think about K-Pop as it is represented in the media?
A)In my view, K-Pop is a very inspiring phenomenon but it does not have significant meaning by itself. In Korea, only K-Pop is recognized. We should remember that the road for international recognition of K-Pop was paved by historic efforts. The first Korean people who gained international recognition were taekwando masters. They opened taekwondo studio in Africa, the United States, and Europe. They also used to work for Presidential Security Services. The second was Korean dramas and movies that began to gain popularity from the late 1980s to 1990s in Southeast Asia. K-Pop owes a great deal to the cultural products that came before it.
INALCO (National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations) is a university that was founded in 1669 by Jean-Baptiste Colbert. When France traded with Turkey and Arab countries in the 17th century, people who could speak many languages were in demand. Therefore, INALCO was founded. At INALCO, 93 different languages are taught, so the university is known for its specialized language programs. INALCO offers Korean language classes. When events happen in countries that are not well known, we need experts who know that country's language, culture, and society well. INALCO is a university that specializes in training this kind of talented expert. We interviewed with the professor Jin-Ok Kim and two students in INALCO.
Department of Eurasian Studies
Q) How many students are enrolled in the Korean language department in INALCO?
A) I have been working at INALCO for 7 years. The number of students in the Korean language department has increased about 10 times compared to 2005. Specifically, the increase was the highest in 2011. The number of students who registered for classes more than doubled from 131 to 315. There were fewer Korean language students than Chinese and Japanese language department students before, but there has been a dramatic change. Only the Korean language department has experienced a sudden upturn in enrollment.
Q) Why do you think the number of students in the Korean language department has increased?
A) It is ultimately the impact of the Korean wave. I felt it personally in 2008, there were many older students before, but nowadays, the average age has dropped significantly and at the same time, the number of female students comprise nearly 95% of enrolled students.
Q) Are there any programs or campus events to help students experience Korean culture?
A) We have special events like a concert in May every year. This year, students planned the events by themselves, and planned the events to let everyone in the university experience Korean culture. Freshmen, sophomores, and juniors prepared their own projects in groups such as K-Pop songs, playing instruments and acting respectively. It was impressive that we dominated the second floor hall and held a Korean food tasting event. Like western food presentation, we put dishes on each plate and asked all the people at the university to taste them. We also had a calligraphy event to teach students to write their names in Hangeul.
Q) Why did you decide to study the Korean language?
A) I saw a lot of Korean movies. I like the director Hong Sang Soo the most. I also learned about movie filming in professional school. I learned about Korean culture through the movies. In addition, I have a lot of interest in learning foreign languages, so I started learning the Korean language.
Q) How do you usually study Korean language?
A) I study Korean with my Korean friend on Facebook. My friend studies French, so we can correct each other. If I have enough time, I try to see American movies or dramas with my friends with subtitle in Korean.
Q) Why did you decide to study the Korean language?
A) I studied Japanese for 3 years and I had a chance to watch a Korean drama through my friends in Japanese class. When I watched the Korean drama, I was fascinated with the Korean language's rhythm and tone. After that, I searched on the internet where to learn Korean, and I found INALCO.
Q) What career are you thinking about pursuing after learning Korean?
A) My dream is to open a restaurant in Korea. When I went to Korea, I had a homestay with one family. When I made them food from my country, the family really liked it. So I had an idea. Now I am doing work that connects French students with Korea so they can stay in Korea. In the future, I want to be able to arrange homestays for Korean students in French homes.
When I talked to French people initially I realized that the French public did not have a deep awareness of Korean culture yet. However, I also realized that it is true that interest in Korea is growing in France especially among young people these days. Korea has a variety of strengths. We need to show them a greater variety of cultural contents, and we also need to provide them with more opportunities to learn about Korean culture. Conversely, we need to make an effort to learn about other countries, and not just hope that foreign people will have interest in Korea. Let's develop our interest in other countries, especially those that are not well known to match the growing interest the rest of the world has in Korea.