To secure a special interview for this issue, the KF paid a visit to Moscow State Linguistic University and met with Dr. Ekaterina Pokholkova, Dean of MSLU’s Translation and Interpreting Faculty. Dr. Pokholkova spoke about the school’s department of Korean Studies and Korean language as a major subject, as well as what needs to be done to further promote these crucial subjects.
Would you tell us about the history of your school and its Korean Studies department?
MSLU was established in 1804 and has 11 departments in total. The Korean Studies department was launched 26 years ago, after Korea and Russia formally established their diplomatic relationship.
The Faculty of Translation and Interpreting is the largest and oldest institution of MSLU, training specialists in translation and interpretation, regional studies and international culture. It has laid the theoretical ground for Soviet and Russian translations and has produced many of the world’s renowned translators, scholars and professors.
The Department of Eastern Languages offers courses on Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Arabic, Turkish, and Farsi. The department of Korean Studies was set up in the Eastern Languages Department 26 years ago in the wake of the establishment of Korea-Russia diplomatic relationship. Korean language was adopted as a major subject in the Department of Eastern Language in 1991 by Dr. Leonid Nikolski (1924–1998)—who compiled an early Korean-Russian, Russian-Korean dictionary—with the subject now taught by seven professors.
At Russian universities, the duration of undergraduate study is four to five years, in addition to master’s and doctorate courses. At MSLU, each year’s cohort has only about 10 students in accordance with the school’s policy to provide the best quality education. At the moment, 80 students are majoring in Korean studies in MSLU’s undergraduate program, and six are studying Korean language and literature at the graduate level.
Are there any special features of MSLU’s Korean language and Korean studies courses? Can you tell us about them?
We emphasize a thorough education of the Korean language as we foster outstanding scholars in the field of Korean studies. The students are divided into small groups with a maximum of 10 members, and they study the language for 12 to 18 hours a week. In the first year, they learn everything from pragmatic language skills to linguistic theory, grammatical peculiarities, the lexis and stylistics, and literature. They are also taught the history and geography of Asia.
From the third year, they take translation and interpretation classes using textbooks in Russian and Korean. They deal with a variety of topics and read a lot of news articles on current issues selected from Korean newspapers and other mass media. MSLU has set up agreements for academic and student exchange with the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Kyung Hee University and Busan University of Foreign Studies in Korea, and each and every student of MSLU has the opportunity to visit the country for a six-month period.
In addition to normal classes, what other opportunities do you provide for your students?
Students are encouraged to actively take part in various contests and academic gatherings while carrying out their regular assignments. Our students have earned high recognition at MSLU’s annual science conference, the Moscow State University Institute of Asian and African Studies’ Conference of Young Scholars on Korean Studies, the Nationwide Korean Language Olympiad in Russia, the competition for K-Marketing Korea-Russia Economic Cooperation Projects, and the Korean Writing Contest in Europe. MSLU produces collections of students’ literary translations in many languages, and the Korean studies majors translate poems and short stories under the guidance of their professors. The translated works are published and distributed at on-campus academic gatherings focusing on translation and interpretation.
Korean students at MSLU participate in campus activities as actively as their Russian counterparts. Recently, professors and students have launched a Korean version of the MSLU website (www.linguanet.ru), making the school probably the only Russian university to do so.
Do you hold any activities related to the Korea Foundation?
MSLU’s Korean Studies Department and the Korea Foundation are conducting a number of projects together. For instance, the school came up with the idea of the Korean Language Olympiad and hosted the first Olympiad in 2010 and the fourth in 2016. In 2013, the fifth All-Russian Academic and Research Seminar was held at MSLU. The seminar was attended by 50 Korean language professors from 25 universities across Russia, and I had the honor of chairing the meeting.
In 2015 and 2016, the school conducted the first and second Humanities Forum for Korea-Russia Cultural Exchange in Moscow with the financial support of the Korea Foundation. Participants in the forum encompassed Korean Studies scholars, publishers, sociologists, artists and noted figures in the fields of literature, sports and education.
The Central and Eastern European Society of Koreanology Conference (CEESOK), for which I have been serving as the chairperson since 2015, is significant not only for MSLU but to the entire circle of Korean Studies in Europe. The 14th CEESOK Conference was held at our university in 2015 with attendance from more than 50 academics from the region and wound up in the CEESOK Journal. I have visited Korea for academic gatherings on Korean Studies, but usually only briefly, as Korean Studies scholars in Russia are seldom replaceable and it is very hard for me to be absent from the school for long.
In 2016, I became a member of the K-Culture Supporters Committee, an organization founded by Korean Ambassador to Russia Park Ro-byug to enhance publicity of Korean Language and Literature and education in Russia. The committee has 11 members from diverse fields.
Would you tell us how you have become a scholar of Korean Studies and share some of your current projects?
I entered the department of Korean Studies by chance, but I reckon there was a special force that connected me with Korea since my childhood. When I was young, I was deeply interested in East Asia. One day, I discovered newspaper clippings on which were written Hangeul, and the beauty and simplicity of the letters were so impressive that I still vividly remember the very moment. At the time of the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, the father of a good friend of mine brought a Korean fan with the taegeuk symbol from Korea. When I first saw it, I thought nothing could be more beautiful than that. From then on, I have been attracted to Korea and its traditional art, particularly the beauty of Hangeul.
Aside from my classes at MSLU, I have been teaching Hangeul at the King Sejong Institute in Moscow over the past 10 years. Teaching at Sejong is quite different from my classes at the university, but I like it very much. More than a thousand people enroll in the institute every semester, and last year, a video of my class, which was made by the Korean Ambassador to Russia and the Director of the Cultural Center, turned out to be amazingly popular. I feel truly proud that I can share my knowledge with so many people who are interested in Korea.
While giving lectures at the school nd the cultural center, I have authored a Korean language thematic dictionary and a Korean language textbook for students. I have also published the works of Korean poet Moon Chunghee by translating them into Russian. I think Korean literature has tremendous potential to influence Russian intellectuals. As Russian young men and women are already enchanted by Korean dramas and music, now is the time to present a new vision of Korean studies to the older generations.
What needs to be done to secure the further development of Korean studies?
Let me compare the Korean Studies to the “tree with deep roots” from the lines of Yongbieocheon-ga. The educators who have greatly contributed to Korean Studies and its history are the “roots” and we are the “tree.” The tree means the Korean Studies scholars who, despite the difficult situation since the 1990s, kept on teaching the Korean Language and developing and disseminating knowledge about Korea. I can confidently say that the next-generation scholars who are being continuously trained will be an example of “cheongchuleoram,” of students surpassing the master, by excelling beyond their seniors who are presently active. It is possible as they can access the vast amount of electronic materials thanks to the Internet and social network services, and as Korea has become easier to visit than in the past and is growing closer to Russia in many aspects.
The role of Korean studies scholars cannot be emphasized enough in the dissemination and publicity of knowledge about Korea. They have a deep understanding of the country and know how to share their knowledge with both ethnic Russians and Goryeoin, the ethnic Koreans in post-Soviet states. They are serving as the bridge between Korea and Russia, and it is critical that this bridge is a sturdy one, providing access to all. To popularize knowledge about Korea, we need to closely cooperate with scholars and promote their projects and ideas.