If you read my last blog, you’ll know I have already moaned about the workload I have faced during my time in Sogang’s summer program and won’t bore you by repeating it here. Instead I am going to give a little more detail about what I have learning over the course of the summer program. I am going to take the liberty of splitting it in two to avoid your eyes from bleeding.
As I have mentioned, I took two seminars in Sogang’s International Korean Studies, each of which was been split into subtopics. Seminar 3 was a culture themed module and first topic looked at Korean tradition performance as well as its place today in modern Korea. I took the seminar as a chance to try something other than history and have actually been surprised about how much I ended up enjoying it. The course had a anthropological centric focus but also included chances to listen and play tradition Korean music, even including a trip to Seoul National Music centre to learn to play changgo (an hourglass drum used in a variety of traditional performances). I assure you my playing was utterly miserable due to my complete lack of rhythm, but it was interesting to feel who emerged you become in Korean performances even as a non-Korean with no musical ability.
For me, however, the most interesting aspect of the class has been exploring how the ‘preservation’ of traditional music has much wider ramifications for the attempts of the Korean government to reclaim a national identity after colonization and the division of Korea. It still surprises me to know traditions such as pansuri ( ballads told to drum beat) and namsadang ( a composition of different acts akin to a circus) has been branded as ‘Intangible Cultural Assets’ and categorized by a number, as if files in a card index. As an idea, it is something I still find completely alien to me and in all sincerity this seminar has given me a true appreciation of how culture has become tangled up with the politics of nationalism. It has also given me a new found respect for performers when I began to see how many are faced with the dilemma of having to add their own creative flare, but not divert too far from tradition in case they lose their past.
The second half of seminar 3 has been a slightly less intense look at Korean culture in general. Giving a broad over views of different aspects of Korean life, such as identity, gender, cultural practices and changes within modern Korea, it has provided a good counter-balance to the more academic first half of the course. From weddings and funerals to ‘New Koreans’ and shamanism, the course was a mish-mash of all sorts of different facets of Korean life and in that way it was nice to have a little taste of everything.
That said, I found the second class of seminar 3 pretty unremarkable due to it being really vague and not really going into too much detail about anything. While I felt like I really learnt something in the first class, this seminar almost felt a bit trivial. Although it was great to have a light work load for a change I would of preferred to focus on a few things more specifically rather than being dripped fed a lot in a small space of time. Undoubtedly, it succeeded in sparking my interesting but I can’t help but feeling it was a bit of a wasted opportunity.
One solace, however, was the final essay for the class gave me a chance to explore the issue of comfort women in Korean Identity, thus proving my inability to stay away from history for too long. If any of you are bored between now and October I recommend you have a quick Google search and have a look for yourself. You may have to wade though a lot of emotive babble but it will be worth it and you will be shocked if you do.
Anyway, that concluded the first half of my ‘what I learnt this summer‘ blog and if any of you want to know more about pansori or comfort women feel free to leave a comment int he box below.