Seoul, South Korea, a Dutch Department? It’s not the first place one thinks of when someone mentions Dutch Departments (as they often do), but there is quite a large department (5 members of staff; c. 80 students over 4 years) at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. This institution claims to provide courses in the third widest range of languages of any further education institution in the world, and certainly the chance to learn Mongolian, Bahasa, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese…. plus a host of European languages, including Dutch, bears this out. Why do Korean students study Dutch? It has something to do with the way the Korean education system works, which I won’t go into here, but for me it’s a great blessing as I have the chance to teach a mixture of Dutch language, International Relations and Dutch culture. The first Westerner to write about his experiences in Korea was the VOC employee, Hendrick Hamel. He was shipwrecked on the Korean island of Jeju on his way to Japan and was held captive for about 13 years. More recently, Guus Geluk, a.k.a. Guus Hiddink, lived upto his name by somewhat fortuitously taking the South Korean national football to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup. He is still remembered fondly here. Some of the Dutch students get placements with Korean companies and organizations in the Low Countries; one recent graduate now works at the Dutch Embassy in Seoul. Others proudly display their orange tracksuits, a mark of the respect for Dutch football in these parts. The cultural highlight so far has been a rendition of the Sound of Music in Dutch by the students, attended by the Dutch Ambassador to Korea. I’ve had a chance to go walking in the lovely mountains around Seoul (one of the many differences between Korea and the Low Countries) and to visit Gangnam, the self-styled coolest part of Seoul. I come back to Europe twice a year, so hopefully can meet up with some ALCS when I’m there.
Dr. Chris Joby is Assistant Professor, Department of Dutch, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Seoul, South Korea.