LOS ANGELES -- A Volvo Trucks commercial featuring actor Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits, stretching his legs between two reversing trucks with Enya’s “Only Time” playing in the background, is shown to a classroom full of nearly 100 undergraduates at UCLA.
Professor Ju Hui Judy Han asks the students what are the first words that come to their minds as they watch the clip. Some say “masculinity” while others mention “physical ability,” “control,” “power” and “engineering perfection.”
After the Gender Studies 102 class on power, professor Han shared with The Korea Herald that later in the course, which focuses on feminist theories on power and mobility, she plans to lecture on women taken as sex slaves by Imperial Japan, the decriminalization of abortion in South Korea, the history of the adoption of Korean children, Korean women’s participation in protests and LGBTQ+ activism in Korea.
“I consider myself a Korean studies scholar,” she said at her office on the UCLA campus, explaining her teaching approach that combines Korean and global topics within a broader perspective.
Rich program, but few job opportunities
While Korean language, literature, culture, civilization, history, philosophy and religion are taught by faculty of the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at UCLA, professors of other academic disciplines such as gender studies, theater, film and television, anthropology, Asian American studies and ethnomusicology also offer courses on Korea or share examples and stories from Korea in class.
Among US universities, UCLA has the largest faculty teaching Korean studies -- 11 core faculty, four affiliated faculty and five Korean language lecturers -- according to professor Namhee Lee, the director of the UCLA Center for Korean Studies who teaches modern Korean history.
“It is the only university in the US that has courses on premodern history and literature, as well as modern literature and history,” she explained.