Carolina launches Korean studies major

Korean studies majors will take Korean language courses as well as courses in Korean culture, literature, history and politics.

Three women dance in tradional Korean attire.
The Asian studies department celebrated the launch of the Korean studies major with Korean cultural performances last semester.

Thirteen years after 23 students enrolled in the first Korean language class at Carolina, the University has added a major in Korean studies to its curriculum. 

Korean studies majors will take Korean language courses as well as courses in Korean culture, literature, history and politics. Students who complete the requirements for the new major will receive a bachelor’s degree in Asian studies with a Korean studies concentration. The goal of the major is to enrich the students’ global understanding by showing different sides of this divided country.  

“We want to train scholars who have a global vision that is detailed, nuanced and based in a variety of different types of knowledge,” said Jonathan Kief, an assistant professor in Korean studies who led the development of the new major. “I hope that we can serve as a lens that refracts the light of their interests.” 

Korea is “not just a place on a map” but also a culture with multiple dimensions and multiple forms of diversity, identity and history, Kief saidThe new classes in the major will organize material by framing Korean history through different lenses, such as the class Kief teaches on gender and sexuality through Korean film. 

“We’re really here to serve their interests. We’ve intentionally built in a good amount of flexibility into the program so that students have a choice of what courses they take,” Kief said. 

Since 2010, when students were first able to minor in Korean studies, enrollments in Korean classes have steadily grown to now over 200One reason for the increase in enrollments is the international rise of K-pop music and culture, as seen in the popularity of Korean rapper PSY and boy band BTS.  

“The power of popular culture is hard to deny and very important to student interest,” Kief said. 

Six students are already declared Korean studies majors, and the University is developing more upper-level Korean language classes and planning for a new graduate program in Korean studies. Carolina faculty will lead their first Korean study abroad program this summer to give students an intensive language learning experience. 

“Now that we’re able to offer a major and more types of classes, we’re able to make the vision oglobal education more wide-ranging, more nuanced and more diverse,” Kief said.

Learn more about the major on the Asian Studies department website