Korean Studies e-school offers learning opportunities for students in Latin America

Noelia Berardi, Eduardo Tadeo Hernandez and Grecia Pinto were among a group students from Mexico and Argentina who took UCLA Korean Studies e-school courses last fall. The group met face-to-face for the first time last week. (Photo by Rebecca Kendall)

Korean Studies e-school offers learning opportunities for students in Latin America


Professor John Duncan leads innovative program to enhance Korean Studies teaching and learning south of the border.


“Our long-term is to create high-quality, self-sustaining PhD programs in Latin America.” ~Professor John Duncan

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A Korean art exhibit initially sparked student Grecia Pinto’s interest in Korean studies. For law student Noelia Berardi, it was a keen interest in international relations. And so the two women from Latin America, who admit they knew very little about Korea before last fall, took a UCLA Korean studies class together last year.

But until last week, they had never been in the same room before.

Pinto, a fourth-year international studies major at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and Berardi, a fourth-year law student at the National University of La Plata in Argentina, took part in a UCLA pilot project that brought together learners and faculty from three universities in three different countries to study Korea and its place in the world online.

Using videoconferencing technology and Skype, this e-learning format allowed students from Mexico and Argentina to join UCLA students in a series of online courses hosted by UCLA.

Earlier this month, Pinto and Berardi were among a dozen undergraduate and graduate students from UNAM, La Plata and UCLA who met for the first time on the Westwood campus Jan. 4, 5 and 7 and at USC on Jan. 6 for a series of roundtable discussions to cap off their coursework.

Recognizing the growing interest in Korean language and culture and the limited range of experts specializing in Korean studies in Latin America, Professor John Duncan, director of the UCLA Center for Korean Studies and a globally recognized expert in Korean studies education, created the online courses for graduate and undergraduate students at the invitation of the Korea Foundation.

UCLA was selected to lead this initiative because of its stellar reputation as an educational leader, its strong Korean studies program and its geographical proximity to Latin America, which allows the campus to coordinate classes without great concern for time differences.

The campus also has a roster of scholars with wide-ranging expertise. Universities in Latin America "have some very good scholars working on political science and international relations and political economy, but they don’t have anyone doing work in Korean humanities or in various fields in the social sciences," Duncan said. "What we’re trying to do through this program is provide expertise in these areas where we can offer perspective and expertise that they don’t have."

In August, the first two offerings went live: an undergraduate course in international relations taught by Professor David Kang of USC and a graduate course on early-modern Korean history taught by Duncan.

"I chose this class because it was interesting, it was a new experience and UCLA was organizing it," said Berardi, the law student.

Eduardo Tadeo Hernandez, a first-year Korean studies master’s student at Colegio de México, was particularly interested in learning about Korea’s economic development and how its model might be applied to Mexico. He spent last year’s winter quarter at UCLA taking classes in Korean history and Buddhism in India.

Benefiting from the mix of students, was important to Hernandez."When you have classes with people from different nationalities, you get different perspectives. They don’t only take into account their own experience of life, but also their sense of nationality."

Building on this recent success, two additional courses will be offered in the spring semester, said Duncan, who wants eventually to create high-quality, self-sustaining Ph.D. programs in Latin America. "We’re not trying to implant a particular U.S. view of Korea in Latin America," he explained. "We’re trying to make it possible for the people there to develop their own, well-informed understandings of Korea and Korea’s place in the world."

This vision is welcomed by Juan Felipe López, an associate professor at the Center for African and Asian Studies at El Colegio de México, and Jorge Rafael di Masi, head of the Department of Asian and Pacific Studies at La Plata.

"In Mexico, we don’t have enough experts in all areas," said López, who is the only full-time faculty member at El Colegio de México, the only institution in Latin America to offer a Korean studies program for graduate students.  "The e-school is a very good opportunity for us to get first-class courses. Fortunately, with the technology that’s available, this is possible. My wish would be that more universities join so we can make an even broader community."

Di Masi, who has known Duncan for nearly a decade and worked with him on a number of projects and student exchanges, said the program marked the first time a course had been taught in English at La Plata and had united students and faculty from three countries. "This was truly historic for us," said di Masi.

If things go well, the program will expand to include more courses and more universities, said Duncan, adding that he also hopes the program will one day include Latin American instructors who will teach courses in Spanish or Portuguese and provide a platform for UCLA Korean Studies courses to be made available to other West Coast schools. 

Published: Monday, January 09, 2012