National museum hosts Korean studies students
By Kwon Mee-yoo
A group of 20-and 30-something foreigners visited Changdeok Palace, and Jongmyo, a UNESCO-registered royal shrine from the Joseon Kingdom, in central Seoul, Friday. They were different from other tourists, as they did not take souvenir photographs but rather showed more interest in the history and architecture.
The aspiring Korean scholars were invited by the National Museum of Korea, as a part of its fellowship program that began this year. The National Museum of Korea Fellowship (NMK Fellowship) aims to raise the quality of Korean studies, nurture Korea scholars and boost networking of Korean studies experts across the globe.
A total of 13 master and doctoral students majoring in Korean or Asian studies participated in the first NMK Fellowship, based on Koreanologists’ recommendation, from July 9 to 20.
The fellows are from various countries — the United States, Japan, China, Chile, Germany and Australia. Some of the students have established connections to Korea, while others are new to the country.
Maya Stiller, a German studying a doctoral degree in Korean Buddhism at University of California, Los Angeles, and Yuichiro Tashiro, a master student at Tokyo University of the Arts’ studying Korean white porcelain, were communicating in fluent Korean.
Stiller is half-Korean and half-German, and also participated in the Korean Foundation’s curator workshop last year.
“I like the diversity,” she said, referring to the varied background of participants. “Some study ancient times while some study Goryeo and Joseon. In terms of the fields of study, there are students majoring in painting, ceramics and metal crafts.”
Tashiro, 22, the youngest of the fellows, fell in love with Korean ceramics in high school when he read Muneyoshi Yanagi’s essays on Korean white porcelain. Currently, he is studying the ceramics of the late Silla Kingdom for his master’s degree. “Korean porcelains have simple charm. It is difficult to explain, but I feel like seeing a human when I see Korean ceramics,” Tashiro said.
He said Lee In-sung’s exhibition on at the National Museum of Contemporary Art’s Deoksu Palace branch was impressive. “It was interesting to see how he was influenced by Japanese artists of the time,” he added.
Ignacio Adriasola from Chile just finished his doctoral degree on Japanese art history at Duke University in North Carolina. It was the first time for Adriasola to visit Korea. “I hope to broaden my work to encompass the entire East Asia. I knew about the Korea-Japan relationship, but most of my knowledge is from the Japanese viewpoint. I will supplement my knowledge this time,” he said. “It’s really stimulating thinking about the connections between the two countries.”
Adriasola added that this was a good chance to understand the importance of exchange and interconnectedness of cultural dynamics in East Asia.
The two-week course covers Korean history and culture intensively from archaeology to metal crafts and ceramics. The fellows take lectures in the morning and visit museums and other sites in the afternoon.
The lecturers are top-notch scholars in Korea, including Kim Young-na, director of the museum and professor of art history at Seoul National University, and Kim Do-kyoung, an architecture professor at Kangwon National University.
The fellows complimented the quality of lectures in unison, saying they gave a good overview of Korean studies. Stiller said it was nice that the professors gave up-to-date information. “I learned a lot about Buddhist stupas, and as many of them were found in the last decade, they were new to me. I could use these in my lectures to undergraduate students when I get a professors position,” she said.
They also loved the visit to the national flagship museum’s storage area. “We wouldn’t have got such an opportunity to see the stored artifacts if we visited the museum individually. Even when we request a showing, the museum usually takes out a designated piece,” Nathaniel Kingdon from UCLA said.
He said he has a list of museums he wants to visit and is excited about seeing new things. “Maybe I’ll find something for my future research,” he said.
During the weekend, the fellows visited Buseok Temple, Sosu Seowon (Confucian School) and Gyeongju National Museum — the itinerary included highlights of Korean Buddhist and Confucian architecture as well as the Gyeongju National Museum. Coming lectures this week will feature subjects such as Buddhist sculptures, paintings, ceramics and a visit to the museum’s lab to learn how to handle artifacts.
The National Museum of Korea will continue the program yearly, encouraging talented Korean studies students.