Globalization and the Korean Language Boom

Globalization and the Korean Language Boom

This month, a Mason Korea student from the US, Giselle Rahimi, won the Incheon Free Economic Zone (IFEZ) Korean speech contest. Still more impressive is that she is a freshman, and largely self-taught.

I encourage you to watch this video of her speech. As someone struggles to learn Korean, I am in awe of Rahimi’s accent and fluidity! We are very proud of her, and of the two members of our terrific Korean language faculty, Hyang Lee and Sang Mee Oh, who coached her.

Rahimi is not alone in her interest in learning Korean. The Modern Language Associate just published its most recent tracking of foreign language enrollments in the US.  Covering the years 2016 – 2021, the tracking showed that enrollments in Korean language courses at US universities were up an astounding 38.3% during that period.

That sensational rise, which accelerates the 13.7% increase between 2013 and 2016, is all the more striking against a backdrop of the overall decline in foreign language enrollments in the US, by 14.7% in US 4-year institutions during the 2016 – 2021 period. Indeed, Korean was one of only 3 of 15 languages tracked that saw an increase. (American Sign Language increased by .8%; biblical Hebrew increased by 9.1%, but possibly because of a change in the study methodology.)

Though I am disappointed by the current decline of foreign language study in the US, I am happy that Mason and Mason Korea provide fantastic places for students like Rahimi who are enthusiastic about Korean. Mason is one of the few universities in the US that has a four-year, full curriculum in Korea. The major in Korean at Mason has also grown astoundingly fast, by over 400% since its establishment in 2019.

Students studying Korean at Mason have a great opportunity to come to Mason Korea to spend a semester or a year studying here, honing their language skills not only through our Korean courses, but also speaking Korean in daily life. In addition, an increasing number of students from the US, like Rahimi, enroll directly to Mason Korea.  Rahimi is from Virginia. How wonderful that Mason Korea gave her an opportunity, with in-state tuition!, to study the language and culture she loves in its national home.

It's worth noting too that Rahimi’s major at Mason is Global Affairs. In this major, and by attending a school that spans continents, Rahimi is preparing herself for an ever-more global future.

She is preparing herself in just the right way. One critique of the idea of globalization is that it is too often Americanization, rather than a two-way street. Though I think the case is more complicated, the decline of foreign language study in the US overall, in the very era of globalization, lends itself to that view.

I am proud that at Mason Korea, we, and students like Rahimi, are demonstrating a kind of globalization that involves deep mutual exchange. I hope the students like Rahimi, who show us what globalization can truly mean, keep coming to join us at Mason Korea.

And I hope that one day my Korean can be one-fifth as good as hers!  Congratulations, Giselle Rahimi.