Edinburgh Korean Students Society Conference – Grant Report

Posted by: Hannah Giles  |  Posted on: December 15th, 2020

Edinburgh Korean Students Society held their 1st Korea Conference on 29 February 2020.


This was to commemorate Korea’s March 1st Independence Movement in 1919 against the Japanese colonial rule and to raise awareness among international students in Scotland.  Seven speakers were invited and the speeches addressed two topics – Korea’s independence movement and the Reunification of the Korean Peninsula. The BKS grant covered accommodation for the speakers. It was hoped that through the speeches more international students would get to understand Korean history better and that would allow them to understand Korean culture in more depth.


The goal of this conference was to share the history of Korea with students in Scotland. As Korean studies is one of the study areas that undergraduate students in Scotland have limited access to, it was hoped that this event would provide a wider opportunity for undergraduate students to learn about and discuss Korea’s history. On the day of the event, there were slightly more than 50 people attending. A lot of them attended all the sessions throughout, and some were there for only those topics that they were interested in. This number was close to what was expected, but regardless of how many people came it is believed that the event has improved the student experience. On the day the event had a bigger impact than expected.


During the breaks, the students were able to question and discuss with the speakers about the topics. The BKS grant also paid for refreshments, which created a place for students and researchers to talk about topics of interest.


In addition to students from Edinburgh University there were students from universities such as Glasgow University and University of Central Lancashire. Also, masters and PhD students in Asian studies enjoyed the conference. As there are limited academic events on Korean studies in Europe, the students and researchers found this conference to be a good place to discuss and present their research. One of the speakers observed that a lot more research needs to be done on Korea’s independence movement. He said that Edinburgh is the first city that Koreans settled in the1900s and said there could be more evidence in the archives in Edinburgh. This was very encouraging for students in Scotland, especially Edinburgh, to take part in research. Such conversations were an important part of the event and encouraged the organisers to feel that it was worthwhile.


The conference venue was the David Hume Theatre in the Edinburgh University main campus. It was located in the middle of the main campus, so it was easy to travel to for the audience.


The first contribution was a talk on Shin Sang-ok and the New Visions of North Korean Cinema by a PhD student from Edinburgh University. He shared some North Korean films and helped us to understand the two Koreas. Unfortunately, our second speaker from Aston University, due to talk on After Reunification: the Search for a Common Korean Identity, had to be cancelled due to illness, so there was an extended lunch break. Instead, during which the participants enjoyed a Korean meal (also funded by BKS).


After lunch, there was a talk by an author of the book “Deux Coréenées, a Daring Encounter” on her book. The second contribution was A Critical Reflection of the Peaceful Korean Independence Movement: Reviewing the First of March, Proclaiming the Independence of Korea. This speech gave the students background information on March 1st, and how Korea had struggled to gain independence. Next, we had a talk on “Paradigm Changes and Aid Modalities: A Case of South Korea’s Triangular Cooperation and the Implications for North Korea”. Many of the audience found this topic very interesting. It touched on how we should provide aid more wisely to North Korea and how it can impact each side. Lastly, there was a speech on “Diplomatic Activities of Representatives of Korean Provisional government in Paris, 1919” by a researcher from Paris. It showed that independence was not gained in a day, but there were many more activists that we are familiar with who let the world know about the will of Korea. There was a closing speech by a professor from Paris who is researching Korea’s Independence movements. We ended the conference with a film called “Never Ending Story”. It was a very short film, but shared a clear message on Korea’s independence. Through a survey conducted after the conference, participants commented that the speeches and the film helped them to learn more about activists who fought for independence.


Overall, although the conference was on very small scale compared to other academic forums, it has been a good start for EKSS. This was a very first conference on Korean studies in Scotland. It is planned to make this as an annual event so that more researchers and students can share their studies and also share the history of Korea with other students. It is hoped to have more students from Edinburgh University and other universities in Scotland, and provide them more in-depth learning experience on Korea. Though this is merely the starting point, continuing to hold such conferences will foster learning and understanding on Korea’s history for many more students in Scotland, and provoke interest and discussion about Korea.

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