[KS] anyone knows? - first Korean student in Britain?

Frank Hoffmann hoffmann at koreanstudies.com
Thu Sep 10 21:28:12 EDT 2015

A few basic considerations:

(1) While I am not at all familiar with the higher British educational 
system (Jim Hoare and others on this list may want to educate us 
non-islanders on this), *if* there was any resemblance to the setup in 
Germany or France, then that means there were hardly any fields in the 
modern sense before the end of World War I or the time around 1920. 
There would have been four faculties only: Faculty of Theology, Faculty 
of Law, Faculty of Medicine,
and the Philosophical Faculty. Most frequently, when going through the 
standard Wikipedia-like short bios at Korean websites of Koreans who 
have studied in Europe, one finds entries such as So-and-so graduated 
in Philosophy at such-and-such university. In many cases that then 
turns out to be a cultural translation problem (based on hash-hash 
research). In fact, this often only means that this person was a 
student in the Philosophical Faculty, which we would nowadays call the 
Faculty of Arts and Humanities. So, someone having taken courses in 
French literature, for example, would not have studied Philosophy -- 
but that is what we read in these short bios. ... In the late 1910s and 
the 1920s, the situation changes, but only step by step.

(2) Another issue is that of 'graduation': until the 1920s, in the 
Prussian/German case at least, there was nothing like a "graduation" 
OTHER THAN the doctoral degree. Therefore, when you read So-and-so 
graduated in 1924 at such-and-such European university (NOT sure about 
Britain!), then you may want to question that statement -- unless that 
person received a doctoral title. People in those times simply attended 
university, took a course here and there, and then left, saying they 
have a university education (which was at those times sufficient 
enough). At least half of those early students from Japan and Korea 
only took two, three, or four courses (same applies to the study of 
Korans in Japan, by the way), then moved on. 

(3) There was an amazing degree of fraud going on, or call it 
"adjustment of reality" or whatever nice term you like the best. When 
you follow the biographies of Koreans having studied in Europe (in the 
1910s, 1920s, and 1930s), and see what they later, back in Korea, claim 
to have studied, then that often does not match up with what we find in 
their actual university records. People applied ALL SORTS of 
adjustments to their own bios, starting from the actual time spent at a 
university to the fields studied, the professors claimed to have been 
their teachers, to the actual degrees received. Now, and that is 
important, this WAS NOT AT ALL a specific Korean phenomena whatsoever. 
There was no Internet back then, and nobody could verify anything 
easily. Germans, French, Hungarians, etc. did the very same thing. You 
will see that if you look closer at any group of scholars or people in 
office then. (People just were yet the boring and streamlined 
custom-made Facebook personalites as they are today.)

Now about Robert Neff's question -- why Koreans were able to travel and 
study in the US earlier than in Britain.
First, I am not even sure that is the case. But I think the question as 
such is not that essential, simply because -- and we talk about the 
EARLY times here, the late 19th century and up to about 1910 -- you 
will find that there was not much of _planning_ done for going to 
either country or continent. In the 1920s Korean landowner families 
could already fill their shopping cards by choosing from a catalog of 
options; they had the cash and could pick and choose where to send 
their sons to. Foreign countries and their universities were being 
discussed in the _Maeil sinbo_ and some Korean magazines (already in 
the 1910s, actually). But before 1910 or 1914, if you look at the 
stories of why and how the two handful of Koreans ended up in the US, 
Britain, Paris, or Berlin, then we see that a great deal of 
coincidences and suddenly arising opportunities were the decisive 
factors for where they went. So, I think this question makes more sense 
looking at the times from or after World War I. 

As for Europe: we do not have reliable statistics on how many Koreans 
studied where in Europe for the time before 1945. Some Korean scholars 
have tried to provide those, but these numbers are all estimates. The 
reason for this is the colonial situation, of course. One group of 
Koreans came as political refugees, often with Chinese names and 
passports, others came as Japanese citizens and were classified by the 
European institutions as such, again others came with Japanese or 
Chinese papers but were classified according to their own will as 
Koreans. That is a complicated situation, and so the numbers are not 
reliable -- and the reports of the Japanese embassy-based secret 
service (from 1910 onwards), who did pretty much know about the real 
identities of all Koreans if they stayed a little longer, well, these 
reports never gave any statistics I am aware of.
The numbers we do have are those of Japanese students. And those show 
that BEFORE the early 1930s (in Wilhelminian Prussia and Weimar 
Germany), 60 to 80%, depending on the year, of all Japanese studying 
abroad (world-wide) did choose German universities :) 
This is something easily overlooked because of that Barbaric history 
that followed and that overshadowed just everything before.


On Thu, 10 Sep 2015 14:27:09 +0100, Jim Hoare wrote:
> One of those questions one should know but doesn’t. The difference 
> with the Americans is that the British missionaries were a small 
> group, not well off and without a great deal of support at home. They 
> did not establish the schools and hospitals that their American 
> counterparts did and which provided the training and funding needed 
> to go abroad to study. I wonder what Chang studied at Edinburgh – 
> Yun Po–sun, in the 1920s, read archeology – did Chang?
> Jim Hoare 

Frank Hoffmann

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