Riding the Korean Wave

Starting next semester, students of “The Korean Wave” module may get the opportunity to learn K-pop dances as part of its new practicum component.

Dr. Liew has been researching on Korean culture since 2005, and is currently co-writing a research paper on Korean television programs and food culture. PHOTO: BENEDICT YEO

Dr. Liew has been researching on Korean culture since 2005, and is currently co-writing a research paper on Korean television programs and food culture. PHOTO: BENEDICT YEO

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Along the corridor of staff offices on level 2 at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, one stands out from the rest. Taped to its door is a poster all too familiar to fans of Korean culture; it shows an iconic scene from mega-popular cult drama “Descendants of the Sun.”

“This will allow students to revert their practical experience back to the classroom itself.”

Dr. Liew Kai Khiun

It comes as no surprise that the office belongs to Assistant Professor Liew Kai Khiun, who teaches the upper-level module, “The Korean Wave.” Students of this course learn how the popular culture is distributed and consumed. 

Hoping for his students to venture out of the classrooms for a more “on-the-ground” experience, he has decided to replace the traditional final examination with a practicum, starting next semester.

The revamped course will allow students to pick any Korean wave-related topic of their interests for their practicum, while doing in-depth research in the process.

“This will allow students to revert their practical experience back to the classroom itself,” explained Dr. Liew, 43. For example, he said students could possibly join Korean celebrity fan clubs or learn K-pop dances.

He added that the practicum will allow students to use the time spent studying for an exam to do something that is “more applicable” instead.

Three years ago, Dr. Liew developed the module as he believes that the Korean wave is a unique phenomenon.

“The Korean wave is the newest form of transnational circulation of popular culture in the region,” he said. “It is also a good learning experience for students about the media industry, pop culture, soft power, and how these materials circulate, especially in the era of the new media.” 

Unlike traditional lectures, his class has a mix of presentation slides, class discussions and screenings of Korean variety shows, films and dramas, such as the “phenomenal” drama “My Love from The Star.” 

Over the years,  Dr. Liew has realised that students tend to lack interest in dramas or films not from their time. To overcome this, he tries to screen dramas such as “Winter Sonata,” which are, at least, “part of their childhood memories.” 

Contrary to popular belief, the module does not only appeal to existing fans of Korean culture. Students who are new to Korean entertainment and even ethnic Koreans have also joined his class.

“A good number of my students are Koreans who are unaware of their popular culture. It was weird for me to teach Korean students the history behind Korean period dramas,” said Dr. Liew, whose favourite dramas include “Dae Jang Geum” and “Coffee Prince.”

Since 2005, Dr. Liew has been publishing articles about the Korean wave, such as an essay about the proliferation of K-pop inspired dance in Singapore, and is currently co-writing a research paper on Korean television programs and food culture.

“The Korean wave is, and will always be part of transnational pop culture.”

Dr. Liew Kai Khiun

He hopes that the module will teach his students the necessary skills on how to recognise and make sense of the everyday entertainment around them.

“Even though my class is about Korean popular culture specifically, the lessons learned can be applied to other contexts, such as consumer and entertainment research, organisation and performance,” he said.

Fourth-year WKWSCI student Chua Si Hui said that the module has helped her gain a deeper insight into the cultural sensation.

“Dr. Liew’s class made me realise that the Korean wave wasn't a stroke of luck. It was created by many factors, ranging from economic to technological,” said Chua. 

When asked about the new practicum, she said that it was an “interesting” take on the module.

“Especially for people who are not familiar with the Korean wave, the practicum can help to better immerse them in the culture and have a better understanding of the phenomenon.”

While the Korean wave has no sign of waning just yet, Dr. Liew does not rule out the possibility that it may be replaced by another phenomenon from a different Asian country. Though, he does not see this happening soon.

“The Korean wave is, and will always be part of transnational pop culture.” 

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