How I Studied Korean Art and Archaeology

Korean Folk Village: Jeju Island

I’ve always had an affinity towards Korean culture, particularly its modern and ancient art. Growing up with a close Korean friend, the culture was often more familiar than my own. This is what led me to pursue an MA degree in Korean art and archaeology, a choice that continues to reward me long after graduation.

Do you have a similar background? Perhaps you have related interests? You may be wondering how I was able to fulfill my dreams, and also to where it has led me. I hope that the information shared in this article will inspire you to take your knowledge of Korea to the next level. After all, there’s always more to learn.

Studying Chinese

My year abroad at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. One of the best years of my life.

When I was 17, I moved from my sleepy cornfield town in Ohio to the big city across the pond: Manchester, England. This was all in pursuit of a degree in Chinese Studies, as well as an opportunity to see more of the world. Despite the constant trickling rain and unshakable fashion of denim shorts over leggings, Manchester quickly became my home.

I had actually studied Chinese for one year before attending University, which came as an enormous help. Due to my comfort with the language, I didn’t have to spend as much time on assignments and instead used my energy to adjust to life abroad and meet new people.

Although I deeply love Chinese, Taiwanese, and Hong Kong culture, I knew there was something else reigning in my heartstrings. Something that had been there since I was a girl: Korean. But in 2011, the ‘K-wave’ had not quite shaken the world, and academic institutions were not interested in a Korean department. Manchester did, however, offer three-hour Korean night classes.

TDLR; I wouldn’t recommend night schools if you’re more socially inclined. Between movie nights, society gatherings, and travelling around the UK, I never wanted to go to class. My Korean did not improve at all during this time and counteractively made me dislike studying the language. I’m the kind of person who, if I can’t dedicate my entire time to something, I won’t be satisfied.

If your school or community does offer language classes and you are ready to cut other things out of your schedule, go for it! Sometimes studying when we’re too busy can cause us to take our angst out on the language itself. Just a fair warning if you’re anything like me.

Cheers to you, Dr. Payne.

After three years of Chinese Studies, I reflected on how Korean would play a role in my future. Many of my close friends in Manchester were Korean, which helped me maintain some speaking skills and cultural knowledge. I highly suggest joining as many Korean language groups and cultural opportunities that are available to you.

However, what really shifted my life towards Korean art was an Asian art history course led by my mentor, Dr. Payne. Before that, I had imagined what all language major students did: a job in banking, translation, or teaching. Bleh. But after a single module, I had no doubt that art would steer my future one way or another.

As I wrapped up my final year, I was forced to think about the next step. Would I continue with Chinese and move to Taipei? How about International Business at Ehwa Women’s University? Or perhaps an MA in Korean Art and Archaeology in London?

Oh, yeah. The last one. I like the sound of that.

Studying Korea

I entered SOAS (University of London) in 2016. SOAS is famous around the world for its education centered on African and Asian cultures. SOAS is predominantly made up of international students and hosts only 6,000 students in total. It’s not the easiest school to get into, but if you have decent grades and demonstrate a clear passion in your respected area, you increase your chances of acceptance.

Although this school has had many recent issues related to decolonization, administration, and finance, it remains one of the best resources for academic material on Korea outside the country itself. In particular, the SOAS library became my intimate and close friend during the course of my MA.

My official degree title is quite lengthy: MA History of Art and Archaeology of East Asia with Intensive Korean Language. What that basically means is that I was able to study the art and archaeology of East Asia, but only the Korean language. I definitely ventured out of Korea into studies such as art theory, Chinese painting, and museum curation, but most of my classes were Korea-related in one way or another. All classes were incredibly valuable. Don’t dismiss a degree if the title doesn’t necessarily have the word ‘Korean’ in it. Be sure to check out the available modules first.

For those who are wondering, I wrote my MA dissertation on the influence of Joseon ceramics on contemporary Korean artwork. I consider myself a Joseon expert and hope to continue my PhD research along the same line.

Of course, there were ups and downs during my degree. For one, my advisor Dr. Charlotte Horlyck (an amazing woman – look her up), was on sabbatical for one of the two years I attended school. What does that mean? No teacher. No classes. So, many of the art-related classes were canceled for an entire year.

But listen. You’ve just got to make it work. Life is going to throw a lot of crap in your direction. So, here are some things I did to make sure I immersed myself in Korean culture as much as I could. Why? Because I really love it, fully and truly. I was hungry for more. I’m still hungry for more.

During that time, I…

… took Korean literature courses, ancient and modern.

… sat in on BA Korea-related classes without any credit.

… started a North Korean Society at my school to work with local refugees turned friends.

… took Korean dance lessons.

… attended Korea-related events in London and got to meet celebrities like Lee Byung-hun (이병헌) and Lee Je-hoon (이제훈).

… volunteered as a docent at the Korean Cultural Center in Trafalgar Square.

… became a member of the British Museum to get closer access to their South/North Korean section.

… befriended the Korean professors at my school that were outside of my degree.

… and more.

My ‘hunger’ is one of the things that made me successful in my degree and during my time in Korea. It didn’t come easy. I spent a lot of late nights in the library and a lot of time on the weekends attending events and making connections. If you’re committed to what you study and research, you’ll always find more resources available to you outside of just the regular class syllabus. Don’t just do what you’re told or what you’re given; make your own future.

Moving to Korea

A lot of people told me not to move to Korea when I did. That’s because I moved there before I submitted my MA dissertation. I was writing it on the plane, in my empty Seoul apartment, and in any bingsu cafe I could find. Finishing my research in Korea was helpful because it motivated me further and gave me access to in-country material.

However, I wouldn’t recommend this for most people. Coming here without a job means that you need to rely on your savings for a while or be comfortable with any old job to survive.

As soon as I got to Korea, I applied to speak at a history conference hosted by Korea Univesity and got accepted. Searching databases for academic conferences to share your research is a great way to meet like-minded people and even seek out work opportunities. To do this, go to google and simply type in: ‘Call for Papers Korea’. You’ll find a lot of great websites that host conference calls around the world. If you’re lucky, you may even get a chance to fly somewhere new. This is my favorite website for conference listings.

A friendly tip: you don’t have to speak about something related to your degree. For example, I spoke at a conference in London about contemporary Korean literature, an area that I am still quite a novice in. Don’t put yourself down: if you think you have a really great piece of writing, try submitting it to a conference!

Getting a Job in Korea

Getting a job in Korea can be tough if you’re not willing to be an English teacher. Art-related jobs in particular are most commonly restricted to Koreans, as the country is currently making efforts to keep their domestic employment rate high. That being said, there are various galleries and auction companies that are interested in hiring foreigners. There’s just one thing that you’ll need to do: contact them directly.

Regardless of if they were hiring or not, I emailed places I loved and wanted to work for. I attached my resume, both in English and Korean, as well as a bilingual email about how much I enjoyed the work their company did. I got many replies. Some were apologies that they were not hiring. Others said that they could not take foreigners due to visa issues. And yet, I did get several replies asking me to come for an interview. Yes!

My first job was at an art gallery in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods of Seoul. The boss was willing to help me get a visa once I completed my internship, but after a month of working there, I realized it was not the place for me. For reasons I will not disclose, I knew I needed to get out of there. Many art galleries run the risk of being difficult places to work as they are money-centric and often a sole proprietorship. Aka: do what your boss tells you without any exception. Oh yeah, and make them rich.

My second company was an online art auction company dedicated to introducing the public to lesser-known artists. It was a phenomenal experience and I adored working with my boss, Mia. She is one of the kindest and most considerate people I have ever met. It was so much fun going to openings with her, writing reviews, and grabbing lunches with young artists. We desperately wanted to continue working together, but her company was sadly too small to hire a foreigner. By law, companies must have five native workers before hiring a non-Korean. Many companies do not actually know this, so if you end up doing an internship somewhere, make sure that this measure is fulfilled.

As we realized this towards the very end of my D-10 (Job Seeking) visa, I was unfortunately in a rush to find a new job and therefore ending up teaching English for employees at the Bank of Korea. For me, teaching English was not a huge concern as long as it was with adults. Meeting some first-and-foremost members in the Korean economy definitely was advantageous and quite frankly fun (their English was so good that we often just got to chat).

That being said, there are companies that would like to hire foreigners in Korea. Due to visa complications though, this is why I suggest finding a job BEFORE you come to Korea (unlike silly ol’ me). If that’s impossible or they want you to complete an internship, try applying for the D-10 visa. It’s your best 6-month ticket into Korea and you can extend it for up to one year. When you get here, start looking for jobs right away and don’t stop to take breaks. You’ll thank yourself for it later, and trust me, I know how tempting those Hongdae parties are.

The Future

A very happy Allie after just moving to Korea. Go Hui-dong Art Museum in Bukchon Hanok Village. Go is considered to be Korea’s first contemporary painter.

As I continue to meet artists, scholars and historians working and living in Korea, I now have my eyes set on something completely different: setting up my own businesses. That being said, I do still want to obtain my PhD and become a professor of Korean art and archaeology. Obviously the world needs more, or you wouldn’t be reading this article!

For those who want to study something similar, I’ve created a list below of some of the best options in the world for studying Korean art and archaeology. If you’re looking to start or further your education in this subject, or even take summer schools for a little extra info, keep scrolling!

International Schools Offering Korean Art and Archaeology

BA Degrees

School Name: SOAS, University of London
Location: London, England
Degree Title (Click title for link): BSc International Management (Korea)(Year Abroad) (not running 2020/21) , BA Korean, BA Korean and… (Combined Honours Degree)

Available Modules Related to Korea in 2020/2021:
Contemporary Korean Society
Grammar and Usage of the Korean Language
History of the Korean Language
Introduction to Hanja
Korean (Easy -> Advanced)
Korean Readings
Korean Composition
Advanced Korean Readings: Nation Building and Social Transformation
Advanced Korean Readings II: Gender, Culture and Society
Directed Readings in Advanced Korean
Korean-English Translation
Korean Cinema
Readings in Mixed Script Korean
The Other Korea: Korea Since 1945
Trajectories of Modernity in Modern Korean Literature

School Name: University of Hawaii
Location: Manoa, Hawaii, United States
Degree Title (Click title for link): B.A. in Korean, Minor in Korean, B.A. in Korean for Professionals

Available Modules Related to Korea in 2020/2021:
Selected Readings in Korean
Korean Oral Proficiency Through Film
Korean for Career Professionals
Korean for Academic Purposes
Introduction to Traditional Korean Literature
Introduction to Modern Korean Literature
East Asian Archaeology
Art of Korea
Asian Humanities
East Asian Civilizations

School Name: Bringham Young University
Location: Provo, Utah, United States
Degree Title (Click title for link): B.A. in Korean

Available Modules Related to Korea in 2020/2021:
Korean Language (1-4)
Selected Readings of Modern Korea
Korean Literature to 1900
Classical Korean
Pre-Modern Korea
Modern Korea
North Korean Language & Culture
Korean Religions and Culture

School Name: Ohio State University
Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States
Degree Title (Click title for link): B.A. in Korean

Available Modules Related to Korea in 2020/2021:
Korean Language (1-5)
Elements of Korean Culture
Korean Literature in Translation
Individual Research Project
Korean Politics and Society
Korean Language: Structure, Culture and Communication
Korean Linguistics
Performance Traditions of Korea
Korean Dramatic Tradition

MA Degrees

School Name: SOAS, University of London
Location: London, England
Degree Title (Click title for link): History of Art and Archaeology of East Asia with Intensive Korean ,

Available Modules Related to Korea in 2020/2021:
The Silk Road and its Origins: Art and Archaeology
Arts of Goryeo and Joseon Korea
Modern and Contemporary Korean Art
Asia and Africa On Display: Objects, Exhibitions and Transculturism
Theory and Method in Art History
Musical Traditions of East Asia (Masters)
East Asian Buddhist Thought
Trajectories of Modernity in Korean Literature

School Name: Columbia Univesity
Location: New York, United States
Degree Title (Click title for link): MA in East Asian Studies

Available Modules Related to Korea in 2020/2021:
Approaches to International and Global History
Buddhism and Korean Culture
Colloquium on Conflict and Culture in Korean History
Colloquium on Korean History to 1900
Colloquium on Major Texts: East Asia
Colloquium on Modern East Asian Texts
Colloquium on Modern Korean History
Colonial and Postcolonial Korea
Culture and Society of Choson Korea
Cultures of Colonial Korea
History of Korea to 1900
History of Modern Korea
Introduction to East Asian Civilizations:  Korea
Korean Literature and Film
Modern Korean Literature in Translation
Postcolonial Korean Literature and Criticism
Religious Traditions in Korea
Seminar on Geopolitics
Seminar on Korean Historical Materials
Senior Thesis Seminar
Women and Gender in Korean History

School Name: University of Hawaii
Location: Manoa, Hawaii, United States
Website: Click here.

Taken from the Univesity website:

There is no academic degree in “Korean Studies” per se, but some two dozen disciplinary fields confer bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees with a complete or partial Korean component in the curricula, theses, and dissertations. The list below is not exhaustive but highlights the most common fields of study.

Asian Studies (Korea): B.A., M.A.
Korean Language: B.A., M.A. and Ph.D.
Korean Literature:, M.A. and Ph.D.
History (Korea focus): M.A. and Ph.D.
Political Science (Korea focus): M.A. and Ph.D.
Linguistics (Korean focus): M.A. and Ph.D.
Second Language Studies (Korean focus): M.A. and Ph.D.
Sociology (Korea focus): M.A. and Ph.D.
Ethnomusicology (Korea focus): M.A. and Ph.D.
Dance (Korea focus): M.A. and Ph.D.
Economics (Korea focus): M.A. and Ph.D.
Urban and Regional Planning (Korea focus): M.A. and Ph.D.
Communication and Information Sciences (Korea focus): M.A. and Ph.D.
Speech (Korea focus): M.A.
Education (Korea focus): M.A. and Ph.D.
Business Administration (Korea focus): M.A. and Ph.D.

Some other fields of study offer Korea-related courses but too few to constitute a Korea focus for degree purposes. These include:

Art History: M.A.
Philosophy: M.A. and Ph.D.
Religion: M.A. and Ph.D.
Anthropology: M.A. and Ph.D.
Theatre: M.A. and Ph.D.

Schools In Korea


School Name: Korea University
Location: Seoul, South Korea
Degrees (click title for info): BA Korean History, MA Korean History,
Website: Click here.

Courses Available:
There are so many BA courses available related to Korean History that you may want to check out the full list here.

The MA degree offers even more courses. For a full list, click here.

Please note that the majority of these classes will be done entirely in Korean and you will need a TOPIK score of 5+ to be accepted to the University.

School Name: Seoul National University
Location: Seoul, South Korea
Degrees (click title for info): BA Korean Art and Archaeology, BA Korean History, MA Korean History, MA Archaeology, MA Art History

Courses Available:
For a full list of Art and Archaeology courses, you can click here.
For a full list of Korean History courses, you can click here.

Please note that the majority of these classes will be done entirely in Korean and you will need a TOPIK score of 5+ to be accepted to the University.

School Name: Korea University (Sejong Campus)
Location: Sejong, South Korea
Degrees (click title for info): MA Art and Archaeology

Courses Available:
For a full list of courses, please click the link above. Only MA available.

Please note that the majority of these classes will be done entirely in Korean and you will need a TOPIK score of 5+ to be accepted to the University.

Summer & Winter Schools

School Name: Korea University
Location: Seoul, South Korea
Course: Korean and East Asian Studies (6 Weeks)
Website: Click here.

Courses Available:
East Asia: Tradition and Today
South-North Korean Relations in Historical Context
Contemporary Korean Society
Mass Media and Popular Culture in Korea
Korean Cinema and Visual Culture
Introduction to Korean Art History
Language, Culture, and Society in Korea
Korean Literature and Culture
Business and Management in Contemporary Korea
Introduction to Modern Korean Art
Introduction to Korean History and Culture

School Name: Seoul National University
Location: Seoul, South Korea
Courses: Korean Studies, Arts
Website: Click here.

Full course list available here.

School Name: Hanyang University
Location: Seoul, South Korea
Courses (click title for info): Korean History & Culture, Language, Culture and Society in Korea
Website: Click here.

Courses Available:
Consuming Korean Tradition: Korean traditional dance and music
Korean Lifestyles
K Wave (1 & 2)
Korean multiculturalism and national identity
North Korea
Korean society and its transformation
Political and economic development in South Korea
Korean spirituality
+ more unlisted courses available

Are you thinking of expanding your research into Korea further? Why not consider art and archaeology? There are plenty of specialties to choose from: music, dance, archaeology, contemporary art, ancient art, etc. Maybe this post even convinced you that this isn’t the best choice. If you still have any questions, drop a comment below!

If you love what we do and want to see more, why not consider becoming a patron? You’ll get access to exclusive benefits like extra podcast stories, snail mail and video tours! Read more about how you can support us here. Thank you again for all of the love!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *