Image of Korea from the International Point of View
The Korean Wave (Hallyu) significantly changed the image of Korea in Canada. What was simply known as a small country before has now captured the heart and eyes of individuals all around the world through the ever-so-talented k-pop groups who could sing and dance along with the strong storylines that k-dramas provided. However, this Korean Wave, along with the high political tension between North Korea and the rest of the world, seems to be the only images of South Korea available to many of my peers and teachers. These two strong images of Korea leaves very little room for people to appreciate and learn about the rich Korean culture and history that stretches back around five thousand years. How can we improve the image of Korea beyond Hallyu and the North Korean conflict? With the rise of digital media and game technology, it will be most beneficial to find a way to incorporate Hallyu, the history, and the culture into an interactive technological experience available to anyone who has a mobile phone. This will allow users to experience life in the past and present day of Korea, leaving individuals around the world with a long-lasting, holistic image of Korea.
Images of Korea in International Instructional Materials
Throughout history and geography classes from elementary to high school, very limited information was taught about anything related to Korea or even East Asian studies. The only geography course available was World Issues and the only history courses available were American History and World History. While taking World History, there was one topic regarding the Korean War but even this had a very strong Western focus that included what the role of Canada and the United States was for this war. The lack of information available in educational resources in schools all across Canada makes it difficult for anyone to learn about the Korean history and culture in what is supposed to be an educational setting.
The Hallyu Expansion in Canada
Although Korean culture and history are scarce in educational settings, Hallyu is prominent in many areas across Canada for people of all ages. For younger generations, the recent rise of digital media has made it easier to watch videos of k-pop idols online, inspiring many people in Canada, and even at my school, to create their own k-pop dance groups. Many Hallyu stars are also well-known for their signature luminous “glass skin” look that started the widespread demand for k-beauty products, such as the famous sheet masks. Korean food featured in popular k-dramas has sparked interest for all age groups to try out Korean dishes, such as bibimbap and bulgogi. This increased demand has allowed for numerous k-beauty brands, such as Innisfree and Tonymoly, to acquire spots in large-scale shopping malls and for KoreaTowns to expand rapidly in many large cities across Canada.
A Change in Perspective
Over the past few years, many international Hallyu fans started learning Korean with the goal of understanding k-pop or k-dramas or one day being able to interact with Hallyu stars in Korean. Although the Korean language, history, and culture are essentially non-existent in the standard Canadian school curriculum, many students have created their own Korean clubs to help each other out with this common goal. However, from my personal interactions with these dedicated fans, it has come to my attention that many of them have experienced challenges in finding good, engaging learning materials to keep them consistently motivated. These fans not only want to learn the language but wish to understand the history behind it, such as who invented the Korean alphabet. The frustration expressed from the fans inspired me into thinking of a much more entertaining educational experience.
The Interactive Experience
Since Hallyu has brought much attention to Korea, it is crucial to seize this moment to make the immense history and culture Korea has to offer visible to the world. In order to further develop Korea’s image as a culture-rich and exciting country, it is most important to make these aspects easily accessible to many people around the world. In particular, targeting younger generations would be critical since they are the future global citizens who would most likely engage with and visit Korea the most in the present and future. Keeping this focus, the experience of Korean culture and history should be entertaining, interactive, technologically friendly, and intellectually stimulating. That is why I was inspired by the game called Pokémon Go to create a game scenario where users are able to explore Korean communities and historical landmarks while still being able to make it an educational experience. In Pokémon Go, users are able to use augmented reality (AR) technology to explore their neighborhood while catching Pokémon with an important aspect of the game being virtual stations called Pokéstops. The only way to access these Pokéstops, which are usually placed near landmarks or popular tourist spots, is to physically visit the place in real life and use the game to collect items for the Pokémon.
Incorporating such aspects into the Korean interactive experience will allow users to explore their community, nearby Korea Towns, and Korean stores outside of Korea. It could even inspire them to visit Korea for further learning, travelling beyond the k-beauty shops or Hallyu-focused areas in Seoul to places like Gyeongju or Gongju, which are the areas filled with historical landmarks and traditions. For this particular game, the Taegeuk symbol would be used in the place of the original Pokéstop symbol. Each Taegeuk Spot would have a short video explaining one aspect of Korean history and culture. If the Taegeuk Spot, for example, is stationed near a Korean restaurant, it could share information about a Korean dish or eating traditions. This will not only allow users to become more immersed into the Korean culture in their neighborhood, allowing local Korean businesses to prosper, but it will also give users a new image about Korea, while also acting as an enjoyable learning experience.
In order to incorporate more traditional Korean images into the game, characters such as Hodori, the 1988 Seoul Olympic Mascot, could be the primary mascot for the game. The videos shown at Taegeuk Spots could feature popular Hallyu stars. This will be especially effective because while listening to the dedicated fans attempting to learn Korean, I found that they really enjoyed when they were able to see famous stars in educational videos. An example of this would be from the popular TV show “Infinite Challenge” and their “Hip Hop X History” special. In this episode, famous musicians, such as Zico and Song Min-ho, teamed up with the cast to create six original songs about the history of Korea. This episode garnered much support and attention from fans all over the world because it was able to combine an already popular aspect of Korea, Hallyu, with less well-known aspects, such as the history into an educational but entertaining episode.
To reward users for interacting with Taegeuk Spots, there could be an aspect of the game where they are able to test their knowledge, such as a quiz or crossword, that they gained from watching the videos. If they succeed in each task, they will be able to unlock certain characters (actors, k-pop idols, etc.) to link with in the game. This will incentivize users to visit more Taegeuk Spots to watch the videos and gain more knowledge because it will eventually allow them to have more virtual interactions with their favourite Hallyu stars and have these stars teach them more about Korean culture and history.
The expansion of Hallyu has brought much attention to Korea but to ensure that this attention turns into a long-lasting, holistic image, it is crucial that the culture, traditions, and history of Korea do not get overshadowed by Hallyu and that an equal balance ought to be made between these areas. The interactive Korean experience game proposed above will allow international fans of all ages to learn about the hidden aspects of Korea while still being able to interact with Hallyu stars, which makes this mobile game both an educational but enjoyable experience.
(Country of Activity : Canada)