korean times

Irish scholar spreads Korean studies at home

By Kang Hyun-kyung

Irish people know Samsung, LG and Hyundai, but many of them don’t realize they are Korean companies. 

Kevin Cawley, a professor at University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland, is striving to narrow the awareness gap by spreading Korean culture and history in his home country through a Korean studies program. 

Cawley will teach Korean philosophy and religion this semester at UCC, making him the first and only scholar teaching such studies in the European nation. 

“I hope that such Korean powerhouses as Samsung, LG and Hyundai can help promote Korea in Ireland and create a stronger relationship between both countries,” he said Sunday.

Cawley, also deputy director of the Irish Institute of Korean Studies at the university, earned his Ph.D. in Korean studies from the School of East Asian Studies at the University of Sheffield, the United Kingdom, after previously having lived in Korea for nearly seven years. 

For his dissertation, he did research on the religious threads of thought in the writings of Jeong Yak-yong (1762-1836). Jeong was a prolific writer, thinker and scholar renowned for his extensive writings and knowledgeable understanding of several academic fields, including philosophy, medical science, engineering and history. 

Besides teaching academic courses, Cawley will also provide Korean language courses at the university. To help his students learn Korean efficiently, he plans to use TV dramas and films for his language classes at the university.

“I am happy that there are many excellent Korean TV dramas and movies that I can use to show what an exciting, advanced and developed country Korea is, yet one that has a rich traditional culture to see everywhere,” he said.

His post at the UCC is funded by the Academy of Korean Studies. 

“China and Japan receive a lot of publicity in Ireland but until now Korea has remained in the background.”

 Cawley said he would help change this imbalance with his passion and enthusiasm by promoting Korean culture and history through a variety of academic activities. 

The Irish scholar calls Korea and Ireland “cousin countries,” saying they have a few similarities.

“Both countries were colonized by their close neighbors and both are divided today. I hope my students will discover the rich history and culture of Korea, which shares more than a few similarities with Ireland.” 

He first came to Korea in 2001 to teach English for a year. But soon decided to change his plans.

Cawley, who double-majored in French and Irish at Trinity University Dublin, said he “fell in love with” Korea and decided to explore its culture and history further.

During his seven-year stay here, he learned Korean with the help of his Korean friends, Chinese characters and even earned a taekwondo black belt.

His “Koreanization” led to his pursuit of a doctoral degree in Korean studies in Britain after leaving Korea. 

Returning to Ireland after finishing his Korean studies program, Cawley said he felt like a foreigner there. “In a sense I feel like a Korean in exile. I now understand how Jeong Yak-yong felt while in exile in Gangjin for 18 years.”


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