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UH Center for Korean Studies celebrates 50 years of research and education

uh manoa center for korean studies
Lily Engh
/
HPR
The Center for Korean Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. The building was designed by Korean architects Chong In-guk and Na Sang-gi. The design of the building is influenced by the Gyeongbok Palace — a former royal palace in Seoul. The palace was a former gathering place for leaders.

The Center for Korean Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa turns 50 this year. The CKS building in the northeast corner of the campus is hard to miss.

The building was designed by Korean architects Chong In-guk and Na Sang-gi. The design of the building is influenced by the Gyeongbok Palace — a former royal palace in Seoul. The palace was a former gathering place for leaders.

The exterior is adorned with colorful plant and ash-based paint known as dancheong.

But the rich history of the center lies not only in its architecture but in its purpose to educate Americans about Korea and create a space of learning for Korean researchers.

Talks of building a Korean research center in the U.S. began in the 1960s. Korean scholars studying in the U.S. wanted to better understand the Korean War and Japanese occupation.

The funding to build CKS was almost equally split between grants from the Republic of Korea, the Hawaiʻi Legislature and Korean American private donors. The building began construction in 1972 and cost around $1.5 million at the time.

"We have plaques to commemorate the donations. And those donors and their descendants regularly come to this building to take pictures in front of those plaques," said Tae-Ung Baik, law professor and director of CKS.

The center is now home to over 40 members from various disciplines. Collections of rare Korean literature and artifacts bring scholars from Korea to research in Hawaiʻi. CKS also leads research on Korean-American immigration.

Korean plantation workers built boarding schools and after-school language programs for their children to attend.

"The reason why Korean immigrants emphasized education is not only for the children’s well-being to have a comfortable life," said Duk Hee Lee Murabayashi, president of the Korean Immigration Research Institute.

"It wasn’t that, because they felt that education is the only way Korea can be independent, new country because it was under Japanese occupation," Murabayashi told HPR.

The exhibit on Korean immigration to Hawaiʻi can be viewed in the lobby of the CKS building through Sept. 28.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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