The first Hangul festival at St Petersburg University
The event was organised by St Petersburg University, the Consulate General of the Republic of Korea in St Petersburg, KIMCHI Business Club, and the Russia - Republic of Korea Dialogue forum.
Hangul is a Korean writing system created in the 15th century by King Sejong the Great. It is characterised by grouping letters into different syllable combinations.
The festival was opened by Kwon Dong Seok the Consul General of the Republic of Korea in St Petersburg. He noted that the Korean alphabet, created more than five hundred years ago, is acknowledged as being unique. It is included into the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Sergey Andryushin, St Petersburg University Deputy Rector for International Affairs, highlighted the significance of holding the Hangul festival at St Petersburg University: it was here that the teaching of the Korean language started in Europe for the first time 120 years ago. Sergey Andryushin also reminded the audience that in summer a monument to the prominent Korean writer Pak Kyongni had been opened at the University. Dmitry Pak, President of the KIMCHI Business Club, expressed special thanks to the University for the opportunity to host the festival at its venue.
Since 2017, St Petersburg University has conducted the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK), an international examination in the Korean language. Its results are taken into account when foreigners apply for admission to Korean universities, or apply for a job at South Korean companies.
St Petersburg University Associate Professor Inna Choi, Director of the Russia - Republic of Korea Dialogue forum, explained what Hangul was and how the Korean writing system differed from the other alphabets. The unusual thing about Hangul is that today we know for certain who, when and for what purpose it was created. The Korean alphabet, which is still used today, was created in December 1443 by Sejong the Great, the fourth king of the Joseon dynasty, to solve the illiteracy problem. Prior to that, hieroglyphs borrowed from China had been used in Korea. Inna Choi noted that, currently at St Petersburg University, Korean language students study both writing systems in order to be able to read Korean bilingual classical literature.
The Korean writing system is sufficiently logical and structured that it can be represented in the form of a Pythagorean table, with vowels and consonants instead of rows and lines of multipliers. Due to its logic and consistency, Hangul is easily digitised. Korean young people are even called the "thumb tribe": young Koreans are champions in the speed of typing on mobile devices.
The outline of many consonants imitates the way they are articulated. Hangul is also closely connected with philosophy, especially with Confucianism and natural philosophy. The outline of vowels in the Korean language is closely connected with the key philosophical concept, the Heaven-Man-Earth triad.
On the other hand, learning the Korean language is a laborious process that cannot be reduced to writing skills only. Korean is highly differentiated in terms of speaking and writing, and a deep understanding of the Korean culture and history is required to become truly proficient in it.
Inna Choi also spoke about the linguistic worldview. Its formation was largely influenced by: the geography and seasonality of the Korean Peninsula's – Korea has been an agrarian country for a long time; as well as by Korean history and cultural heritage. The thinking of South Koreans is nonlinear. This is because, along with Hangul, they have been using hieroglyphs for a long time. In addition, the Korean language represents a complex system of social dimensions. For example, there are three forms of referring to a person with the formal "you", and three forms of referring to them with the informal "you" in Korean. They are used depending on three factors: gender, age and status. This feature is also reflected in terms of kinship and numerous synonyms. From the point of view of the meaning, the relationship between objects is the most important thing for Koreans, so the verb will always occupy the key place in the sentence. Europeans, in their turn, are more accustomed to categorial (objective) thinking. For instance, Korean poetic texts are characterised by vowel harmony. The result of this law is that Korean poems, with their absence of rhyme and poetic size, sound rather unusual to us.
This year, the people taking TOPIK at St Petersburg University came from additional regions and countries. There were: 170 people from Arkhangelsk, Kaliningrad, Nalchik, Novosibirsk, Petrozavodsk and Tyumen; as well as students from China, Belarus, Estonia and Uzbekistan.
Nina Finko, a St Petersburg University lecturer, spoke about the history and modernity of Korea. She mentioned the Dangun myth. Dangun Wanggeom, the grandson of Hwanin, the god of heaven, and the son of Ungnyeo, a bear-woman, is believed to be the founder of Gojoseon, the first Korean state. The speaker briefly described each stage of the existence of Korea and spoke about the main modern Korean national holidays. Comic books are a popular way for Korean children to discover the rich history of their country. It is a relevant form of cultural communication and knowledge transfer in modern society. Nina Finko also demonstrated hanbok, a national Korean dress, which is still popular in Korea. The Korean cuisine is another important element of the Korean culture: Koreans perceive food not as a source of energy but as a gift. In their opinion, food helps people gain health, happiness and harmony with self, so Koreans approach cooking as a philosophical practice, Nina Finko emphasised.
Dmitry Ptyushkin, Director of the St Petersburg University Language Testing Centre, delivered a report on the potential of the TOPIK testing system. The University offers testing both in the basic (TOPIK I) and advanced (TOPIK II) levels of Korean. St Petersburg University provides free consultations on testing to everyone who needs them.
The festival featured Korean national music performed by Lee Seongju. He is the winner of international competitions and an assistant trainee of the music class led by Alexey Massarsky. He was accompanied by Jeon Yong-Seok. The young Koreans are students of the N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov St Petersburg State Conservatory. After the lectures and concert, the guests were invited to treat themselves to various Korean dishes and try their hand at calligraphy.
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