The Korea Foundation’s Attempt at Holistic Diplomacy

The Korea Foundation is a Seoul-based organization started in 1991 with the purpose of promoting academic and cultural exchange programs. The mission of The Korea Foundation is to promote better understanding of Korea within the international community and to increase friendship and goodwill between Korea and the rest of the world. It aspires to “enhance Korea’s global stature” through the promotion of Korean studies worldwide, and more recently has focused on sharing Korea’s “success story” with the rest of the world. The organization has information about cultural exchange programs, monthly academic and arts based publications as well as new media websites like Twitter and Facebook. The Korea Foundation is widespread, and uses new media, the arts, education and exchange as a platform for diplomacy.


The Korea Foundation was started before the nation’s big media wave, Hallyu, which transformed the nations economy as well as Korea’s image in Asia and around the world. Hallyu helped brand the nation as a modern state, and improved Japan and China’s perceptions of Korea, as well as increased tourism among Korean Pop and Korean Drama fans. While the Korea Foundation has updated through new media and mentions the importance of Hallyu, there has been little emphasis on incorporating the media phenomenon into the organization’s diplomacy strategies. According to a recent survey, 58% of all Korean language learners have been inspired by Kpop. By implementing more Hallyu-related programs, the Korea Foundation could align itself with one of the main contributions to Korea’s “success story”.


2 thoughts on “The Korea Foundation’s Attempt at Holistic Diplomacy

  1. When I read this, I can’t help but mention “Gagnam Style” as this to me has become ubiquitous with the K-Pop explosion (not that I can really name something else). While my own K-Pop knowledge is much limited compared with the rest of the world, I do see there is a correlation between K-Pop music and Korean TV Dramas that have become popular across the globe.

    This hallyu term (which I just learned now from reading your article) can be applied to other countries like Latin American soap operas and Reggaeton Music in regards to its global appeal. My only issue with focusing on hallyu is truly defining what this means. Just because the publication doesn’t mention K-Pop or other Korean entertainment doesn’t mean it hasn’t implied other modernized forms of Korean culture in their diplomacy.

    The Korean wave of Hallyu is ongoing since the 1990’s, when Korea’s image really began to change. The Korea Foundation is just one part of representing such a phenomenon and spreading the information worldwide. Also, there are many other forms of Korean diplomacy this site would focus on (food, clothing, art, etc.) which doesn’t necessarily have to be due to a current trend, but something important to Korean culture of the past. I can even see that one of the Koreana magazines makes a mention of “Korea’s Booming Musical Scene.” While it doesn’t look like something from a Psy video (it seems to evoke an image of Tango dancers, intriguing), I wouldn’t blame a Latin diplomacy site for avoiding images of Macarena either. Like many other diplomacy programs, there can be a focus and image that is important to its diplomacy and identity.


  2. It’ll be interesting to see if the tension between what seems to be a promotion of “authentic” and “traditional” Korean culture and the K pop culture phenomenon, which from what I understand (albeit not terribly well) was a top-down initiative designed to create cultural exports, can meld together or become even more schizophrenic. I’m also wondering if the Korea Foundation’s origins are in any way correlated to an attempt of changing the world’s perceptions due to the country’s large number of child adoptions. Elena Kim and other academics have written about the images of “waifs” and “orphans” that were associated with S. Korea from post World War II up into the late 80s. Perhaps the Korea Foundation was a byproduct to help rectify this image?


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