add_theme_support( 'post-thumbnails' );Enduring Questions Spotlight: "From Hiroshima to K-Pop" - BANG.
Helen Geckle / Gavel Media

Enduring Questions Spotlight: "From Hiroshima to K-Pop"

The Complex Problems and Enduring Questions courses offered at Boston College are a unique set of classes specifically designed to encourage students to approach critical topics in an interdisciplinary manner. These 6-credit courses are offered to each incoming first-year class and tackle two requirements in the core curriculum. The courses also include labs, reflection sessions, off-campus field visits, and conversations with outside speakers. Just a few topics discussed in these engaging courses include race, culture, economics, law, health policy, and more. 

A popular EQ course is “From Hiroshima to K-Pop,” a course tackling the question: “How did East Asia emerge from the wreckage of the Second World War to become the dominant political, economic, and cultural force it is in the world today?” The course has both a historical perspective and a filmmakers’ perspective, completing the History II core requirement and Arts core requirement, respectively. The course will be offered for the third year in a row this upcoming Fall semester and is taught by Professors Ingu Hwang and Christina Klein. The students explore this “enduring question” by studying the relationship between politics and popular culture in East Asia through various mediums. 

Professor Hwang, who teaches the historical perspective of the course, sat down to talk more about the class. He is an Associate Professor teaching courses on the contemporary history of South Korea and human rights history in a global context and has been teaching at Boston College for six years. 

The course studies how East Asian society was able to undergo this critical transformation from a total collapse in 1945 to an economic and cultural powerhouse. Professor Hwang teaches the historical aspects of these changes, such as the Hiroshima bombing, nuclear weapons, civil war, modernization, and democracy. This course is something that is often new to students who grew up in an American curriculum, for the history of East Asia is a topic rarely discussed in history lessons in the American education system. Professor Hwang said, “In the United States, there are few students who have the opportunity to learn about contemporary East Asia. So, students desire to learn about these subjects.” Therefore he notes that students are eager to learn about East Asian history and society, and they are able to connect this history to other former history knowledge they had. When asked about his favorite historical event to teach, he answered, “Every history subject [in this course] is quite compelling. But if I had to choose, it would be the Korean War because it is still a developing issue for the Korean peninsula and poses questions about ideology.” He notes that the continuing developments and tensions in East Asia raise questions about the meaning of violence and war, which then relate to other contemporary issues such as the Russia–Ukraine war. He also enjoys teaching about North Korea, which students find fascinating to study from a humanistic perspective.

Students also gather once a week to watch a movie concerning these historical events and studies. The movie list includes but is not limited to, the highly awarded movie Parasite by Director Bong Joon-ho, A Taxi Driver by Director Jang Hoon, and Godzilla by Director Ishirō Honda. The movies further develop conversations among the students as they connect back to the history lessons that are paired with the course. 

Professor Hwang remarked on the unique opportunities the course offers, including trips to Boston’s Chinatown and a class outing to a Korean restaurant. He stated, “An attractive aspect of the course is that it’s not just about in-class discussions, but it’s about experiencing more than that. We touch on food in Korean restaurants, visit Chinatown to study as a critical spot of migration, and we also go to the Pine Tree Reservation to do some forest bathing, which is a cultural aspect of China and Japan.” It is clear that these experiences allow students to learn about the historical and cultural significance of these places as those of migration and cultural re-creation. These trips also allow first-year students to bond and create a community amongst one another, which Professor Hwang believes is extremely beneficial to students as they transition from high school to college. The course also includes a final project, which is the “cornerstone” of the course in which students are encouraged to cultivate their own ideas into a creative medium by combining the perspectives they gathered throughout the course. This culmination is a fulfilling one that allows students of the course to reflect on the interdisciplinary approach to the question that guided them throughout the semester. 

Besides creating a sense of camaraderie amongst the students and professors, the lasting effects of this popular class are evident in various other ways. Professor Hwang proudly discussed the ways that his students went further to explore topics concerning East Asian history and culture. For example, many students take classes in the Korean language or courses like “Colonial Korea and its Legacies” and “Development and Social Justice in Korea.” Professor Hwang also leads an abroad summer course which is offered in partnership with Sogang University in South Korea. As evident through the course, it is inspiring to see the ways students find interest in academic subjects and continue to pursue them throughout their four years at BC. 

It goes without saying that “From Hiroshima to K-Pop” is a class that is highly encouraged by its previous students and one that builds lasting relationships among professors and fellow peers. For any incoming freshmen who are seeking a fulfilling and engaging course that fulfills the History II and Arts requirements, taking “From Hiroshima to K-Pop” is a choice not to be regretted.