In the mood for Italian, French or Japanese? We’re not talking about dinner, but rather food for your aesthetic tastebuds. How about a language class in Spanish, an Italian film or opera or a day of wrestling and archery at the Mongolian festival of Naadam? The numerous cultural centers give both Koreans and international residents another option for entertainment, education or both. Take a mini-trip to the country of your choice without spending too much money or even leaving Korea!
What do Korea’s cultural centers offer? Most have language courses. Many have libraries which house collections of DVDs, audio CDs, and many sorts of books. Some house exhibits featuring the art and culture of that country. All have staff native to that country for you to meet and learn from. In short, they give visitors access to the culture, language and people of another nation.
Read on for a summary of Korea’s international cultural centers and the resources you can tap into if you’re stimulated by the thought of revisiting a language you once studied or if you dream of visiting a particular country some day. This is still Korea, of course, so while some websites may provide English-language information, others will require some Korean language skills to find the information you need.
British Council Who better than the English to teach English? The British Council offers English-language classes, mostly targeted at Koreans. Gwanghwamun, Seoul Nat’l University of Education and Gyeongin University of Education are links to this center for English language learning, which also provides support for university IELTS exams. If you’re planning a visit to Great Britain, this is also a good place to gather information. Translation and interpretation services are available, but check with the center first.
Mon – Fri 8:30 am – 10:30 pm; Sat 10 am – 6 pm. Near Gwanghwamun Stn. (line 5, ex. 6). 4F Heungguk Saengmyeong Building, 226 Sinmun-ro 1-ga, Jongno-gu, Seoul. https://www.britishcouncil.kr/english-courses (Korean/English) 02-3702-0600
Goethe Institut Mrs. Joo is the librarian on duty, and her refined English and Korean will help you navigate through a solid collection of German language, art, culture and children’s magazines. German photography and artists are sometimes exhibited, so check with the center for the scheduled offerings. Starting this month is a new movie series titled “Goethe-Kino,” which will consist of six German movies that deal with multiculturalism in German society. Another event to look forward to in April is the performance by experimental German theater group “She She Pop” at Festival Bo:m on April 13th and 14th. Those interested in learning more about German culture are also encouraged to visit Platoon Kunsthalle in Gangnam for a culturally relevant, architecturally unique container building.
Classes: everyday 9 am – 9 pm. Library: Mon – Sat 11 am – 7 pm. Seoul Stn. (lines 1 & 2, ex. 9). 5F Seoul Square, 541 Namdaemun-ro 5-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul. goethe.de/ins/kr/seo (Korean/ German) 02-2021-2800
Institut Français Given Korea’s long history involving the French as Catholic missionaries and martyrs, it’s easy to understand why this center has popular appeal among Koreans. But even without the history, the center itself is an attractive destination. Along with the authentic French cuisine offered at the Café Des Arts, there are events including wine tastings, a book club, and French movie nights. The Cine France movie series takes place every Tuesday at the Cinecode Sonje in Anguk-dong. Language classes are available for budding Francophiles not only at the main center location in Myeongdong, but also in Gangnam, Gwangju, Daejeon, Daegu, Jeonju and Busan. In addition to the official center website, the site of the Alliance Français (afseoul.or.krw) contains useful information – most of it in French.
Business hours differ for library, cafe, and main campus. See website for details. Seoul Stn. (lines 1 & 2, ex. 3). 18F, Woori Building, 10 Bongrae-dong 1-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul 100-161. 02-317-8500
Public Information and Cultural Center, Embassy of Japan Interested in studying in Japan? You can find support in the form of helpful information and language classes here. Their library extends that support through books, magazines, videos, DVDs and music. A separate hall is available for watching Japanese movies for free. If you’re just in the mood for a taste of Japanese culture, stop by to try on a kimono or sit at a kotatsu table.
Israel Culture Center Promoting greater friendship between Korea and Israel, this center offers guests a chance to come to a better understanding of Jewish history and art and the Hebrew language. There is also a library for Jewish studies as well as Hebrew language classes. The center is available as a venue for symposiums and seminars and is currently planning to increase its offering of exhibits, concerts, films and festivals.
Mon, Tue, Thu 10:30 am – 5 pm. Fri 10:30 am – 3 pm. Gangnam Stn. (line 2 & Shin-Bundang line, ex. 6). #302 Seocho Town Tree Palace, 1327 Seocho 2-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul. iscc.co.kr (Korean and some English), 02-525-7446
Istanbul Cultural Center Funded by corporate and private donations, the Istanbul Cultural Center is actively engaged in promoting knowledge of Turkey in Korea. Some of the services provided by the center are information on how to study and travel in Turkey; lectures on Turkish art, history, philosophy and religion; tours to Korean museums or palaces, and displays of traditional art, calligraphy and Turkish rugs.
Of note is the center’s program for Gender Equality and Family, which provides various exchange programs between the two countries to lead participants to deeper knowledge and understanding of both cultures. Turkish language classes are available for Koreans, while foreigners are encouraged to inquire at the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (hufs.ac.kr) for English-language options.
Mon – Fri 10 am – 6 pm; Sat 10:30 am – 2 pm. Yeoksam Stn. (line 2, ex. 6). 629-6 Yeoksam 1-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul. turkey.or.kr (Korean only) 02-3452-8182
Instituto Italiano di Cultura The Italian Institute of Culture is housed in a new modern building located near the U.N. Village in Hannam-dong, Seoul. Along with a permanent exhibit of Korean and Italian art, the institute has a library containing over 2,000 books, videos and CDs. Photocopies can be made in the library for W100 a page and the library collection is available through the OPAC online catalog to Korean schools and universities where Italian is taught. A multimedia room is available for conferences and presentations.
Mongolia Ulaanbataar Culture Promotion Center The outdoor exhibit area and language courses are the main attractions of this center. Those who are lucky enough to be in Korea on the second Sunday of July can attend Naadam, the famed Mongolian festival that features “the three games of men,” or wrestling, horse racing and archery. (Despite the name, women can participate in the horseracing and archery.) These were the main activities of the nomadic Mongolian tribes of the Gobi Desert. Mongolian products such as wool scarves and leather-covered drinking flasks are sometimes offered for sale. Perhaps some sheep ankle bones would pique your interest as well.
Classes held in the afternoon. Gwangnaru Stn. (line 5, ex. 1). 388-8 Gwangjang-dong, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul. mongolcenter.org (Korean only) 02-446-4199
New Zealand Centre for Culture and Education Located near Gangnam Station, New Zealand’s cultural center will be most useful for those interested in finding English classes for their children and preparing them for education in New Zealand. Classes are available for Korean children in kindergarten and elementary school. There is also a yearly event called Children’s Gala Day held on May 5th (Children Day in Korea) which is a chance for visitors to learn a little more about New Zealand culture.
Russian Cultural Center This newly established center is slowly gathering materials and cultural information from the home country to offer the public. Recent activities include celebrating International Women’s Day and assisting with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra’s visit to Seoul last March and the Gypsy Dance Performance in Seoul last September. They also offer classes and lectures on the Russian language.
Unofficial Cultural Centers There are a couple parts of the world that are not covered in our list– in particular, Africa and Latin America. Since there are no government-sponsored cultural centers for these regions, two private organizations have been created to fill the gap: the African Art Museum and the Latin American Cultural Center.
African Art Museum The African Art Museum is one of the few places in Korea dedicated to African culture and art. There is an outdoor exhibit area where African dances and instrumental performances can be viewed. The museum also has art such as wood carvings, bronze sculptures and masks on display. Tue – Sun 9 am – 5 pm. Located northeast of Seoul in Pocheon. 42 Murim-ri, Soheul-eup, Pocheon-si, Gyeonggi-do.(Korean only) 031-543-3600
Latin America Cultural Center Take a weekend excursion to Latin America by visiting this center in Goyang, just northwest of Seoul. Divided into a museum, art gallery, and sculpture park, the Latin American Cultural Center was founded by a former Korean diplomat to Latin America. For some Latin American cuisine, visit the Taco House in the sculpture park on Saturdays and Sundays or try paella at the museum on Monday through Saturday from 12 to 2:30 pm (reservations required). The lounge and souvenir shop allow you to empty your pockets or your cares. An interesting display of Mayan, Incan and Aztec art can be viewed at the center. Everyday 10 am – 6 pm. Adults W5,500, teens W4,500, children W3,500. 302-1 Goyang-dong, Goyang-si, Gyeonggi-do. latina.or.kr (Korean only) 031-962-7171