K-Pop, Bibimbap and Kimchi - why South Korean culture is proving so popular in Preston

UCLan Korean society: l-r: Treasurer - Michelle Kokayi, Social Media Secretary - Tom Clifton, President - Lewan Ghafoor, Vice President - Tom Stainton and Secretary - Emily Pope
UCLan Korean society: l-r: Treasurer - Michelle Kokayi, Social Media Secretary - Tom Clifton, President - Lewan Ghafoor, Vice President - Tom Stainton and Secretary - Emily Pope
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We can all remember when Gangnam Style exploded into our lives popularising South Korean culture but how is it bubbling up and spilling over into Preston?

Preston saw its first Korean restaurant open this last year - and the cuisine has become rather popular with residents.

Sam Chen of Korean restaurant KimJi

Sam Chen of Korean restaurant KimJi

Owner Sam Chen, 29, who is behind the new eatery, KimJi in Winckley Street was keen to ride the wave bringing the foodie aspect of Korean culture to the region.

Korean food fan Catherine Roberts expressed the view of many when she posted on Facebook: “There’s loads of Korean restaurants in Manchester and finally there will be one in Preston.”

Sam, pictured with Korean dish Bibimbap, says there were a number of reasons behind his decision to open the place.

“Korean food is very popular at the moment,” he says. “It’s quite trendy with all the health benefits and I wanted to pick up on that.

Sojin Lim, senior lecturer at UCLan in Korean Studies

Sojin Lim, senior lecturer at UCLan in Korean Studies

“Preston has a big Asian community and there’s the Korean society at the University of Central Lancashire.

“I also think local government is doing well promoting Preston.

“I think with Korean food its a mixture of Japanese and Chinese food - they are quite similar so it’s quite acceptable from a new restaurant point of view. It’s quite similar to what people are used to having.”

What many may not realise is that the demand for Korean food has been growing in the background.

Chef Russell Lee of Friargate Fish and Chips

Chef Russell Lee of Friargate Fish and Chips

Over at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) the institution has seen a 775 per cent increase in the number of students in just five years.

Sojin Lim, senior lecturer at UCLan, says: “We started Korean Studies in 2013 and at that time we had only 12 students at BA level.

“This year at freshman level we had 105 Korean students so in five years we have more than 10 times the numbers. It’s soaring.”

But what is behind the incredible spike in interest in the country?

K-Pop club night at Evoque in Preston

K-Pop club night at Evoque in Preston

“Mostly students come here because they become interested in K-Pop and K-Drama but eventually they develop their interest,” says Sojin.

“For example after their second year they all go and study in Korea. We have 17 partner universities in Korea.

“When they come back to their final year their interest for their dissertation becomes really serious and they are dealing with international relations, politics or different kinds of social issues such as gender.

“Now I’m writing a book chapter about Korean studies development here at UCLan. For that I did a little survey and it turned out that the reason students are coming here is because they are mostly interested culture, language and history.

“It really struck me and I realised that people are really interested in Korea at the moment.

“Personally I didn’t know about Korean studies, my background was in development and I worked in the Korean Government to provide aid for other countries.

K-Pop club night at Evoque in Preston

K-Pop club night at Evoque in Preston

“When I joined here I thought who would be interested in Korea but now there’s an increasing market.

“Now within the UK there are three Korean courses – at Sheffield, Soas and UCLan. Both Sheffield and Soas they have 20 or 30 students only because they capped the numbers.

“But now they’ve seen our numbers so this year Sheffield requited two more Korean lecturers which mean they will expand.

“Coventry and Edinburgh are opening up Korean Studies so they now see that this is something that is very popular and UCLan has been a very good example.

“Our Korean team is the largest in the UK. We have eight Korean academic staff.

“Japan studies once was the most popular field of studies in terms of the East Asian region in the UK and numbers are very steady. So it was really popular in the past and now its going down and now Korean studies is going up.

“We used to have 80 Japanese studies students at UCLan but now we have 60 but that number is very steady. So we expect that at some point within three to five years time the numbers of Korean studies students will also decrease but then stay steady in between 70 and 80 - that is what we anticipate based on our experience.

“From April to October this year I had 25 media interviews - only for those six months. It’s huge. It’s just everywhere. It’s a very recent phenomenon we just want to keep the momentum.

“Our ultimate goal is to invite more public interest so that we can have more engagement.”

And to catch onto that momentum Sojin and her colleagues at UCLan are working with the Korean Government creating a GCSE in the language.

She says: “For Japanese and Chinese there are A Levels but we don’t have an A Level for Korean its starting from scratch so because of that before when students most of them didn’t speak Korean at all but now from last year and this year they have a basic knowledge in Korean because they studied by themselves on line and through K-pop and K-drama.

“So now we are working on a project with the Korean Government about having a Korean GCSE and then eventually at A Level as well. So it’s very initial stages and we need to persuade the British Government as well but we truly believe this is the moment because the market is huge.”

It was due to students at UCLan that Russell Lee, 37, at Friargate Fish and Chips launched a menu of Chinese, Japanese and Korean dishes.

“The international students asked me if I could do home-cooked food - Japanese, Korean and Chinese,” he says.

“K-Pop is the biggest thing. It had the help of Japanese Anime which started it off. Netflix now does Anime. All the stuff which used to be classed as nerdy is now a trend.”

Students at UCLan studying the Korean language are also behind regular K-Pop club nights at Evoque.

Not only do they have specialist K-Pop DJ who performs but the club nights draw people from as far afield as Leeds, Manchester and London.

Emily Pope, 20, a second year student at UCLan and secretary of the university’s Korean Society says: “I feel like people don’t just come for the music, they come for the vibe.”

Tom Stainton, 20, who is in his first year and is vice chairman of the society adds: “It’s just a really fun time, an amazing atmosphere.”

A keen dancer, Tom got into Korean culture watching pop videos online.

He told the Post what he feels is attractive about learning Korean.

“I think it’s quite nice the level of formality they use,” he says. “They have a lot of respect for people. There are a lot of different honorifics and that was nice to understand because obviously in the English language there’s not quite as many obviously you’ve got Mr and Sir but nothing on that level.”

Pitching in Emily says: “What I find interesting about Korean is that there is a grammar point for every single interaction - so the way you end words can have a different meaning.

“So today we learned how to express a new fact that you have learned. It’s like you are stating a fact but with the nuance that you have just learned this fact - it is something new so there are nuances in every single sentence.

“It’s kind of crazy at first but I find it incredibly interesting. I tried to learn German earlier this year but I didn’t connect with it in the same way.”

Telling the Post what she wanted to do with her career society treasurer and second year student, Michelle Kokayi, 26, says: “I knew before I applied to university.

“I want to be a teacher and I want to look into language but I also wanted to do that in Korea so now I’m doing Tesol with Korean.

“I’m hoping after I graduate that I will get a job teach English in Korea.”