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Forget reality T.V., in Korea all eyes are on Harvard.
“Love Story in Harvard,” a new Korean TV drama set on the Cambridge campus, received the highest viewer ratings last week among all programs in the same time slot.
“Korea has its own prestigious universities,” said Junseok A. Lee ’07, member of the Harvard Korean Association, “but the perceived gap between Ivy League institutions and their universities has grown drastically since the show started.”
The show features a love triangle between two male Harvard law students and the object of their desire—a female doctor-to-be enrolled across the river at Harvard Medical School.
But Korean viewers are tuning in for more than just the drama. Several Koreans aspiring to the Ivy League watch the show hoping to pick up on cultural insights and admissions tips as the plot develops.
The show stars three young Korean celebrities—Kim Tae-hee, Kim Rae-won and Lee Chong-Jin—and contains numerous scenes in English. Filming of the show takes place more than a stone’s throw from the yard on a set in Los Angeles.
The show’s immense popularity is part of a continuing trend of interest in Harvard and its aura of prestige for Koreans.
“Harvard is a very big name. General education is very important for Korean people and their culture, and since Harvard is considered the best university in the world, any mention of Harvard attracts a lot of attention,” Assistant Professor in the East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department Sun Joo Kim said.
Books proposing secrets for how to get into Harvard continually seize public attention. Two current Harvard freshmen—Miss Korea 2003, NaNa Keum ’08, and Won Hee Park ’08—have written bestsellers entitled Everyone Can Do It and Nine Points for Studying, Ten Points for Determination respectively.
“For some of these books, 100,000 copies were sold in the first month,” Lee said.
But the two novelists could not be reached for comment on their purported celebrity status.
While the Harvard name carries much prestige in Korea, its reputation had been somewhat tarnished following a verbal slip made by University President Lawrence H. Summers last July in his opening speech to Harvard Summer School students.
Summers incorrectly estimated that there were close to 1 million child prostitutes in Seoul, South Korea in the 1970s. He issued an apology promptly after the statement, saying he “misremembered” the statistic. There were only about 680,000 females between ages 10 and 19 living in Seoul at the time, according to a Texas A&M University website.
However, some Koreans remain stung by the remark.
Vice Chairman for Harvard Club of Korea Thomas Chan-Soo Kang ’84 wrote in an e-mail that the statement “hurt Harvard’s image in Korea significantly.”
Despite the mishap, respect for the Harvard name has propelled “Love Story in Harvard” to its success among education-minded Koreans.
“The number of Korean nationals attending Harvard College has risen dramatically over the past 25 years,” said Kang. “Part of it has to do with Koreans being able to afford the Harvard tuition, but it is also due to a rising interest, implying a greater perception of the value of a Harvard education.”
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