Back on April Fool’s Day, the Hankook Ilbo published an article that rattled many HUFSans and others alike. It stated that Hankuk University of Foreign Studies had decided to change the Korean wording of the school’s name from the widely used and known title of ‘한국외국어대학교’ to ‘훕스대’, which is literally the Korean pronunciation of the school’s English acronym, HUFS. The immediate response to the ‘decision’ was mostly negative, with ridicule of the name change being the most common response.
Thankfully, it was revealed that the school had never announced or agreed to change the school’s name, and that the article’s statements were most definitely false. All in all, it was a very bizarre way to start the month of April. Now, there are a few takeaways that we can glean from this incident, but what surprised me was how this article had so many people scared in the first place. The school had never officially announced a name change, and yet so many people were bothered by it to the point that it became a popular conversation topic for everyone on the school’s campus for a few days after the article’s publication. Of course, most of us were uncertain of the article’s veracity, but the point is that we were uncertain, rather than skeptical.
Perhaps the article was so widespread that it had already established its own authority as a credible source of information. Or maybe we were so taken aback by the name ‘훕스대’ that we were forced to brace ourselves for potential confirmation from the school. But in all likelihood, it is probably because we have all seen this before; a ‘been there, done that’ case, if you will. The school seems to have a thing for name changes. Though an affinity for name changes can be seen all around the nation, our school has shown quite often that it is willing to engage in the act when deemed necessary. And though this cannot necessarily be seen as a bad thing, it can be frustrating at times, for reasons that I will provide in the two cases I will write about in this article.
The first case is the Department of English for International Conferences and Communication. Originally known as the Department of English Interpretation and Translation, a series of events led to the department changing its name to the Department of English for International Conferences and Communication, or the EICC Department, in 2015. By changing its name, the department was essentially shifting away from solely focusing on interpretation and translation and broadening its curriculum to help students grow as English professionals in the fields of communication and international conferences.
The decision to do so led to mixed reactions. On one side, the department’s shift away from a traditional perspective of language learning to a more modern concept of practical language application was ahead of its time, innovative and deserved to be praised. On the other hand, as the Department of English Interpretation and Translation, or the EIT Department, it was known as one of the most prestigious academic institutions in not only the school but the nation. Therefore, changing the department’s name so drastically carried the risk of losing some of its prestige and standing as a major powerhouse in Korean academia.
Though the EICC Department retained the same infrastructure and resources of the EIT Department, meaning that the valuable core of the department remains untouched, there was no denying that the sheer brand power of the name had great value in and of itself. Two years have passed since then, and admittedly, the time period is too short to make any conclusions. What is certain, however, is that the name ‘Department of English for International Conferences and Communication’ does not have the same brand power that the Department of English Interpretation and Translation once enjoyed. Though the core infrastructure of the EIT Department remains, and though the common curriculum of the department has been refined and improved from its already impressive predecessor, the truth of the matter is that the EICC Department is simply not well known.
Students of the department (including yours truly) are bombarded with questions like “What does EICC stand for?” and “What do you learn in the EICC department?” And though this is not a very fun thing to experience, one can truly understand where these questions come from. After all, the department’s official name is written in English, and the department is unique to our school, meaning that those unfamiliar or unaffiliated with HUFS cannot infer much from the name. This is a serious issue. One could argue that if the department itself stays true to its original objective and continues to offer high-quality education, the name itself will not matter. It is what is on the inside that matters. However, this does not hide the fact that if the department continues to remain relatively obscure, it will be difficult for it to present itself as a major educational institution to students in the long run.
Which brings me to another topic of discussion, the Department of English Linguistics. The Department of English Linguistics, along with the Department of English Interpretation and Translation, long stood as one of the representative departments of the school, and is still recognized as a major powerhouse in university English education. However, with the school announcing its decision to change the name of the department to the Department of English Linguistics and Language Technology, questions similar to the ones asked back in 2015 are inevitably rising again. Like the school’s decision to change the name of the Department of English Interpretation and Translation, the intentions are undeniably good.
Rather than continuing to focus on the English language itself, the department will expand its focus to language technology. By integrating theoretical linguistics with practical language technology, the department is declaring itself to be a leader in the rethinking of the humanities in universities. However, the name of the department, much like the EIT Department, has intrinsic value based on the social reputation that it has built throughout the years. By changing the department’s name, the school is taking the risk of the department losing its brand power. The parallels of this case to the previous one are astonishing, to say the least.
The conclusions that we can derive from these two examples are very similar. Though the intentions of the school should be applauded, the actual effectiveness of these name changes should be questioned. Though the curriculums of these departments are being improved, the fact that their original names are being abandoned is disappointing. The brand value of the EIT Department and the Department of English Linguistics cannot be ignored, and the fact that the EICC Department has failed to catch on should have us worried about the future of the ELLT Department. But the decisions have already been made, which means that the path the school needs to take from this point forward is obvious. The profiles of these two ‘new’ departments must be raised to the previous standards of their predecessors.
The best way to accomplish this is for the department and the school to step up its efforts to promote the EICC Department and the upcoming ELLT Department. No matter how well built the curriculums of these two departments are, it will not matter if students and the general public are unaware of what the department itself represents. The prestige and reputation of academic institutions are built on the strength and potential of the high school graduates that gain admission, which is why it is very important that these students are informed of the uniqueness of the departments, what the departments have to offer, and what career paths that the respective curriculums provide.
One way to do this is to take a few pages from the Language & Diplomacy (LD) Division, as well as the Language & Trade (LT) Division. Created in 2014 and 2015 respectively, the school actively promoted the many benefits and strengths of these departments, and as a result, the popularity and standing of the LD Division and the LT Division are arguably among the highest in the school. Similarly, the EICC Department and ELLT Department must be considered newly created departments, at least in terms of promotion. Actively promoting them will be the most effective way to convey to students and the general public the strengths of the department, and the many benefits that they have to offer.
Furthermore, efforts must be made by the school to clearly differentiate the EICC Department from the Global Campus’ School of English for Interpretation and Translation. Though both departments deal with English interpretation and translation, they offer two diverse sets of curricula that are very different in nature. For one, the School of English for Interpretation and Translation is further divided into four sets of specializations from which students can choose, meaning that variety in educational experience and learning are the focal points here.
Despite this, those unaffiliated with HUFS are not well aware of the differences between these two departments. This is not good for either side, as they cannot properly establish their standing as leaders in their respective fields. Therefore, the school should ensure that the uniqueness of these two departments is known by the public, and especially students who wish to gain admission to one of them.
By Shim Kyu-han