Why UP professor turned K-drama curiosity into a course

Rose Carmelle Lacuata, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 17 2020 09:35 PM | Updated as of Aug 23 2020 09:16 AM

"Crash Landing on You" (pictured) is one of the shows a class in UP is aiming to analyze for college credit. Netflix

MANILA - Curious about the hype, a professor from the University of the Philippines in Diliman turned her Korean drama-watching into an academic course.

Amor Aljibe, a media practitioner and faculty member of UP College of Mass Communication, said the idea to analyze South Korean drama series as an academic subject came when she noticed a pattern among the different series she watched during the lockdown.

"I got curious why so many people are hooked on watching K-drama for years and I'd like to know why people keep on watching them. So during the lockdown, I tried watching one program followed by another until I saw a pattern among the series that I've seen," she told ABS-CBN News in an interview.

She then brought up the idea of turning this curiosity into an actual academic subject, and it was approved by her department.

"So I thought it would be interesting if I turn my Korean drama watching into a course. I proposed to my department and it got approved and the rest is history," Aljibe said.

Her idea is now offered as BC 196, or Special Topics: Analysis of K-drama Series.

According to the UP enlistment website, around 300 students have expressed interest in the course.

There are currently three sections for Aljibe's class, where she will be accepting only 25 students each.

Aljibe admitted that she did not expect the reception her new subject got, and that at first, she was afraid that her class will not reach the required number of students because of a particular class requirement.

"In fact I was afraid that my class will not reach the required number of students to open because of a particular requirement which is a subscription to Netflix. The demand was unexpected and overwhelming at the same time," she said.

She originally intended to offer one class to 15 students. She added five more slots when she learned that her course became a trending topic on Friday.

Amor Aljibe. Handout

"So from 15, it became 20. Before going to bed last Friday, I saw that 16 has requested for a slot. Somehow, I was assured that my course will be offered. I only needed 4 students to enlist," Aljibe said.

From 16 students by Friday night, the demand ballooned to 100, then to 150.

It was then that Aljibe asked her department chairman if she can offer three classes with 25 students each.

"With 75 slots, I thought that would accommodate at least 50% of the demand. But now with the demand rising to more than 200, I feel helpless fulfilling my goal of serving at least half of the figure," she said.

Aside from UP students, Aljibe said she has also received requests from other people to "sit-in" in her class, from UP graduates, to lawyers, TV news executives, relatives, and others.

"And that's talking only of UP students in Diliman because I have been receiving requests for sit-in from all quarters of life, graduates of other UP units, interns of the UP College of Medicine, mothers who would like to sit in my class, lawyers, TV news executives, relatives, friends of my relatives, children of my friends, et cetera. What is astounding is they have the same dialogue, 'Puwede mag sit-in, seryoso,'" she said.

Though she wants to accommodate as many students, Aljibe said they still have to wait for the results of the enlistment next week.

"The question of how to accommodate the surge in the demand is no longer in my hands because it will also involve the resources of the University like hiring teaching assistants if we will go for a big class to accommodate all the students who would like to be with me for 14 weeks in the coming semester. I have to wait for August 22 for the first run of enlistment to have a better appreciation of the demand because what we have now is an underestimate and an overestimate after opening two more sections," she explained.

The demand for her class, however, makes one thing clear - there are many people who want to share their experiences with K-dramas.

"The overwhelming demand has shown it. When it comes to learning, as an educator I can only share so much, the larger part will come from my students, with the knowledge they will be bringing in as they enter my class. Their viewing experience is a large chunk of information, of knowledge waiting to be unleashed. If they are excited to be in my class, all the more I am excited to be with them," Aljibe said.


Students who will get a slot in Aljibe's class are required to watch three Korean dramas before the start of the semester - "Misaeng", "Chicago Typewriter" and "Crash Landing on You."

Aljibe said it was not easy to choose the particular drama series to include in her class, but her basis was structure.

"My basis was structure. It was hard at first to choose what program to include and how many should we take up in class. So I started choosing among those with a single protagonist," she explained, adding that she decided to include "CLOY" because it was so popular.

Screengrab from Netflix

She later decided to include Chicago Typewriter and Misaeng.

"Chicago Typewriter because it's a good example of a parallel narrative. To put it simply, it's watching two lives in parallel. Misaeng is also a form of parallel narratives but unlike Chicago Typewriter which is a double narrative, Misaeng has a group of characters as protagonist," Aljibe explained.

"A lot of Korean dramas have a non-linear form and it takes a different skill to analyze them," she added.

According to Aljibe, she first became interested in non-linear forms in dramas and films in 2014 as part of Star Cinema.

"As part of the core group of Star Cinema which greenlights the projects during that time, I will always encounter a script or two with an alternative structure. I wanted to be fair with my comments. What I did was to search for books to orient me in that kind of storytelling," she said.

Aljibe hopes to make her students aware that there are several ways of storytelling.

"My intention is to make my students aware that there are several ways of telling a story that's why I included Chicago Typewriter and Misaeng even if like what you have said they are not the most popular here," she said.

Though it may seem like an easy subject, especially for students who have spent sleepless nights binge-watching K-dramas, Aljibe said taking her course may affect how her students watch Korean dramas moving forward.

"After taking my course, they will now have a framework which will help them explain why they like a particular program but at the same time it could be less magical for them to watch anything because now they can see the strengths and weaknesses of the material," she said.

"Crash Landing On You" stars Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin, and it follows a South Korean billionaire heiress who falls in love with a North Korean soldier after a paragliding accident. 

"Chicago Typewriter" tells the story of three writers who lived in 1930s Korea under the Japanese, and were reincarnated into a bestselling writer in a slump, a ghostwriter, and the bestselling writer's anti-fan.

"Misaeng", on the other hand, tells the story of an office intern thrown into the corporate world, armed with the strategies he learned from playing the board game Go.

Screengrab from Netflix

CLOY gained popularity in the Philippines early this year, with its main stars Hyun Bin and Son now endorsers of one of the country's largest telcos.

Ties between the Philippines and South Korea have spanned seven decades, cemented by Manila's deployment of the Philippine Expeditionary Force to Korea (PEFTOK) during the Korean War.