|▲ 2019 Critical Language Scholarship participants at Ullimsanbang, an atelier of the painter Sochi and his descendants during the cultural excursion around Jindo
Thanks to widespread K-media, Korean culture is a boom and also studying Korean language is rapidly becoming popular across the United States. American undergraduate and graduate enrollment in Korean language courses has increased 13.7% compared to previous census results, according to the Modern Language Association survey published on its web page in 2019. This number is meaningful considering that total enrollments in languages other than English have dropped. Along with this trend, the U.S. government considers Korean as one of the critical languages in the world and offers scholarships to learn Korean.
Celebrating the 573rd anniversary of Hangeul Proclamation Day on October 9, the Chonnam Tribune interviewed four American students from the 2019 Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program to ask them what they think about the Korean language and culture in early August. They studied Korean language and took part in cultural classes and outdoor excursions on weekdays from June 22 to August 16.
What was your motivation to learn Korean?
Annalise Burke: My interest in Korean began when I was in middle school. I’m from a real rural state of the United States where there were not many foreigners. I started a pen-pal friendship with a Korean friend who is now one of my closest friends in my life. From her, I got interested in Korean so I did a similar program to CLS in high school which is the National Security Language Initiative for Youth and now I’m here.
Angel Trachta: When I was 15, one Korean person came to my high school as an exchange student and lived in my house for two years. During that time, we got really close and I even came to Korea and stayed in her place for a month. That was my first time visiting Korea. Basically, thanks to her, I got interested in Korea. After that, I studied a lot and then I also had a chance to study at Ewha Womans University as an exchange student for a year.
What makes Hangeul special?
Elizabeth Anderson: One thing that I really appreciate about it, especially after learning different languages like Spanish, French and German, is that Korean is very logical. And it is a lot more straightforward than English. First it could be hard to grasp but once you get certain parts of the language, you can really understand it well. I think this is a special thing about Korean.
Annalise Burke: It makes so much sense. The alphabet itself and even the way that the letters are written is very scientific. And I think that it is because it represents how it sounds from our vocal tract. For example, something like how your mouth is shaped when you pronounce some of the alphabet is reflected in writing which I think is very creative.
What was the most interesting part of Korean culture?
Elizabeth Anderson: Definitely respect. There are so many varying levels of respect. I think Korean culture is based on respect and that intertwines with the language itself as well like the honorific. I think this is really fascinating that respect is part of the culture but also part of the language too.
Annalise Burke: I always find it interesting how much Koreans use ‘our’ compared to English. For example, Korean people use the word ‘our family’ instead of ‘my family’ even though it means ‘my family’ in English. There is more sense of community in a lot of different aspects.
Did something change after learning Korean or after coming here?
Angel Trachta: Compared to the times when I just started to learn Korean, I could just know surface-level information of Korea. However, now as I have studied Korean more, I could know deeper things like social issues that a lot of young Korean adults are facing on a daily basis. By learning the language, you can definitely understand society much better.
Victoria Hunteman: Before I came here, I was a bit doubtful about living in Korea although I wanted to be an English teacher here. I was worried whether I could blend in well or not such as liking the food, social atmosphere and so on. But now, I have some confidence that I can mingle well into this society.
How are you going to keep studying Korean after going back to the states?
Angel Trachta: I won multiple Korean speech contests – the University of Iowa Korean Speech Contest, The Midwest Korean Speech Contest. So I do have several other plans to come back. Actually, I have my future plan to live in Korea which is one of my biggest goals. Eventually, since I’m a Philippino American, I know how hard it is to immigrate to other countries. So I want to work at the immigration office and help them.
Victoria Hunteman: I think I would go back to self-studying and using Hello-talk to keep up my Korean. After I transfer to college next year, if I get accepted, I’m planning to minor in Korean and that transfer school has an exchange student program with Yonsei University. Basically, I think there are many ways to come back.
By knowing that Korean language and culture is becoming popular in the States, we could easily just shrug our shoulders. However, we have to go further and think. As Hangeul is one of the most scientific languages around the world, it has its own priceless value that we should preserve. Language is deeply interrelated with its society and at the same time, it influences how people think. Therefore, we need to treat Hangeul as part of our identity and try not to ruin it with excessive use of loanwords and abbreviations. As more and more people worldwide are getting interested in Hangeul and Korean culture, now it is time for us to use it in a proper way showing others the right direction.
By Baek Min-joo, Guest Reporter
- Elizabeth Anderson (Junior, International Studies, American University)
- Annalise Burke (Senior, Public policy & Korean studies, Rutgers University)
- Angel Trachta (Senior, International Studies, University of Iowa)
- Victoria Hunteman (Sophomore, Education, Grand Rapids Community College)