Name: Connie Woo
Location of Study: Seoul, South Korea
Program of Study: Sogang Korean Studies Summer Program
Sponsor(s): Robert Greco
A brief personal bio:
My name is Connie Woo and I am a sophomore Science-Pre Professional major with a minor in Korean. My family is Korean, but I have never formally learned Korean, and therefore, do not know how to speak the language well. This is why I decided to pursue a minor in Korean because I believe that as a Korean, I should be able to speak my native language fluently.
Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:
My SLA Grant is important to me because it will allow me to go to Korea and learn Korean, versus trying to learn the language in the classroom. I also believe that visiting and studying the country will help increase my language skills because I will be learning from and conversing with native Korean speakers.
I plan to become a doctor, and I would love to be able to help patients who are limited in their English. This comes from experience because I see my grandparents visiting a Korean-American doctor because they have limited English speaking skills. I want to be able to help people like my grandparents, and give back to the Korean-American community in which I grew up in.
What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:
I hope to achieve a number of things from this summer study abroad experience. First, I would love to master the language to the degree that I can hold intellectual conversations in Korean. As of now, I can converse with my peers in Korean, covering topics relavent to student life. However, I find that it is more difficult to hold conversations with elders. After coming back from Korea, I hope to be able to have conversations on academic and political topics, such as the current political state of Korea and relations with North Korea.
I also hope to learn about the Korean culture. Growing up in California, I was not exposed to the same Korean culture that exists in Korea. Therefore, I would love to develop an understanding of historical and modern Korean culture.
My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate in Korean with native speakers on academic and political topics such as the current politics of Korea and current relations with North Korea.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to describe both the historic and modern culture of Korea, and provide major comparisons between the two.
- At the end of the summer, I will be able to speak, read, write and listen at a level of proficiency equal to two semesters beyond my current Korean coursework placement at Notre Dame.
My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:
Once I arrive in Korea, I will be taking two classes at Sogang University, one in Korean language and one on Korean culture. There will be field trips planned every weekend so that we will be able to explore Korea, and I will visit the old castles that existed in Korean to gain an understanding of what historic Korea was like. I will also have a native Korean student as a roommate, so I hope to explore Korea with a native Korean, who will show me what a textbook cannot teach me about modern Korea.
I also plan on volunteering at a hospital in Korea where I will be expected to speak mostly in Korean. I hope this will provide me an opportunity to expand my Korean and give me a different setting to practice Korean in.
Reflective Journal Entry 1: Task 2
A current controversial topic in South Korea is the Olympic Women’s fencing match regarding Shin A-lam. According to the newspaper, the match was 5-5 when the clock was reset from zero to one second. Had the clock not been reset, Shin was to have gone on to the finals for she would have won “priority.” However, the clock was reset and in that one second, her opponent scored a hit that took her to the finals. This is an extremely controversial topic in Korea as Shin would have gone to the finals, but did not make it due to an error. Despite the appeal made by Shin’s coach, the decision stood.
One interviewee was appalled that this happened. She was furious that Shin was “stripped” of the finals due to a mistake made by the officials. “She lost the bronze medal because she was in such a state of shock. How is anyone suppose to compete at their best after going through such a thing?” Another interviewee was upset that Shin’s competitor cheered after her “victory” when “she didn’t even deserve it.” The third interviewee was interviewed a few days after this event and he was still angry that this occurred. “The Olympic committee should have fixed this. And what’s a consolidation medal? That is nothing compared to the gold or silver medal she should have gotten.”I feel that Korean people were right to be angry, as this was not just an issue of nationalism. This was a mistake made by the officials, and had this happened to anyone else, the reaction probably would have been similar.
Reflective Journal Entry 2: Task 3
A culturally important holiday in Korea is the Lunar New Year. In South Korea, New Year’s is celebrated on January 1st according to the Lunar Calendar, and it is similarly celebrated in other parts of Asia. This holiday is called “??” and the term is said to have originated from the Japanese language. Korean people celebrate this holiday with family to wish each other a blessed new year while eating a rice ovalet soup and play traditional Korean games. The younger generations also bow to their elders in a somewhat traditional ceremony.
Because New Year’s Day is one of the largest holidays in Korea, along with Korean Thanksgiving, most Koreans have the same general idea of what the holiday is. I interviewed my Korean teacher who gave a very similar account. She also noted how in recent times, things have changed and that there is not as much emphasis on the traditional practices, such as wearing the hanbok. It is mainly children and the elderly who wear their hanbok, but most adults and teens forego the traditional wear on this day.
Reflective Journal Entry 3: Task 4
My roommate was in Korea for the summer for an internship, and she was Brazilian. She said that the Korean people are nice, but she still feels that she is treated differently because she cannot speak the language and because she looks so different since she is “tall, blond, and not Asian.” On the other hand, I also interviewed a friend who was from China and she said that, although she was a minority, she wasn’t treated too differently. “I’m Chinese but some Korean people mistake me for being Korean so I don’t think I was treated very differently at all.”
I think the main difference in how my two friends were treated and perceived was their ethnicity. If these same two people were interviewed after spending some time in the US, I am sure it would have been the exact opposite. Both my friends were fluent in English, so language wouldn’t have been a barrier, but the fact that one was Asian and one was Caucasian would have made a large difference in how they are treated.
Reflective Journal Entry 4: Task 5
A dish that is particular to Korea is the spicy rice cakes, also known as tteokbokki. It is not a traditional dish but one that is distinctively Korean. TTeokbokki is prepared using red pepper paste, garlic, sesame oil, onions, carrots, oden (fish cake), and rice cakes. This is an extremely simple dish to prepare because all the ingredients are stirred together until the desired amount of spiciness is achieved. Because of the simplicity yet deliciousness of this dish, it is popular both in restaurants and at home. Many people eat this as a snack, but also along with other foods such as tempura and kimbap (rolled sushi), and some people enjoy mixing in ramen noodles as well.
Postcard(s) from Abroad:
Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:
Before leaving for Korea, I had no idea how much my Korean would improve over the course of just 5 weeks. However, when I was in Korea, I realized that my Korean had improved a lot just within the first 2 weeks. I feel that not speaking and practicing the language often was what inhibited me the most from advancing my Korean in the classroom. In Korea though, I could only speak Korean, whether it be to my professors or natives in the country because their English was very limited. When I first arrived there, it was difficult because I was used to thinking in English and then translating it into Korean. However, as time went by, thinking and speaking in Korean became more comfortable altogether. Incorporated into the program was a culture class, which immersed us into the city. Through this class, we had the opportunity to visit the National History Museum and the Korean War Memorial, learned how to cook three Korean dishes, learned a traditional dance, and watched a Korean movie. All these activities exposed us to the Korean culture, and they were all great opportunities to learn that much more about Korea.
Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:
I had never been to Korea before, and to be able to spend my summer there was an amazing experience. My Korean improved substantially, which was the greatest goal I wanted to accomplish by going to Korea. I also loved experiencing the Korean culture. Outside of class, we would go out to eat, watch movies, visit all the shopping districts in Korea, and visit many famous landmarks. Visiting and studying in Korea was such a great opportunity, and I have learned so much about Korea in the short span of five weeks, including how to navigate the subway and bus systems. What I believe enhanced my summer language abroad experience the most was the friends that I made in Korea. During the Olympics, we would all stay up until 6 am to watch Korean swimming, soccer, and archery, an Olympic sport I had never watched before going to Korea. These friends made an already great Korean experience a truly rewarding and memorable experience.I would highly recommend applying for the SLA grant because not only do you get the opportunity to go to a foreign country and learn a language, but you also meet some amazing people along the way.
How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:
I am no longer taking Korean classes at Notre Dame because the University only offers the language up to the intermediate level, which I completed before going to Korea. However, I treat going to Korea as taking the next level in the course because I was able to learn so much. Although I am no longer taking any more Korean courses, I still expect to put all the Korean I learned to great use. Back home, I am now able to communicate more effectively with elders, especially my grandparents who were my main reason for wanting to learn Korean. I also plan to use Korean in the future whenever I can because I am now much more confident in speaking it. Before going to Korea, I was shy about speaking in Korean because I knew that I was constantly making mistakes and sometimes could not express myself well in the language. However, I now have the confidence to speak the language well and fully intend on using it whenever I have the opportunity, whether it be speaking to students on campus in Korean or when ordering Korean food. After graduation, I also plan on using Korean in regards to medicine. I hope to become an accomplished doctor, and I have no doubt that I will be working with Korean patients who cannot speak English. In times like these, I will be able to use all that I learned during my stay in Korea to develop great relationships with my patients.