Rhee, Ga

Name: Ga Rhee
E-mail: grhee@nd.edu
Location of Study: Seoul, South Korea
Program of Study: Sogang University Summer Program
Sponsor(s): William Devers

A brief personal bio:

My name is Ga (Monica) Eun Rhee.  I am currently a sophomore student majoring in Pre-Professional Studies (Pre-Medicine) and minoring in Korean Studies at the University of Notre Dame.  I am very involved with service; my recent volunteering has been at Logan Industries, visiting people with disabilities and special needs.  Some of my hobbies include listening to piano music on rainy days, going camping and writing letters.  My dream is to work internationally, helping the poor and needy in developing countries.  I want to help make the world a better place, even if it’s simply by making another person smile.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

Being raised in America since the age of 5, I never had the opportunity to learn Korean in a formal classroom setting while growing up.  I was constantly reminded by my parents, and also by American friends, to never forget the Korean language.  I am fully Korean, and I realized it is foolish not to know my native language fluently.  I live in the U.S. and am Americanized in many ways, but I have come to understand that wherever I go, I will always represent my homeland country and will be one of the many faces of Korea.  Keeping up with my language and heritage is very important.  The SLA Grant has allowed for an opportunity to visit Korea, to experience Korea both academically and culturally, through Sogang University, one of Korea‰Ûªs prestigious and prominent Catholic schools like Notre Dame.  It has given me a chance to further educate myself on my heritage and roots.  I hope to gain more confidence and pride in myself as a Korean person.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

I hope to come back from the summer program with the ability to speak Korean very naturally and to have expanded my knowledge of Korea.  I believe that every activity will hold an opportunity to practice my Korean, whether it is conversing with a new friend, asking for directions, reading the placards at museums or ordering from restaurant menus.  It will allow for the natural development of language and familiarization of the culture.  I wish to be fully immersed in the cultural and academic experience of Korea.  I believe that learning about Korean heritage and improving my native language will allow for a growth in better understanding and defining myself as a Korean person.  The appreciation and understanding of who I am will always give me confidence in everything I do and will do in the future.  I hope to mature as a person, from experiencing new things and new places.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

  1. At the end of the summer, I will be able to communicate in Korean with native speakers, comfortably and naturally, giving a full introduction of myself and talking about personal goals in life.
  2. At the end of the summer, I will be able to recognize and demonstrate knowledge of Korean historical sites and famous monuments and architecture, as well as famous leaders and historical figures.
  3. At the end of the summer, I will be able to describe Korea’s current problems of the 21st century, such as its unseen poverty, its domestic political difficulties, and its struggle for unification with North Korea.
  4. At the end of the summer, I will be able to fully express my thoughts and emotions on a clearly and professionally written essay.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

Along with Sogang University’s wonderful academic program, I anticipate to be fully immersed in Korea’s community.  I will use the resources of the Korean Language Education Center, Buddy Program and HUG (Hands Up for Gathering) on campus.  These resources will allow for interaction with the students of Sogang University and allow me to practice the language non-formally.  Being Catholic, I wish to attend mass and become involved at St. Ignatius Chapel on campus.  I also wish to visit the famous Myeongdong Cathedral.  I will definitely participate in all the fieldtrips, hoping to get a glimpse of both the modern and traditional side of Korea.  With a passion in community service, I hope to be involved in the school’s Center for Voluntary Social Service, including tutoring at nearby primary and secondary schools.  Due to my love for museums, I hope to visit numerous museums throughout Seoul, including King Sejong The Great Memorial Hall (commemorating his accomplishments of the invention of the Korean alphabet, Hangul) and Seoul Museum of Art.  I hope to take full advantage of my international language study program.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: Pre-Departure Entry

I am very excited and nervous for my study abroad program. I wish to feel comfortable and free to go explore the community on my own. As a Korean, I wish to speak the language fluently and clearly so that no one suspects that I grew up in America. I wish to understand and recognize the differences between Korean and America culture. I wish to speak of my personal goals as well as hear the goals and aspirations of others. I wish to visit many Korean historical sites and famous places. I want to be educated in Korea’s past and current political issues. I want to meet many new friends that will help me improve my Korean language and expand my knowledge on Korean history and culture.

Reflective Journal Entry 2: TASK #1

Instead of questioning about specific colloquial/slang words to Korean interviewees I observed and took notice of how the Korean language was different in colloquial settings as opposed to how we spoke in an academic setting. I find the Korean language to be very beautiful and quite unique. There are so many ways to say a certain term or expression. For example, there are so many different words to describe palate expressions. The biggest difference between conversations in colloquial settings and formal settings was that the Korean language was shortened immensely in colloquial settings. This was most apparent with younger people, however I heard it used with elementary students as well as people in their 40s and 50s. I noticed it the most on subways where I heard people of many different ages talk. I also noticed it a lot on television shows. I was able to recognize some terms on the subways or on-the-go due to hearing it on television and other media. Sometimes more accents were placed on words when used in conversational settings and less or no accent when used formally. I asked a woman in her early 50s on what she thought about the usage of shorter vocabulary/expressions and slang terms. She was upset that young Koreans were not necessarily forgetting the language but changing the language. She believes that the language is one to be respected for it was made by one of Korea’s most renowned kings. She understands that slang words being developed and integrated into one’s language is a very common thing and probably happens in all languages. However, she believes that when slang words are used too frequently within one’s language, it may be harmful to the language. Younger generations are more likely to pick up the colloquial and slang words. Once slang words are used to frequently, the formal language, although we may not directly see it, may slowly disappear. She also expressed her worry for she has noticed people around her own age speaking very colloquially. The interviewee truthfully said that she sometimes says colloquial terms without even realizing it, however she tries to restrain herself. I wonder how the Korean language will change over the next few years and few generations.

Reflective Journal Entry 3: TASK #6

I interviewed a female first-year college student and a 26-year old working male on her/his perspective and attitude towards the United States. Their thoughts were very similar. Both held United States to be a superior and highly respectable country. They were both jealous of my life in America. But I noticed that they held a very idealistic point of view. Life in America was much romanticized. How they came to hold this kind of view, I did not know nor did I ask. I did not point out that their view of America was much romanticized. It seemed like they did not think people in America had problems nor that life could get touch in the states. The 26-year old male did not have much to say politically about the U.S. for he is uninterested in even Korean politics. He simply thought that life in America was far more superior and better than life in Korea. The female college student was also uneducated in U.S. politics but she said that she enjoyed watching American television shows and dramas and movies. She was interested and knew a little bit of American entertainment. Both female and male had never been to the U.S..

I also interviewed a woman in her 60s. She confirmed that lots of Koreans look at life in America with a romanticized view. Prior to her visit to the U.S. she thought America was, as everyone knows it, the country with all things possible and full of opportunities and a rich country. But she recently had a chance to visit America, and she said her visit was nothing like she had thought of before. It wasn’t that she found out that America is not a culturally and economically rich country, but little things caught her attention. She had only imagined big and economically powerful cities such as San Francisco and New York City but came to experience smaller cities and suburbs and rural areas that also make up large regions of America. She was surprised at how quiet and tranquil the small cities and towns could be. She also noticed how freely everyone dressed and acted. Nobody was really attentive or prejudiced against what one looked liked or how one acted. She says that Koreans are always very wary of how one looks or acts. She was amazed at how casual people were and thought highly of it. She also said it was good to see Americans who were very friendly.

I think the general Korean population looks at United States with a very positive outlook. Almost everyone I met seemed to want to visit America. To Koreans and probably most other countries in the world, they view America as the dream country, where you can fulfill all one’s dreams and the land of freedom and opportunity. America is still that envisioned dream lots of people hold however it is not as simple as some think to achieve one’s dreams. It requires the same amount of luck, and one’s effort and determination as one would need in any other environment. It is good to see people hold such a positive outlook on America as a whole, however without knowing the countries true politics and cultures, I think the people’s views can be misleading.

Reflective Journal Entry 4: TASK #2

There is an intense culturally and politically perceived topic in current Korean news. It is the topic debating whether the Liancourt Rocks are under the sovereignty of South Korea or Japan. It is definitely a political issue due to the power the country receives of the control of the natural resources that would be available in the Liancourt Rocks region. The political issue on the sovereignty of Liancourt Rocks is very important; however the cultural side of the issue is even fierier and highly significant. After asking three South Koreans about this issue, they all adamantly placed their views on the Korean side, believing that the Liancourt Rocks are part of Korea. I got very similar responses from interviewees of all different ages and careers. The interviewees told of how Koreans will forever be bitter about the history of Japan’s rule and colonial occupation over Korea in the early 20th century. The Japanese have caused so much pain in Koreans says one interviewee. Another interviewee cannot understand why the Japanese cannot leave the Koreans alone despite a whole century after the Japanese colonial rule. From the interviewees, I can sense that both sides strongly think that they are right. However Koreans are even more obstinate about it due to the bitter past that lies in people’s hearts and minds to this day. I did not inject any of my opinions during the interview but I am able to understand why the Koreans feel that way they do because I am Korean myself. Nobody really knows which side is correct, and which map and history book is truly the accurate one. I think it is inevitable for Koreans to think the way they do is perhaps because the Korean side feel so attacked by and helpless victims of the Japanese. They want to break free of Japanese control and of being adversary to the Japanese people. I think unless one side gives in and acknowledges the other, it looks like this hot debate can go on forever, which will lead to simply worse and worse ties between South Korea and Japan.

Reflective Journal Entry 5: TASK #4

A male interviewee in his late 20s lived in Korea from 2005 – 2007 and has been back three times since then. During his time in Korea he worked as an English teacher and was treated incredibly well. In fact he suffered (if that is the right word to use) from reverse discrimination. In his office at the Maseok Middle School he was regularly treated to special snacks, large tupperwares full of kimchi, fruit, and other such gifts from my coworkers. He actually found it somewhat embarrassing at first, but eventually became accustomed to it, although he tried to make sure that he never took it for granted. Only once in his years did he ever have a conflict with the school administration, and that was amicably solved over the course of a few weeks through patient discussion on all sides.

He says his experience in Korea was delightful, but he has lived in Korea long enough to know that there is a certain stratification of among the foreign populations in Korea. Those who come from English speaking countries, with the possible exception of American soldiers, are treated incredibly well, provided they behave themselves. Those that come from South Asia or Central Asia to do manual labor do not have it so well at all. Surprisingly, Korean Americans also frequently have difficulties because they are expected to behave like Koreans and to follow all of the Korean cultural norms, which many of them do not know completely. Non-Korean Americans, such as himself, are not expected to follow these norms and are in fact praised profusely if they just know the basics of the Korean language and culture.
He thinks cultural attitudes towards minorities in the United States and Korea differ immensely. Each county has its problems with discrimination against minority groups to be sure, but since the United States is not an ethnically homogeneous society like Korea is, I do not think that there are certain minority groups that by default will be treated better than others.
I was planning to interview a female interviewee, also from the States, but the interview did not work out.

Reflective Journal Entry 6: Post-Program Entry

I had an amazing experience through my study abroad program in South Korea. I learned so many things about Korea, from the language, to its culture and food, to its people and history. With the school campus placed smack in the middle of Seoul, I got to experience the busy life of an average Korean. I was well pleased with the level placement of my classes as well as the instructors. I was really fond of my three teachers and got along well with my classmates, of all different ethnicities and ages. I really enjoyed that, although I had a separate language class from the cultural class, the language class sometimes incorporated cultural topics and issues. Instead of simply learning grammar and writing in language class, I was able to learn the average and common thinking of Korean people. I really enjoyed my culture class as well. We learned a lot about Korean history. I love Korean history. Being fond of museums since a young age, trips to history and art museums were very exciting. The program was well organized. It allowed for exposure to places even some Korean people have never been to. Through museums and direct fieldtrips we were able to view the national treasures. For example, on the weekend fieldtrip, I was able to experience the Historic Village of Korea Hahoe and Andong, which are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I wasn’t able to participate in a volunteering service organization as I planned to. However I was able to participate in the Language Exchange Partnership where I was paired up with a Sogang University student. I was a great experience. My partner and I were the same age and so we easily became good friends and she was able to introduce Korea in a way where I could easily understand. I was really fortunate to see both the traditional side and modern side of Korea. The beauty of the traditional villages and architecture of Korea is well preserved for foreigners to see and experience. And the modern architecture and well-built public transportation system strongly gives the impression of South Korea, specifically Seoul, as an innovative and leading cities of the world. I was very fortunate to have been given a chance to study in Korea. I was exposed to so different parts of the culture. I definitely matured as a person. Not only did I continue to fulfill my duties as a student but I also upheld my responsibilities as a Notre Dame student, an American citizen, and represented my family in front my relatives I saw for the first time. I was faced with challenges and times where I had to make my own decisions. Although some were not easy, I was able to deal with them in an orderly fashion. It was such an enriching experience. I do not have any regrets. I believe I spent my time well, learning inside and outside of the classroom for five weeks. I plan to continue using and learning Korean. I hope to keep updated with Korean political and cultural news. I truly hope to visit Korea again, and keep discovering about the country and my roots.

Postcard(s) from Abroad:

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

Learning a language in its original country is really the best way to practice and gain further understanding of the language.  I was able to ask my professors as well as my language exchange student buddy about questions regarding the cultural differences and also about any confusion with speech.  As I had hoped, I was able to comfortably and confidently speak with native speakers, including restaurant owners, professors and family relatives.  I was able to explain my personal life goals to my cousins.  I was fortune to visit many Korean historical sites and famous monuments, including the UNESCO World Heritage site in Andong and Hahoe Village.  Seeing the well-preserved sites really made me appreciate Korea’s beauty.  I was able to discuss Korea’s recent political issues with a professor and a classmate.  I learned of the history behind the recent political debate and understood the significant importance it had to native Koreans.  Although it wasn’t as perfectly as I would have liked, I was able to express my feelings on the final exam paper for my writing class.  I definitely learned a lot of vocabulary and useful phrases and expressions that has made my speaking much more smoother and sophisticated.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

The SLA Grant has given me a wonderful experience and opportunity to not only expand my knowledge of the Korean language and culture, but also expand my knowledge of the world.  Although I visited one country, I felt as if I had traveled the world by meeting international friends through the program.  I had the opportunity to meet friends from Germany, France, Spain, China, and Australia.  Living in a big city and dealing with the city’s complications was another great experience.  I gained a lot of practical knowledge.  Even little encounters with the local people gave much insight.  Although it was only five weeks, I was able to see the world that Koreans live in.  I am Korean by blood but having grown up in the States, I have never fully understood nor fully comprehended the lives of Koreans.  I grew up surrounded by American friends, American ways and with American culture.  I truly learned a lot.  Also, my awareness to my surroundings and environment has significantly increased, which has made me think more deeply about things that I have never taken into consideration.  The study abroad experience really allows for time for a person to grow and mature.

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

My SLA grant experience is one that I cannot forget about.  I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to improve my Korean language and expand my understanding of the Korean culture through the program.  I will continue with my Korean studies on campus and maintain the language.  I learned a great wealth of knowledge, made great memories, met some great people as well as grow as a person.  I cannot trade my summer for anything else in the world.  I remember the things that I am grateful for as an American person and as a Korean person.  I take this chance to have been the first few steps in retracing my roots and perfecting the Korean language.  I feel proud to be a Korean-American.  With experience from studying abroad, I feel that I am advantaged in many ways.  Even though it was a short amount of time, I am grateful for the international exposure, to a new environment, to new people and to new situations.  I feel that I am able to conquer any obstacles that may come my way in the future.  I have gained courage and undertaken responsibility.  I have grown and matured into an adult, making decisions and getting around on my own.  Although it was an international experience, I feel that I can apply what I have learned to any new and difficult situation, whether it be in an academic or professional setting.  The richness of the SLA grant experience still amazes me even after a month.  I will remember the amazing memories that I take away from this trip and use them to drive me enthusiastically towards my life personal goals and dreams.