Son, Michael


Name: Michael Son
Location of Study: Seoul, South Korea
Program of Study: Sogang Korean Studies Summer Program 2012
Sponsors: Bob Berner & Earl Linehan

A brief personal bio:

Hi, my name is Michael Son, and I’m currently a freshman living in St. Edward‰Ûªs Hall. Currently, I’m dual majoring in Science-Preprofessional studies and Psychology while also pursuing a Korean minor. I sing baritone for the Notre Dame Glee Club and am actively serving as Historian of the club. Also, I’m part of the Minority Pre-med Society and the Pre-Professional Society here at ND. So far, my experiences at Notre Dame have been more than amazing. Being part of Frosh-O staff for my dorm, I hope I can share my love of the university with next year’s freshman.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

Currently, I want to attend medical school in the West Coast. Being proficient in Korean allows me to engage with Korean citizens living in that region. In the future, that will lead to a broader span of people I can help and influence.I am able to speak, read, and write Korean fairly well, but my abilities are not at a native speaker‰Ûªs level. Through the SLA Grant, I’ll be traveling to Korea and engaging with Korean citizens. This will give me the opportunity to apply my current knowledge of Korean, expand my vocabulary, correct the inconsistencies with my grammar and speech, use that feedback to augment my communication skills, and increase my confidence when speaking to others. Basically, the SLA Grant allows me to enhance language acquisition speed because I’m able to immerse myself in the Korean culture.

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

While I’m in Korea I intend to gauge my current skill level and see exactly what areas need improvement. Furthermore, I want to volunteer my time at a Korean hospital, learn medical terminology, and see differences between U.S. and Korean medical practices. Also, the summer language program is held in Seoul, Korea, one of the leading cities in education and intensive study habits. I will receive valuable advice and lessons on how to study efficiently and this will greatly benefit me at Notre Dame and in my future career. In the end, I want to come back to Notre Dame speaking at the same level of a native speaker, focus on learning medical terminology in Korean, help those who also want to study abroad, and hopefully integrate my study abroad experience with my major.

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

  1. At the end of the summer, I will be able to speak, read, write, and listen at a native speaker’s level of proficiency in Korean.
  2. At the end of the summer, I will be able to discuss Korean politics and medical policies in Korean.
  3. At the end of the summer, I will be able to type quickly in Korean, participate in Korean blogs, and know how to send messages via text in Korean.
  4. At the end of the summer, I will be able to go beyond my comfort zone through cultural and linguistic interactions, will have discovered more about myself, and will have made many everlasting friends.

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

Through the Sogang Korean Immersion program, I plan to participate in the weekly field trips to historical sites as well as enroll in the Buddy Program. The field trips help students incorporate the Korean language into their daily lives and develop a sense of solidarity with students from other nations. Sites such as the National Museum of Korea, Changdeok Palace, Hwaseong Fortress, and the DMZ will allow me to interact with Korean citizens and quickly adapt to guides who will mainly be speaking Korean. The Sogang Buddy Program pairs me with another student from the university, and we are encouraged to share different aspects about our culture and lives with each other. I find this a perfect opportunity to inquire about volunteering at a hospital and experience the differences between Eastern and Western practices. Also, I can join the student and take part in any of their athletic or academic clubs. Outside of the classroom and required field trips, I will take time to roam the city and participate in the current Korean entertainment phenomenon known as the Hallyu Wave. By doing so, I can make many friends and the overall experience will improve my Korean.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: Task #2

Lately, the age and rate at which Koreans marry has become an alarming issue in the country. I asked my Korean friend, Jae Ho, and Park Kyung Joon, a teacher assistant about the issue, and he told me the following: over the past several decades following the Korean War, South Korea has become a highly developed country where the cost of living in Seoul, the capital of South Korea, far exceeds the cost of living in any other city in Korea. The issue arises because of the costs involved with marriage. Normally, the wife pays for the wedding costs, and the husband has to pay for the home. However, the price of an apartment in a nicer part of Seoul, such as Gangnam, can easily amount to a million dollars. Even cheaper apartments are around the 200,000 dollar mark. In contrast, the wife’s family only needs to contribute around a tenth of the cost. Also, it is difficult for many Koreans to earn that kind of money. Therefore, I can now see why this might be a contributing factor as to why the average age of marriage in Korea is around thirty.

Later on, I interviewed a female teacher assistant at Sogang University about the same issue. Eun Young said that many parents wish for their children to stay home even when they go off to college. That way, they can keep an eye on them. Also, in Korean culture, if the son leaves the household then the parents do not have to worry about him. It is not the duty of the parents to watch over the son any longer. If the son gets married and leaves the household then the mother might feel as if her son has been taken from her. Additionally, buying a house in Korea is extremely difficult. Therefore, the children will just stay in their parents’ house for as long as they have to until they have enough to buy a house of their own. Relating back to the issue of low marriage rate, Koreans find it very difficult to get married if one or the other in the relationship, especially men, do not earn enough money. The reason is because it is too difficult to support oneself let alone a whole family.

Reflective Journal Entry 2: Task #4

Being part of the Sogang Korean Immersion Program, I have been able to meet many students from all over the world. So, I decided to interview two people I just met through this program. Kyle Blanquera, a Hispanic student in level one, told me that many Korean people are intrigued by the fact that he is trying to learn Korean. For the past several years, many foreigners have been interested in Korea because of popular Korean dramas or K-Pop. Kyle tells me that sometimes Korean people will stop to look at him as he walks across the subway or will stare at him. However, he knows that it’s completely normal because, for one, he is not Korean, and Koreans are not used to seeing foreigners. Furthermore, many Koreans have fair skin, meaning that it’s white and clear of blemishes. However, his skin tone is much darker causing him to stand out amongst the crowd. Additionally, he noticed that speaking in another language such as Spanish or English draws attention towards him. Even though he is stared at, Kyle says that Koreans are amiable and courteous. For example, he can ask any person walking along the street for directions and they will take their time to directly point out where he needs to go. Overall, he finds that it’s completely different from the U.S., because people in the United States don’t stare at him for being Hispanic.

Another student I interviewed was in level four. Jessica who is from Switzerland says that Koreans will also stare at her because she is European and so much taller than the average height of females and males in Korea. Also, taxi drivers, small business owners, and merchants on the street try taking advantage of her because she is white. However, Koreans are thrown off guard because she can speak, read, and write Korean so well. Anyways, she told me that it is completely normal that people stare, because people in general tend to stare at things that are not the norm. Some girls on the subway might point, stare and talk about her because they might be jealous of her height or facial features (double eyelids or raised nose bridge). Although they secretly talk about her, Jessica says that the comments directed at her are not bad. She states that these kinds of behaviors can be found in every country.

Reflective Journal Entry 3: Task #5

Bibimbap or “mixed rice” is one of Korea’s signature foods. It’s one of the first meals served on Korean airlines. Normally, the bowl of bibimbap is served as a bowl of rice with vegetables, meats, red chili pepper paste, and an egg. Multiple variations of this dish exist and the most famously known version is Jeonju bibimbap. The reason why it is so famous is because this variation used to be served to Korean kings during the Joseon period. Some of the vegetables used are cucumbers or zucchinis, white radish, sautéed mushrooms, spinach, bean sprouts, and carrots. Then one or two spoonfuls of red chili pepper paste, sesame seed oil, meat (beef, fish, and seafood) is added to the dish. Bibimbap is appealing to those who eat it because it is extremely healthy, colorful, and, most importantly, delicious. The colors of the vegetables complement each other and create the feeling of harmony and balance in the dish. As I mentioned above, a food fit for a king! After asking a waitress about the preparation, I learned that it is fairly easy to make and extremely hard to mess up. However, if one puts in too much pepper paste or sesame oil, the entire dish could be ruined. The only solution is to add more rice and vegetables.

Reflective Journal Entry 4: Task #6

While in South Korea, I interviewed my friend Jae Ho. He recently graduated from the top high school in Korea and is the same age as I am. He came to the United States for elementary school and has a general sense of issues in the U.S. He told me that Koreans in general wish to speak more English. Therefore, they take English classes from when they are elementary school students until they graduate college. Because the United States is the number one world power and because it influences other countries, South Korea (which has close ties to the U.S.) has also been influenced. For example, Korean society values western facial features such as double eyelids or raised nose bridges. Therefore, more Koreans have been getting plastic surgery in order to attain those features. My friend says that many girls look gorgeous but it slightly scares him to think how many girls faces aren’t their true face.

When I spoke to my older female cousin about why Koreans developed a sudden interest in the U.S., she said that it was because many people watched American dramas and TV shows. In the shows, everybody leads such an interesting life. The nightlife seems amazing, people live in houses compared to living in apartments, people can spend money on whatever they like, and TV characters are able to spend every day hanging out with each other without having to work. This is a more specific reason as to why Koreans want to go abroad and live in the U.S. or desire for their lives to be more like what they see on TV. As a result, some of the dating culture and nightlife has slightly changed in Korea. Beforehand, couples would not kiss in public (street, subway, amusement parks, etc.). However, couples now show more affection than they did several years ago.

After talking with Martin, a graduate MBA student from Sweden, in the Korean Immersion Program, I now have a better understanding of how different nations, especially the ones in Europe, might view politics in the United States. I asked how people in Sweden think about President Obama. Martin said, “We see how he is trying to make changes that positively impact the U.S.”. Also, there are more people in Europe who seem to support Obama than oppose his actions. I’ve also asked this question to those living in Korea, and Koreans seem to like Obama as well. Korean students will say that the general public likes Obama because he uplifts Korea’s image. However, Martin has stated some problems within the U.S. politics. He sees it as a huge problem when the president is only supported by slightly more than half the people in the nation. Moreover, it does not help that Republicans try to deter him from making any changes which then force Obama to push for certain reforms. Finally, Martin added that because the United States has such a great influence on other nations, how their economies run, and their politics, etc. the U.S. should pay more attention to what other nations have to say regarding current issues in the U.S.

Postcard(s) from Abroad:

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

During my time in Korea, I was able to pick up many new phrases just by listening carefully to those around me. I would hear mostly slang terms and would ask my relatives or close friends what they meant.  I also realized that Koreans love to shorten phrases or change the letters of a word in order to make it sound more informal or change the tone depending on the situation. In order to engage in and understand cultural differences, I basically had to accept the fact that I was different. This relieved some of the social pressures that Korea placed on me.There were several goals that I had set for myself at the beginning of the program. I was able to complete several of those goals such as being able to type in Korean much better than I was able to before. Also, I installed a Korean keyboard on my phone and was able to quickly learn how to text in Korean. By also volunteering at Seoul National University Hospital and acting as a translator, I was able to learn several medical terms and worked on translating a short medical paper with the help of other volunteers.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

By traveling to Korea, meeting many new friends, and experiencing life just beyond that of a student in the United States was probably one of the best if not the best experience of my life. Most importantly, my actions, thought, and perspective which has been influenced by my time at Notre Dame has also encouraged others that I might in Korea that there the future is bright, and that they have hope that our generation will do many great things. I realized that I cannot waste any opportunities that come my way and must keep on working hard to achieve my goals. That connections and treating others well is what gets anyone anywhere in life. I’ve only had a taste of a Korean culture for a summer, but I really want to travel to other countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, and South America to see how they all differ. I would definitely recommend the SLA grant to anyone who is planning on studying language abroad. For me, this grant opened up many opportunities that I would never have had in the first place. In the end, make your main goals improving the target language and making connections.

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

This summer in Korea has greatly impacted what I do with life. For example, I’ve joined the Korean Student Association here at Notre Dame and the Asian American Association so that I’m placed in an environment that forces me to use Korean. Also, I’m taking a second year of Korean at ND in order to focus on vocabulary, improve grammar usage, and read text quickly. Eventually, I hope to become enter medical school and become a doctor. My SLA Grant experience has motivated me to study this language and eventually attempt to learn other languages so that I may communicate to more than just one group of people. Knowing multiple languages will be highly beneficial to becoming a successful doctor who can effectively communicate with patients. Not only is the acquisition of language important for academics, but I believe it is crucial in breaking down social and ethnic barriers. In the end, I want to return to Korea, not as a student learning Korean, but as a doctor who has mastered that language.