There has been noticeable interest in Korean culture and language worldwide. K-pop sensation led the increasing demand for learning Korean amongst foreign students. According to a report published by the Korean Foundation for International Cultural Exchange, about 2,000 institutions are teaching Korean to students abroad. Foreign universities with a Korean Language major have also increased, totaling 1,395 as of now.
Reflecting this trend, numerous Korean universities are training students to become teachers who can provide proper Korean education all around the world. Since 2010, Ewha has trained students to teach Korean to speakers of other languages, known as TKSOL. Yum Jung-eun is a graduate of this course at Ewha. She used to work at Samsung but decided to quit her job and complete a master’s degree in TKSOL.
According to Yum, this was the doorway for her to experience diverse cultures across the world. This largely came to fruition when she was stationed in Vietnam and Serbia by the Korean Foundation and National Institute for International Education.
In 2016, Yum taught at the Hue University of Foreign Language in Vietnam. From 2018 spent two years in four different high schools in Serbia.
As a pioneer, Yum had to construct her own Korean language curriculum for her classes. Prior to her teaching, there was nothing available. This was unexpected as she had heard that institutions teaching Korean to foreigners in Korea had ready- made curriculums. She had to think on her feet.
“I was quite worried since I had to construct my classes from scratch,” Yum said. “Without the knowledge I acquired from TKSOL, I would not have been able to successfully teach my classes. The courses I took on Korean culture and teaching methods were particularly helpful.”
She tried her best to figure out a way to make her students feel as if they were experiencing Korean culture firsthand. One method was asking her students to find similarities between their cultures and that of Korea’s.
“I remember teaching Korean royal mausoleums,” Yum said. “I compared them with Vietnamese mausoleums as Hue was the capital of the Nguyen dynasty and had numerous tombs. Students were able to fully understand the concepts and contexts related to Korean royal tombs as it had many similarities with the Vietnamese ones.”
For Yum, adapting to the local community and culture was also a challenge, but Yum tried to understand the context in which the local cultures developed. Despite this effort, she encountered countless cultural shocks that she would not have imagined before living in a foreign country.
According to Yum, a person has to “get into and become a part of a local context.”
“Try to enjoy cultural shocks that make you uncomfortable,” Yum said. “When you reach the level of perceiving the cultural shocks as something to enjoy, you will be able to withstand any kind of difficulty.”
COVID-19 brought new challenges to Yum as the rest of the world was not ready for the changes. The Serbian government had ordered all schools be closed temporarily. During that time, there was no specific guideline as to how classes would proceed from the school. Yum, again, had to adapt to her new circumstances of getting to know the students online.
“Even though it was not easy to get to know students via Zoom, I somehow learned to communicate with them,” Yum said. “COVID-19 reminded me of the very lesson that I learned throughout my life, ‘There is no place that I cannot adapt to.’ I’ll spend the rest of my life living up to that.”