Experience

How A Month at a Korean Immersion Camp Deepened My Perspective of Culture

Hey everyone! It sure has been a while since I’ve sat down and written a post- but I assure you I have a good excuse for my month long absence. A few days ago, I returned home from a month long Korean language immersion camp in Minnesota where I participated in an intensive language learning program to improve my Korean abilities. Although I personally arrived at camp with higher level Korean skills, there was still so much for me to learn.

Approximately six years ago, I began learning Korean through several exchange students at my school. The area I live in is home to many Korean immigrants and Korean-Americans so I have easy access to both the language and the culture should I chose to seek it out. At first, I only knew the bad words as any good middle school “language scholar” would, but my interest in the language continued to grow even after my friends returned to Korea.

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend 숲속의 호수 (Sup Sogui Hosu)’s two week program and I fell in love. So naturally, I decided to return this summer for a month, where I participated in the High School credit program. Upon arrival, I was immediately thrown into speaking Korean and only Korean. All the staff at camp are instructed to only speak Korean to the campers, although many staff don’t speak English to begin with. This forces us to communicate using nothing but Korean. Surprisingly enough, speaking a foreign language is the easy part. It’s the adapting to a separate culture that tends to throw people off.

At camp, our dean continuously reminded us that “language cannot be separated from culture”. Initially, I didn’t know what this meant. After all, I had learned the language just fine in a mostly American environment. But as I began class, certain concepts couldn’t be explained without examples taken directly from Korean culture. I began to realize that the Korean language was made in the context of the Korean culture, and the Korean culture was made in the context of the Korean language.

I also had the honor and privilege of attending a three hour lecture by former USA ambassador to Korea, Kathy Stevens, and heard her career story. It was interesting to find out that she was the first woman and the first Korean-Speaking ambassador chosen by the USA to represent us in Korean. By having a prior knowledge of the culture, the citizens of South Korea accepted her warmly and respected her as a political figure they could relate to.

Everyone has a different culture. It’s impossible to understand and grow accustomed to every single one. But as I lived surrounded in a different one than my own, I realized that we all have the responsibility to interact with different cultures regardless of how well we  understand each other. Misunderstandings are inevitable. However, if you apply yourself and give the situation time to be solved, culture is not an obstacle.

If you’re interested in a different culture or a new language, I encourage you to give it a try and be ready to embrace your mistakes. Of all the things I’ve done in my life, learning language is what I’m most thankful for.

Until Next Post,

Bekah

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