Barlow Travel Grant Report by VqzhSNW


									                       Barlow Alumni Travel Grant Report 2012
                                  Michael Cloutman ‘77

                       Korean Language and Cultural Immersion
                                 Seoul, South Korea

I want to thank David Barlow ’79, the Barlow Family, and Bates College for the
providing me with the opportunity to travel to Seoul, Korea, to further my nascent
Korean language education. In addition to the Barlow Travel Grant, Kimball Union
Academy generously provided funds for my professional development. The experience
was truly the opportunity of a lifetime and one that I will never forget. What follows are
some of the highlights of my trip and the impact of my experience.

As a faculty member for thirty years at Kimball Union Academy, a small independent
boarding and day school in Meriden, NH, (now in its bicentennial year), I have taught
many students from Korea. They are a vital part of the international student body at
KUA, and over the years I’ve come to appreciate their culture and, more recently, their
language. I began studying Korean language in part because I had a life-long nagging
sense of guilt about my lack of foreign language skills. In addition, several of my
Korean students urged me to consider learning Korean and to visit Korea where they
could help me experience their culture. Many of these students are experienced
international travelers who learned English at a young age, and many are fluent in more
than two languages. I envy their language skills and admire the risks they took to leave
their country and get an education in America. Several international graduates from
Kimball Union go on to study at major colleges and universities in the United States, as
well as in Korea.

After a year of studying Korean using various print and on-line resources, as well as a
tutor and several willing and eager Korean students at Kimball Union, I realized that I
needed more focused instruction and cultural immersion. Learning a foreign language
is a challenge that requires more than part-time attention. The Barlow Travel Grant
provided the necessary funding for just such an experience.

After researching several summer language immersion programs in Seoul, I settled on
Yonsei University, a highly respected academic institution with undergraduate and
graduate schools, a medical research hospital, as well as pharmacy, engineering, and
life sciences schools housed in three campuses in Seoul. Moreover, Yonsei is justifiably
proud of the summer language programs and year round classes at the Korean
Language Institute (KLI) where I attended classes this summer.

When I arrived on the Yonsei campus for the first day, I settled into a seat in the
auditorium, along with about 150 other students, to listen to the convocation speeches
by the president of university, the director of the summer program, and a couple of
other dignitaries, all of which were delivered entirely in Korean. Full immersion on day
one; of course I could not fully understand all of what was said, though a few words
were recognizable in passing. Following the convocation, I sat for a placement exam,
and knowing full well that Level 1 was my destiny I dutifully responded to as many
questions as I could just to see what I thought I knew of the language.

The following day I met my classmates as we waited for the 선생님 (seonsaengnim),
the teacher, to arrive. There were 14 students in the class, many of whom where
Korean-Americans who were interested in learning the language and learning about
their heritage. In addition to several students from the US, there was one boy from
France, a girl from Taiwan, and a Canadian boy of Korean descent. I was clearly the
oldest student in the class, all of who were between 18 and 24 years old. I was probably
the oldest student in the entire program, for that matter, though I did meet a few other
adult language learners.
Classes ran four hours a day for five days a week from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm with two
breaks between classes. The curriculum was tightly structured and students worked on
all the essential elements of the language. On the first day we had a cursory review of
the alphabet and phonetic sounds associated with vowels and consonants, and
combinations thereof, after which we dove right into speaking phrases and learning
sentences from the dialogues in the text. It was not uncommon for me to have two or
more hours of homework to do, including memorizing or listening to dialogues, writing
sentences based on the lessons during the day, or reviewing vocabulary in preparation
for the daily quiz on the material.

Twice a week, Monday and Wednesday, I took a pottery class as part of the university’s
Korean culture offerings. In addition to pottery, there were classes in Korean cooking,
traditional Chinese brush painting, Taekwondo, and K-Pop music and dance.
Afternoons in the pottery studio were a welcome respite from the language sessions. I
could chat with my tablemates, roll out the clay, shape the material into the day’s
assignment, and tap into what little artistic talent I had.

I lived off campus in the Sinchon section of Seoul, only a 15 minute walk to campus.
The denizens of Sinchon are mostly college students who attend the three universities
in the area, Yonsei, Ewha Woman’s University, and Sogang University. My
neighborhood was filled with bars, pool halls, PC rooms (where people go to use
computers, play games, and socialize), and karaoke rooms that attracted the college
crowd. On most nights, especially weekends, the streets were bustling with shoppers
and walkers, ducking into air-conditioned stores or restaurants for some relief from the
stifling humidity. The subway station, a five minute walk from my room, provided
access to all of metro Seoul. The fares are inexpensive, the trains are on time, and the
stations rival hospitals for their cleanliness. Although Sinchon seemed a bit tired and
tawdry compared to more upscale sections of Seoul, it had a unique character and
quirky charm that I came to appreciate.
In my immediate surroundings there were several restaurants, including Starbucks
(there were four stores on my walk to campus), McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, and
an Outback Steakhouse all nearby. American food was ubiquitous, though I made every
effort to avoid eating American food, with the exception of Starbucks coffee, my lone
concession to American fare. However, finding Korean, Japanese, or Chinese food was
never a problem; street vendors were on every corner and numerous restaurants
offered traditional Korean food such as mandu (Korean dumpling), moolnaengmyun
(buckwheat noodles and sweet potatoes in a chilled beef broth), bibimbap (a mixture of
rice stirred with vegetables, beef, and egg mixed together with sauce and seasonings),
and of course, kimchi, a side dish made of fermented cabbage, cucumber, radish, and
seasoned with hot spices, pepper, garlic, green onion among others. Kimchi is
considered the national food of Korea and it’s served in every home and restaurant in
the country.

In my free time on some weeknights and weekends, I had the pleasure of visiting with
several of my former Korean students. They were enthusiastic tour guides who were
proud of their city and country. I have many to thank for their generosity and warmth,
all of which made my stay in Korea that much more fun. I toured the ancient palace
grounds of Gyeongbokgung, visited the Korean Folk Museum within the palace
grounds, and learned about the rich culture and history of Korea dating back to the late
1300’s when the palace was built by King Taejo. Not far from the palace grounds there
are small shopping districts that attract many tourists. Insa-dong is a favorite for
tourists because of the many shops, cafés, tea rooms, restaurants, and art galleries. Not
nearly as crowded as Insa-dong, and perhaps more quaint, are the narrow, winding
roads and alleys of Bukchon-dong with its own unique range of restaurants, shops, tea
rooms, cafés, galleries and bars.
One of the more interesting parts of Seoul is Gwanghwamun, an historical and cultural
area that featured a wonderfully designed exhibition hall honoring the transformational
significance of King Sejong who ruled Korea for over thirty years between 1418 and
1450. Widely acclaimed as the creator of the Korean alphabet (Hangeul), King Sejong’s
unique writing system was designed to make learning as easy as possible, and increase
literacy throughout Korea. Outside on a plaza stands a giant statue of King Sejong on a
throne overlooking his subjects. Beneath the statue, a series of water spouts erupt
while children frolic in water to find some relief from the summer humidity.

Although I was not able to travel outside of the Seoul metro area and visit other cities or
see the sights in the rural areas, my hope is that I’ll be able to do so on a return trip to
Korea in the future.

Perhaps the highlight of my Korean cultural experience was attending a professional
baseball game at the stadium near the Olympic Park. Although the game of baseball is
played exactly like American baseball, the fan participation is worth the price of
admission, which in this case was 10,000 Korean Won, or roughly $9.00 for excellent
seats in the grandstands on the first base line. Korean fans are passionate about their
teams, and fans from both teams pour into the stadium clad in their teams’ colors,
carrying inflated “clappers” that with each cheer resonate like drumbeats throughout
the game. Each fan base has orchestrated cheering sections, and virtually every fan
knows the various cheers for particular players and the words for every song that’s
boomed out on the PA system. Both teams had a cheerleader who stood on a stage
surrounded by a sound system and four girls dressed not unlike cheerleaders for college
or NFL games. The atmosphere of the game and the passion of the fans was
contagious. I was also impressed with how polite and respectful the fans were; there
was no foul language or jeers aimed at the umpires or opposing players, and at times it
was more like being at an opera instead of a baseball game.
Quite aside from all of the time spent touring parts of Seoul and reconnecting with
Kimball Union’s Korean alumni, my experience in Korea was transformational. I came
to appreciate the Korean culture and rich history far more than I could have by reading
books or learning the language in isolation. Personally, the challenge for me was to
learn the Korean language in greater depth and understanding than I could on my own,
to experience a different part of the world, and to dwell outside my comfort zone. To
these ends, I succeeded. Professionally, I gained greater insight into and respect for the
Korean culture and customs. Sitting in a classroom and being barraged at times with an
onslaught of strange sounding words is daunting. I certainly have greater empathy for
my Korean students who, though reasonably proficient with English, still are
challenged by the syntax and diction of the English language, just as I was and continue
to be challenged by the Korean language. Though I am far from fluent, I continue to
work at learning more and I’m inching my way toward greater proficiency. I am able to
exchange some words and phrases with my Korean students, meet and greet some of
the prospective Korean students and parents who visit campus with their children, all of
whom appreciate the effort to understand a little bit of their culture.

I am truly grateful for the generous opportunity provided by the Barlow Alumni Travel
Grant, and I am honored to have been the recipient of such a prestigious award. My
experience in Korea has changed my perspective on my career as an educator, and has
whetted my appetite for more educational opportunities and travel abroad.

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