“Korean language teachers cannot avoid competition with Chinese- and Japanese-language teachers in good faith. Many young students prefer learning Japanese because they tend to get easily attracted to the country’s culture, and the Chinese government is very proactive in promoting their own language abroad as a key state policy. However, Korean falls into neither category. That is why Korean-language teachers have to work twice as hard as other Asian language teachers to encourage students.”
At a book release party held on Sept. 1, a Korean language teacher, Jounghye Rhi, at East-West School of International Studies in Flushing, Queens, shared her own experience, which appears in the book, “Korean-Language Teachers in New York.”
Rhi was one of 15 Korean-language teachers whose personal narratives are featured in the book, which was published in June by the Bookorea publishing company in South Korea. At nearly 300 pages, the book contains autobiographical essays of teachers at Korean weekend schools and public schools in New York and New Jersey. Stories range from how they became a Korean-language teacher to the difficulties of being this particular type of teacher in the U.S.
“This book will be a useful tool for policymakers and scholars in South Korea to understand how Korean immigrants in the U.S. pass down their heritage, Hangul (the Korean alphabet), to the second generation of Korean Americans, and how much effort they’ve been making to introduce their mother language to U.S. schools,” said Profressor Pyong Gap Min, director of the Research Center for Korean Community at Queens College and co-editor of the book.
Professor Min began working on this book in early 2014 as an extension of his own academic study about Korean-language teachers in New York. As he conducted numerous interviews with the teachers during the course of the study, he was impressed by their dedication to introduce Hangul to both Korean and non-Korean children.
Most Korean-language teachers came to the U.S. at an early age, which is typically called the “1.5 (between the first and the second) generation,” enabling them to be bilingual in both Korean and English.
“As an immigrant who came to this county at the age of 16, I had thought that I was clumsy about both Korean and American culture,” said Hyunjoo Hwang, principal of the New Jersey Korean School, who is also featured in the book. “However, as a Korean-language teacher, I was lucky enough to be able to meet other teachers at schools who shared similar life stories with me. This opened up another world for me, one where I don’t feel completely isolated and where we can understand how important our generation’s role is to the school.”