Language, Culture and Future Brought Them Together

2014-09-09 11:31:34

Mid-term exams is around the concern, but classroom 425 in Second Classroom Building is as crowded as usual. Around eighty students are in the classroom singing Three Bears (a Korean childhood song) together. The teacher, Shin Ji Yun, is a Korean sophomore from the Department of Chinese, Peking University.
This Saturday night’s Korean class is one of two routine classes held weekly on campus by the Peking University Korean Students Club. This one caters for beginners, while the other class is for advanced Korean learners.
Unlike many language training services or other skill-oriented training services held by clubs on campus, this Korean class does not accept any payment save for material fees. This may explain why the class is so popular with such a large audience.
“We have compared this class with the one conducted by Xindongfang (a renowned private education provider in China),” said a student who would like to be known as Gang, “This class is definitely worth it, for each group has a dedicated tutor, which makes it like a VIP class at Xindongfang.”
As a “student” from outside campus, Gang was introduced to this class by his colleague. He currently attends class on a weekly basis with his colleague, his wife and his wife’s friends.
This indiscriminate recruitment of the class is a distinguishing point from other clubs on campus, which only recruit members with a PKU ID. This is because the aim of this club is to allow foreigners to know more about culture through the teaching of the Korean language. It was with this goal in mind that the Korean students in China founded the Korean Language Education Center, and later when the center cooperated with the China-ROK Exchange Association, Peking University to conduct the class. 
Students are also attracted to the pedagogy. The first part of the two-hour class is led by a single Korean student, who will instruct the class as a whole. In the second hour, the Chinese students are split into in groups ranging from three to ten. More than a dozen of Korean students, who sit among Chinese students in the first hour, now take over the teaching, albeit now in a small-group setting.
“I prefer them to Chinese teachers,” said Iki, a junior student from the School of Foreign Languages, Peking University who currently attends the class. “The Korean students are native speakers, so they are able to teach us precise pronunciation. Besides, they can teach us the latest words trending in Korea right now.” When asked to compare the Saturday class and the official Korean elective module conducted by Peking University, IKI told me, “The school course takes too much time and credits, while this class is shorter and more fun.”
Chinese and Korean students come here for diverse reasons. For Iki, she likes Korean operas and wants to make friends with the Korean students on campus. “I love their exuberance,” she said.
As for Gang, who lives far from campus, his reason is more than picking up language skills and friends. “They (his wife and friends) love Korean language, so I come here to join them.” Other than this, “I also come here to experience the ambience of Peking University and also sort of out of an admiration of it.”
Apart from the club’s vision to showcase Korean culture, Korean students come hereto to have fun with Korean and Chinese students.
For the Korean students, this class is a big party. More than a dozen of Korean students sit at the back of the classroom, cheering and singing songs with the Chinese students. When asked for his reason for coming, Kim Min Hoi, a sophomore from School of Art told me plainly—“to have fun.” (His girlfriend is the lead teacher of the class this time.)
Through the teaching process, Korean and Chinese students forge deep friendships. “I made my best friend here,” said Shin. “I was her tutor last semester and we became good friends. I visited her this winter break in her hometown Guizhou.”
The class also bridges the barrier in communication between Korean and Chinese students. By teaching Chinese students the Korean language, they get the chance to reach out to Chinese students and interact more with them. This relationship is mutually beneficial. “I enjoy talking with them. I also tell them where they can chill in Beijing,” said Gang.
After the end of the class, the Korean tutors gather to have a short debrief session. They also often, after a night of hard work, hang out and go for a drink. This Saturday night, they celebrated a birthday for one of their members with a cake and a Happy Birthday song.
Shin Ji Yun, the lead teacher of this Saturday night’s class.
This class is also loaded with dreams of the teachers. As a lead teacher of the class, Shin has a special love for the class. The love is mingled with her dream of becoming a teacher.
“I want to be a Chinese language teacher in South Korea,” she told me with her beaming eyes in her Korean-accented Chinese.
She was introduced by her Korean friend to teach here. She is excited because this teaching experience is making her dream come true.
However, she is still beset with many difficulties, the biggest of all being the language barrier. Despite having studied Chinese for three years, language is still a stumbling block when she communicates with students. Fortunately, there is always English to fall back on if both do not understand each other.
In addition, she spends five to six hours a week preparing the materials for class. Sourcing for interesting materials is also a tough task. “Recently, Chinese people are obsessed with the drama My Love from the Star. So I try to find resources like this to teach them.”
Despite being confronted with so many difficulties, she said she is “very satisfied with the class.” “I teach them Korean. When they successfully pick it up, I get this great sense of achievement.” But the most important thing for her is that she is now able to realize her dream of becoming a teacher. “I feel like I am living my dream.”
Other than this Korean language class, a Cantonese class is held weekly on campus. The class held by Exchange Students Club every Sunday morning, is taught by students from Hong Kong.
“The part I enjoy most is that through teaching Cantonese, I know more about my mother tongue,” said Wong Ming Hong, the lead teacher for this class, a Master student from Hong Kong in the Department of History, Peking University. For him, language barrier is nonexistent, but this job is also challenging him to learn many things from scratch. “In order to teach them, I taught myself Wade-Giles system (a Romanization system for Chinese). I listen to Cantonese songs so that I can sing with them, which is not something I used to do often.”
Unlike the Korean class, this Cantonese class is more skill-focused. Many students come here either because they plan to go for exchange or apply for graduate school in Hong Kong in the future. It could also for the love of the culture and food of Hong Kong. “My friend studies in Hong Kong, I want to learn Cantonese so that I can communicate with her better,” said Amy, a freshmen from School of Economics, Peking University.
Written By: Chen Runxi