It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon for a weekend getaway. But, many foreigners in Korea are heading to Seoul’s Sookmyung Women’s University Station, Line No. 4, and a community center nearby that offers Korean classes.
“Jeoneun Ohio aeseo watseummida.” (I’m from Ohio.)
About 16 foreign students repeat what their Korean teacher just wrote on the white board. They are all ears learning how this common phrase is present tense in English, simple past in Korean.
“Learning a foreign language takes a lot of work and effort, not to mention teaching one,” says head Korean teacher Lee Min-hee. The 32-year-old volunteer has been working during weekdays and voluntarily teaching Korean language to foreigners every Saturday with her friend Lee Sunju at the center in Namyeong-dong since 2000.
With a passion for learning foreign languages, Lee and her friends gathered to begin the voluntary teaching every weekend as a chance for language exchange. Now, six volunteers, including four teachers and two assistants, run the free Korean language program in the “Kongbubang” (study room) every weekend.
As their program focuses on practical aspects — listening and speaking skills needed for foreigners studying or working in Korea — it gradually became popular among foreigners. Through word-of-mouth, students and workers without time or money for Korean courses, learned about the lessons.
The teaching curriculum is composed of four levels: one beginners’ class, two intermediate classes and one advanced class. Though the class is free, teachers still expect students to be dedicated, Lee says. For her, teaching is another form of learning, so the program’s staff also have to study hard with Korean language books to prepare for their lessons and make study materials by themselves.
Most students are from North America and Europe. Chinese and Japanese are the next largest group, with a few hailing from Nepal, India, Myanmar and Argentina. They include college students, English teachers, U.S. soldiers, housewives, accountants and other business people. They like to socialize after class sometimes as well, and many keep in touch with their classmates even after returning home.
Yuliya Mukhtarova, a student in the advanced class, says that she likes the Kongbubang program not because the program is free but because the program is fun and run by passionate teachers. In fluent Korean, the 31-year-old Russian tour conductor says she has been enjoying the program and still fondly recalls a trip to Yicheon, Gyeonggi-do, that she and others from the program made two years ago.
Those interested in attending can simply show up on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. The building that houses the Kongubang is a two minute walk down the diagonal alley way running toward Exit No. 2 of the subway station.
Visit the website at http://kongbubang.wo.to/ for more detailed directions and a list of phone numbers to call for more information.
By Yoon So-jung
Korea.net staff writer