Critical Language Scholarship Program | Sonia Kim
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Sonia Kim

Sonia Kim is an alum­na of the 2016 CLS Kore­an pro­gram in Gwangju, South Korea. A for­mer K‑12 edu­ca­tor, she is cur­rent­ly an instruc­tion­al design­er at Ude­my, an edu­ca­tion­al tech­nol­o­gy start­up. She received her B.A. in Eng­lish from Brown Uni­ver­si­ty and her Ed.M. in learn­ing and teach­ing from the Har­vard Grad­u­ate School of Edu­ca­tion. In her free time, Sonia enjoys pho­tog­ra­phy, film, Asian-Amer­i­can fic­tion, and explor­ing the Bay Area; she is always on the hunt for the next best Kore­an restau­rant in San Francisco. 

Why Kore­an?

I was born and raised in Los Ange­les, which has a siz­able Kore­an com­mu­ni­ty. Although my par­ents spoke to me in Kore­an when I was a child, I slow­ly lost the lan­guage as I grew old­er. Lan­guage has always fas­ci­nat­ed me; I believe that it has the abil­i­ty to col­or and shape the nature of a person’s thoughts. I became more inter­est­ed in learn­ing Kore­an dur­ing and after my col­lege years, when I real­ized the frus­tra­tion of being unable to express my thoughts in Kore­an as I was able to in Eng­lish. After col­lege, I received a Ful­bright schol­ar­ship to teach Eng­lish in Seoul. The Kore­an my stu­dents used was so dif­fer­ent from the earth­i­er, more dialect-inflect­ed Kore­an of my par­ents. They used slang and clever abbre­vi­a­tions and Kong­lish” terms I had nev­er heard before. See­ing the lan­guage change in such a dynam­ic way got me inter­est­ed in re-learn­ing Kore­an to com­mu­ni­cate more effec­tive­ly with my stu­dents, my Kore­an friends, and my extend­ed family. 

In a word…

My favorite word in Kore­an, 정 (jeong”), has no direct trans­la­tion from Kore­an into Eng­lish, but I think it is such a beau­ti­ful con­cept. It describes the feel­ing that results from cre­at­ing a lov­ing and com­pas­sion­ate bond with anoth­er per­son. As a group, we def­i­nite­ly built a lot of 정 doing CLS this past summer! 

An Old Soul

Being Kore­an-Amer­i­can proved to be tricky at some points when I couldn’t find the right word or the right way to phrase some­thing in the moment. Often­times, strangers would just assume that I was a native stu­dent who spoke the lan­guage per­fect­ly. I remem­ber tak­ing a taxi once in Gwangju with an espe­cial­ly talk­a­tive cab dri­ver. We had been talk­ing about the weath­er or some­thing equal­ly mun­dane before he blurt­ed out, Why do you talk like an아줌마 ajum­ma (mid­dle aged woman)?” He real­ized that my Kore­an sound­ed a bit old-fash­ioned because I had learned some words from my par­ents who immi­grat­ed to the States in the 1980s. I was ini­tial­ly sur­prised at his direct­ness (in Kore­an cul­ture you can be incred­i­bly direct about some top­ics but not oth­ers), but we had a good laugh about it afterwards. 

Build­ing a Shared Learn­ing Culture

I cur­rent­ly work in online learn­ing, where one of the largest trends today is think­ing about how instruc­tors can cre­ate cours­es that appeal to inter­na­tion­al learn­ers from around the world. For exam­ple, do stu­dents in Korea learn dif­fer­ent­ly from stu­dents in India or stu­dents in Amer­i­ca? What kind of lan­guage can a teacher use to appeal to a broad inter­na­tion­al stu­dent base while also being per­son­able and cul­tur­al­ly sen­si­tive? By learn­ing a new lan­guage such as Kore­an, I am able to help build cul­tur­al under­stand­ing and work with a diverse group of instruc­tors who might have dif­fer­ent ideas about edu­ca­tion and learn­ing from the ideas we hold in the States. Being taught by Kore­an instruc­tors this sum­mer, I was also able to see dif­fer­ences in ped­a­gogy that can help me build empa­thy for stu­dents who might think of learn­ing com­mu­ni­ties and teacher-stu­dent rela­tion­ships dif­fer­ent­ly than we do in the States. 


Alumni Profiles

Sonia Kim
Sonia Kim
Korean 2016
Gwangju, South Korea

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Posted Date

March 28, 2017