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5 Questions for a Luce Scholar in South Korea

Portrait photo of Angelique
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We’re asking students, recent grads, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…

Meet Angelique—an Assistant Researcher currently living in Seoul who holds a Bachelor's degree in International Studies from Spelman College and a Master's degree in Linguistics from Georgetown University.

1. Congratulations on being named a 2023-2024 Luce Scholar! Could you share more about what this entails and about your current work overseas?

Angelique wearing a traditional Hanbok in Jeonju, South Korea
Angelique wearing a traditional Hanbok in Jeonju, South Korea

Thank you! Formally, a Luce Scholar is someone who has an interest in Asia but doesn’t have much prior professional exposure. Once selected, you get the opportunity to spend 13 months immersed in an Asian country learning, working, and forming a community.

For me, I had exposure to China, but I also had developed an interest in the language education system in Korea. As a result, I was placed at the Asia Pacific Centre of Education for International Understanding (APCEIU) under the auspices of UNESCO, where I am working with industry-leading experts and stakeholders to promote the concept of global citizenship education. I use my language skills every day, communicating in Korean to my coworkers and guests.

In my opinion, being a Luce Scholar entails embodying the spirit of language learning. You have to be comfortable with constantly being confused and push yourself to learn about and understand your placement country. Being a Luce Scholar means becoming a sort of societal-student while also becoming a pseudo- subject matter expert at your work placement, balancing your growth and learning with your aspirations to contribute to your host community, and ultimately developing a deep appreciation for a culture you otherwise may have never come in contact with.

2. Please tell us a little about your earliest experiences learning languages: When did you begin? What would you say has been the greatest motivating factor in your continuing to learn Chinese over the years?

My language learning journey started with taking Spanish in middle school and being frustrated learning the same thing over and over again, which seemed to be a result of the school’s lack of investment in language classes. I tried to start teaching myself Japanese, but that turned out to be way more difficult than 13-year-old me expected.

Then, in 8th grade, my school offered the opportunity to sit in on high school classes to decide what electives we wanted to take, and I chose the Mandarin Chinese class. I’ll never forget the teacher’s passion and enthusiasm. It was contagious, and it made me switch from Spanish to Chinese, in the hopes that I would finally learn another language.

To this day, that teacher has inspired me to stay motivated to learn about the language, the culture, and connect with Chinese speakers.

3. We’d love to hear more about your study abroad experience(s) as a teen/undergrad! Where did you go, and what were your biggest takeaways?

Angelique in Suzhou, China
Angelique in Suzhou, China

When I was in high school, that same Chinese teacher organized a trip to China which she encouraged me to go on. I was able to work and save up enough money to go, and while I was there, I got to go tandem bike riding and eat some of my favorite food of all time in Xi’an and Beijing, sing traditional Chinese children’s songs at a rooftop bar in Shanghai, take in the scenic views of Guilin by paddle boat, and ride camels in the Gobi desert outside of Lanzhou.

The biggest takeaway from all of these experiences was my thirst for more. I realized a short summer trip was not even close to enough time to learn about a place and its people. I knew I had to go back. That’s why I studied abroad in college. While I studied in Nanjing, I was able to travel to many other places in China and try so many cultural activities and engage with the community by doing things like taking a calligraphy class, practicing tai-chi, and volunteering to teach English at a school that catered to children of migrant workers.

I also did a homestay when I studied abroad, and my biggest lessons came from my little host brother, who was the same age as my actual brother. He taught me to use my language skills in ways I didn’t even think of, and I find value in those lessons even to this day. Those experiences not only shaped me personally but set me on a professional path that lets me use my language skills.

That experience taught me that the language you learn in the classroom cannot replace contact with native speakers, and that immersive experiences are necessary for language learning.

4. What has been the most rewarding part of your language journey to date?

I’ve learned to celebrate the little wins with my language journey. Realizing I can understand a phrase or expression I couldn’t before, or even getting a compliment on my pronunciation—any of those small victories are very rewarding.

One of the most rewarding moments of my language journey this year happened while I was assisting with a workshop where we were hosting teachers from Korea, China, and Japan. Although the lingua franca was English, I witnessed one of the teachers from China trying to communicate in Korean. For the first time, I got to use both my Chinese and Korean skills in real-time (even though my brain almost malfunctioned!). I felt like: “Finally, all this hard work has paid off!”

5. What advice would you share with current language learners or those considering studying a language?

Angelique in Xi'an, China
City wall in Xi'an, China

If you’re just starting out, or even if you’ve been learning for a while, set a modest and fun goal for yourself. Not something abstract like fluency or reaching a certain testing level, but something of personal interest, like being able to understand the lyrics to your favorite K-pop song. That way, when you feel like you’ve hit a plateau, or you’re struggling and getting frustrated with your progress, you can go back to what drew you to the language and remind yourself of that goal.

You’re going to have those moments where you’re just frustrated and don’t understand why you can’t get that one grammar concept or pronounce that one word right, so it’s important to give yourself something small to both track your progress and also motivate you to keep going.

Language learning is about connecting to others, so even though it can be difficult, you should find ways to have fun and enjoy the process of discovering a new way to communicate with someone.

BONUS QUESTION

Complete this thought: Why is language education important to you?

I love to learn, but what drew me to languages was the endless possibilities. Learning other languages opened up my world to opportunities I otherwise never would have had.

I have gotten to travel to the most incredible places, meet people who have inspired me and touched my heart, try things and foods I could have never imagined, and have begun a career that will allow me to continue to do amazing, unbelievable things all because I started learning Chinese.

As a 15-year-old Black girl from Fort Worth, Texas, traveling halfway across the world to China was not commonplace, but that experience shaped the colleges I applied to, the majors I chose, and the decision to come to work in South Korea.

Language education is often thought of as secondary, or supplementary to students’ main education, but it can be irreplaceable when done effectively.

My language education is so important to me because without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today, but more importantly, I wouldn’t be who I am today.


Check out our Connect with Languages or Language Programs & Funding pages to explore language scholarships, university programs, testimonials, and more! And, as always, visit @LangConnectsFdn on social media to share your story with us.