At Bethel Korean School in Ellicott City, classes for adults help them reconnect with the past

Howard Neighbors

Finding their heritage again

Your Community

March 10, 2006|By JANET GILBERT

There is a saying in Korean about the teaching profession. Roughly translated, it is: "Do not even step on your teacher's shadow."

Teachers are highly respected in Korean culture, not only by students but by individuals across other professions. Friday evenings at the Bethel Korean School in Ellicott City, approximately 250 children learn this and more in Korean language and culture classes for grades K-12. The school has begun offering classes Monday evenings for adults interested in learning or refreshing their knowledge of Korean.

Insook Shin, a teacher and administrator at the Bethel Korean School, talks about the adults who take the classes. "About one-half to one-third are related to Koreans - they may have a Korean spouse or parent," said Shin. Some have intellectual curiosity and wish to learn the language so they can communicate with others in Howard County schools and workplaces and be able to read the signs at the Korean grocery store Lotte Plaza. Others are adults who may be seeking to reconnect with their heritage or members of their families, as is student Kathy Yu.

Yu, 39, immigrated to the United States when she was 9. Her parents owned a store and worked long hours; Yu went to school and quickly learned English. For Yu, Korean became her second language.

Yu's father lives with her now in Columbia. "We have basic conversations," said Yu, "but I thought we would have a more enjoyable dinnertime if we could converse at a more meaningful level."

Yu explained that her father's level in English is similar to her level in Korean, in terms of speaking and understanding. When Yu recently spent time with her niece, who is 10 and has attended Bethel Korean School, she realized her niece's knowledge of the Korean language had surpassed hers. Yu says she felt ashamed, and that it prompted her to sign up for the adult classes.

"Just being in the class for a couple of weeks," said Yu, "I am picking things up faster and now starting to speak more in Korean." Her father helps her with her homework, she says, and corrects her pronunciation.

"I may be speaking Korean with an American accent," Yu said.

Shin said that by the end of the 16-week semester, students should be able to apply what they have learned and have simple conversation in Korean. Shin said she is "deeply moved" by the dedication of her adult students, one of whom drives from Pennsylvania to attend the sessions.

"I really appreciate their eagerness to learn Korean," Shin said. "The motivation is greater in adults, and it makes me want to work just as eagerly."

An important part of the curriculum is Korean culture, including demonstrations and hands-on workshop classes in painting, history and cuisine.

"The world is globalized," said Shin. "If a person has a Korean boss or Korean customers, it is a benefit to have an understanding of the culture."

The school is funded by a grant from the Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church on St. Johns Lane in Ellicott City, where the classes are held. For more information on the next Korean language session, contact Shin at 410-461-1235, extension 21, or e-mail bethel

`Knowing the Learner'

Bonnie Brownell, president of the Maryland Multicultural Coalition, would no doubt agree with the community bridge-building efforts of the Bethel Korean School. Every spring, her organization, a chapter of the National Association for Multicultural Education, puts together a statewide conference for educators, community activists and anyone interested in multicultural education that promotes equality and achievement for all students, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity.

"This year, Howard County is hosting the conference," said Brownell, who also is manager of the Teacher Support Center for the Howard County school system.

"The sponsoring county has a lot of input, and our theme is `Cultural Proficiency: Knowing the Learner.'"

The conference will be held March 25 at Reservoir High School, beginning with registration and breakfast at 8 a.m. and concluding about 2 p.m. This year's keynote speaker is Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat.

While the conference has an education focus, Brownell said it frequently draws a smattering of parents. "We look at parents as educators," said Brownell. A multicultural environment greatly increases the complexity of a teacher's job, and the conference aims to help in a variety of ways. To distill an entire conference into a sentence: The more you know about the learner, the more effectively you can reach and teach.

The conference registration fee is $35, and those who attend can select from 35 breakout sessions on topics such as prejudice awareness, building a positive classroom culture, cultivating character in children and communications skills for the diverse classroom.

"It also includes breakfast and lunch," Brownell said.

The U.S. Department of Justice will make a presentation this year, introducing participants to a cost-free federal resource called the Community Relations Service, dedicated to helping communities deal with hate crimes and their impact on the school environment.

To register, call Brownell at 410 313-7009, or e-mail

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