Baguio has 5,000 Korean students
Koreans find English haven in RP
BAGUIO CITY--It is a Saturday, a day of relaxation, of unwinding. The movie theater is crowded, where Filipinos and foreigners alike, sit in anticipation and excitement over the movie. It is yet another foreign language film-of the many typical blockbusters that flood the Filipino market. As the lights dim and the screen flickers to life, a hushed silence descends upon the audience.
Korean student Mo Ran Hong, sits watching the commercials and movie trailers flash by, barely understanding the words spoken by American superstars such as Keanu Reeves, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. As the main feature starts, she braces herself. She has left her English-Korean electronic dictionary at home, and she knows, as she always does, that it is going to be one achingly arduous movie to watch.
The movie has begun, and the actors talk in their American accents, making esoteric jokes and references to American pop culture. A ripple of laughter spreads among the Filipino audience. They understand the nuances. Hong can barely grasp the conversations. As she relates it, "It is a challenge to go to a movie. The conversations are very fast. Listening and understanding is difficult."
This scenario clearly illustrates one of the many reasons why Korean students have flocked to the Philippines to learn English. As the world gets smaller and smaller and as globalization continues to spread, English has fast become the language of trade, education, politics. And yes, even entertainment.
As Hong says, "English is very important."
Hong, 25, a molecular biology graduate who worked for a few years and visited countries such as China and the Philippines before deciding to study English again, had realized long ago the necessity of learning English.
"I'm interested in international trade," she explains.
International companies who have established offices and factories in Korea now demand a proficiency in English from their Korean employees, best tested through the Test of English in International Communication (TOEIC) and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) as well as job interviews. Those who pass the tests and the interviews increase their chances of getting hired and, also, of getting promoted. Students who have traveled abroad specifically to learn English, especially to a native
English-speaking country, increase their chances of getting hired.
Competing for jobs
And because Korean culture, like other Oriental cultures, is patriarchal, conservative and Confucian-based, women right away have a setback when competing for jobs with a man. A man who is more proficient in the language, but less competent and qualified, may have more chances of getting a job than a woman who may be more competent and qualified but is not proficient in English, a reality that Korean women all know too well. This makes learning English even more imperative for women.
"Generally, a man gets a job more easily than a woman," Moon Ki Park, a male student studying in the Philippines, says. He adds that a man's chances of getting promoted and of getting a high salary are better than that of a woman.
Yu Jin Won, 21, says that she has fears of not getting a job because she feels that her university is not prestigious (such as say, Seoul's Korean National University or Yon Sei University), and her English still not proficient. Shy and pretty, she hopes though that learning English will help her.
Another student, Seung Hong Park, says that if he does not know English, he will end up working in a factory, not in an office.
According to the Population Reference Bureau, an international NGO based in the USA keeping track of population related data, there is a high unemployment rate in South Korea, with approximately 1.2 million Koreans jobless, or 4.1 percent, of which more than half are women.
And the interest in learning English can be as simple as wanting to appreciate English films, music and articles, as dubbed American films or translated American music leave much to be desired.
Immersion is key
Why the need to study English abroad?
Hong explains in disconnected sentences, "The problem is that, our education in Korea, when we were children, we never learned English. It was difficult."
She further explains, "Before, English was not important to our parents. They thought learning English was a luxury. Now, Koreans think English is important."
Another problem that Korean education and students faced was the lack of competent English teachers. "Even though we had English teachers, they never spoke in English," Hong points out. "They explained English grammar in Korean. In my case, in our English classes, I learned only vocabulary words and grammar."
"We didn't have a chance to speak English," she continues. "Immersion is very important."
Thus, most Korean students opt to leave the country to study abroad, staying anywhere from two to six months to a year in a foreign country, to force themselves to speak English. The country of choice is the United States, Canada and Australia. But a lot of students find the cost of living and education there very high, forcing them to work while studying and impeding their chances of concentrating in learning the language.
Hence, Korean students choose the Philippines as an alternative. The Philippines, being the only Asian country which uses both its native official language -- Filipino and English -- is the country of choice for Korean students who cannot afford to go to a first-world, native English-speaking country. With its low cost of living and low tuition (students spend on the average P40,000-P60,000 a month), coupled with competent Filipino teachers, Korean students get the best of both worlds.
"I like it here," Hong says. "I have already adapted to the environment."
Won agrees. "It is cheaper than other countries."
Aside from this, Koreans find it easier to adjust to Filipinos more, as they are still Asians-with a culture that is both eastern and western. "Filipinos are very kind," Won says. Thus, adjusting to both a foreign language and culture here, prepares them and gives them more confidence to go to a native English-speaking country.
Because many Koreans have flocked to the Philippines to study, teaching English as a second language (ESL) has enjoyed a boom in a lot of regions, particularly in Baguio City, where Hong, Won and Park are. Baguio currently has about 5,000 Korean students studying in the city from two to six months, according to a Korean school official here. Most students come to Baguio not only because the standard of living is less costly than, say, Manila, but also because of the cool climate and the comfortable, less stressful environment.
By now a typical sight in Baguio City, these groups of young, fair-skinned, Oriental foreigners navigate the murky waters of basic English grammar, pronunciation, intonation, pitch, vocabulary, reading comprehension and expression. On weekends, the Korean students fill the city's streets, malls, parks and various tourist attractions. A typical school day for Hong would be eight hours of studying: four hours of one-on-one classes and four hours of group classes with discussion, movie viewing, listening, presentation and writing. After class, Hong, like many Koreans, usually studies from 8 p.m. to midnight or in the morning. It is a vigorous, intensive, comprehensive schedule that Hong, and other students, do not mind undergoing. After all, in the long run, it will benefit not only her, but also her future children, whom she plans to teach English.
"I've only been here three months," Hong says, "but I already have confidence and I like English more and more. After I go back to Korea, I will continue studying. I'm not afraid to go back, lest I forget my English," she says.
And though watching movies can be difficult, Hong is beginning to understand them better. Maybe soon, she can laugh with the Filipino audience at the funny parts of the movies. This can only indicate her confidence, something that she can someday say the Philippines gave her.
[source: inQ7 article by Michelle Bayaua]