Through the eyes of an international student

At the beginning of the school year, Wookyung attended Blue and Gold festivities held on campus. Fresh off the plane from Goyang, Korea, where it’s a 20 minute bus ride to Seoul. She was very quiet and shy, but ultimately curious about America and excited to meet the American students that surrounded her. South Korea is a relatively Christian nation, so though Wookyung came to UNK to study psychology she also wanted to study and learn more about the Bible.

With her Korean Bible in hand, she filled out a little card with the Navigators, a Christian group on campus, that she was interested in joining a Bible study. This is how I met Wookyung. I was leading a Bible study with the Navigators and went to her dorm to see if she was interested in joining a Bible study. I knocked on her door, a little nervous, and it opened for me to see a shy smile and hear a quiet voice.

What Wookyung wanted most that day was an English Bible. Though in Korea, children can begin learning English as early as third grade, it’s very rare for them to have the chance to speak with a native english speaker. While reading English was easier, the challenge came when conversations began. She stayed quiet in Bible study and when with American students because if the conversation became too deep, then it became more difficult to understand.

Wookyung and many other Korean students joined the program, Conversation Partners. But disinterested American students who they were partnered with, were only their for class requirements. At one point, their American partners only played basketball with them, and no conversation happened. Wookyung put it splendidly, “Why did not they do it pleasantly if they did it at all?”

With what seemed all opportunities were gone when it came to befriending American students, Wookyung became a little depressed and spent more time in her room and with other Korean students. But her curiosity and desire to learn English, helped her overcome the sadness as she forced herself to go to events and spend time with American students regardless of the outcome.

At Christmas, she jumped on the chance to spend the vacation with a new friend in a small town in Nebraska. Wookyung was given the chance to spend three weeks with an American family, from the main aspects of celebrating American traditions, to the smaller things of watching movies. “The made me feel like being with my family. I will never forget those times,” she said.

Wookyung’s time spent in Bible study also helped her break out of her shell. Through talking with students and praying, she got to learn more about God and also learn more about American students.

She wishes is that American students could walk a day in her shoes when it comes to conversation. Listening and participating in a conversation is much different than reading. During conversations, she would miss the context of something and then simply pretend to understand the conversation, too afraid to disrupt it in case she interrupted the flow. It means so much to her when an American student takes the time to make sure she understands something. “If you have an opportunity to talk to international students, it will be good for both of you guys to check they are making sense and there is a difficult word or context,” Wookyung said. “Your explanation will be better. We want to understand what you are saying and just be involved in the conversation together.”

As Wookyung prepares to head back to Korea, she’s grown in so many ways. She’s conquered the challenge of language barriers and the differences in cultures. But her final outlook on her time in America is stunning, “I also could know how American people are thinking about their family and friends. It was not very different from Korea and I just became to know human (people)’s love is same everywhere. Especially here Kearney’s people are great and I will never forget them.”

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One thought on “Through the eyes of an international student

  1. I like the story you have going here. Especially because it tells a part of the story that doesn’t get told enough. Do you have more of this in her voice? The more of it you can do that way, the better it will be.

    You bring yourself into the the story briefly, but you aren’t really telling this from your point of view.

    And I would say that’s your biggest challenge – what point of view are you telling this from? You start off from Wookyung’s, but then you break from it. I would keep the whole column from her POV.

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