By Philip 'Hiro' ChangNovember 8, 2008
PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. - Five students from the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) students recently got a rare opportunity to attend one of South Korea's prestigious universities, Korea University, to further their proficiency in Korean.
For a month, these students are taken away from their familiar classroom and thrust into an all-new environment where they have to use their Korean language skills to communicate with their native speaking hosts.
"The classrooms at DLI are great and we have top-notch teachers, but it's kind of the same thing day after day," said Air Force Capt. Megan E. Himber, a Korean language student.
"So it's great to come here and not only have new experiences, but also to use the language constantly," she added.
The students stay with a Korean host family that prepares their breakfast and dinner meals; while they are able to go out into the local community during their free time.
"So when you go home they're speaking to you in Korean, at the coffee shop they're speaking to you in Korean and because of that your brain is thinking more in Korean than you would at DLI," Himber said.
Himber also said that the opportunity to converse with Koreans has been the very exciting and beneficial for her, an opportunity that she doesn't get being here.
"When I came to DLI, I already had my group of friends and I spent time with them, but over here your family and friends have been taken out of that picture and now you have to associate with the local Koreans, which has been very good for me," she said.
But for the most part, students are in a classroom furthering their grasp of the Korean language, according to Himber.
"The teachers here are trying very hard to make sure we're prepped for our end-state goal of doing well on the Defense Language Proficiency Test (DLPT)," Himber said.
The DLPT is the final test that students take to prove their expertise in their learned language.
For the instructors, the students have been a change of pace for the university. Jong W. Park, the teacher assigned to the DLIFLC students, remarked (through an interpreter), "because they are military, they tend to look at me as their superior and thus study harder and work harder. Their attitudes are very different, making them very focused and their drive to learn greater," Park added.
Park, who has been instructing foreigners to the Korean language for over two years for the university, is an advocate of immersive language learning at native countries.
"Language is not just learned through study, but learned through its culture and how they live," he said. The experience of being in the host country and continuing to improve in the language has also been an eye-opening and valuable tool for the students.
"I spent an hour having a 1st grader correct my pronunciation in vocabulary," Air Force Maj. David Abrahamson, Korean language student, said. "If you're humble enough to learn from a 1st grader, you can learn so much here and improve your language," he added.