Originally published in the Pikes Peak Courier on July 24, 2014 and written by Pat Hill

With an innate sense of language as a pathway to understanding other cultures, Emily, 18, is preparing for a nine-month study in South Korea. Emily, who lives in Green Mountain Falls, is one of 15 students headed for Korea as part of the National Security Language Initiative for Youth. The initiative is sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

“I’ve always known I wanted to do languages — ever since my freshman French class,” she said. “I think languages are absolutely fascinating.”

Emily’s interest in languages was piqued by learning Russian from an Azerbaijani exchange student who stayed with the family for a year. As a result, she added Russian to her list of foreign languages: French, German, Japanese, and Greek.

For Emily, who graduated in May from Manitou Springs High School, the trip to South Korea offers another chance to be immersed in the country’s culture. Two years ago, she spent six weeks in the city of Daegu where she was the only student in her class to sign on to the exchange program.

“I didn’t speak a word of Korean at the time but I am really into Asian cultures,” Emily said.

Reflecting on the Korean experience, Emily relishes the memories of a budding friendship with Jina, the daughter of her host family, as well as the temple that contained all of the original works of Buddhism. While most people she met were Buddhists, there’s a growing sect of Christianity, she said.

As a tourist-student at the time, Emily was curious about her friends’ reactions to the country up north. “This is the younger generation and North Korea has never affected their lives,” she said. “No one talks about North Korea; they just want to avoid the topic.”

With more opportunities for immersion, this time around Emily plans to study math, science, English, and Korean. “The point is to achieve proficiency in the Korean language,” she said, adding that she will be a junior in a Korean High School.

With an eye on the future, Emily plans to begin college next year in or near Washington, D.C. Eventually, she has her sights sets on linguistics or foreign service.

“Do I want to be an interpreter, a translator, or do I want to be a senator or an ambassador? Is it the political or language route I follow?” she said.

Undaunted by being steeped in the language of a faraway place, Emily is ready to embark on her next adventure August 25. “I think in general I’m interested in cultures that are so different and I really like being in an environment where I have no idea what's going on and it’s up to me to figure it out,” she said. “Korea is not even close to being in my comfort zone. I really like culture shock.”