Sofia is an alumna of the 2021 Korean summer program. This story was submitted as an entry to the NSLI-Y 15th Anniversary Storytelling Competition.

image of a drawing of a bee with korean writing

Hello everyone! My name is Sofia and I am proud to say I participated in the Korean Summer Program of 2021. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, this program had to be virtual but it was still amazing and lived beyond my expectations. A story that I would like to share is an interaction I had while I was taking the program this summer. I decided to get a summer job to prepare for college expenses, and so I applied to many places. The first place to get back to me was a Japanese restaurant close to my house and so I decided to go for the interview. Upon first arriving, I met the owner of the restaurant and she asks me to write some information down such as times I am available and experience. She then turns around and starts to speak in Korean to her husband. Before I had a chance to tell her I speak some Korean, she quickly hires me and so I leave to tell my parents the good news.

image of nsli-y students holding up art projects

The next day I begin to train and I hear my bosses speaking Korean with themselves and I smile to myself knowing I can understand what they are saying. I did not know how to tell them, “Hey, I know Korean and can understand what you are saying” out of the blue and so that day went by. The next day at work, however, my coworker who was training me told me, “If you ever have a question, ask me and not our bosses’ since they are not that good in English they can easily get frustrated.” I then responded to her, “Oh, I am actually learning Korean and taking Korean classes daily through a national program.” At that moment, my boss passed by and heard that so he said “Oh really” and said “hello” in Korean while slightly bowing. I then smiled, excited to practice my Korean, and said “Hello. Yes, I am learning Korean right now through some classes, so I know a bit.” I will never forget the look on my boss’s face after I said that in Korean.

image of a letter written in korean

My coworker quickly turned to look at me and said “No way you know Korean! That is so cool” and my boss told her “Wow, what just happened. You speak Korean well!” He then rushes to the back to tell my other boss, his wife, the news and she comes to the front and asks me, “How much Korean do you know?” I then respond in Korean telling her that I am not yet completely fluent but am learning. She stood there so surprised but also excited that someone was going through what she was going through but in the opposite language. Here she was trying to learn English, and there I was trying to learn Korean, where she was the native speaker. I could sense that it made her feel special and not alone on the language learning journey since we could both help each other out. The look on my bosses’ faces made me feel so happy that all the late-night studying was all worth it to be able to have interactions and connections like these. Also, apart from the interactions through the NSLI-Y program, this was my first time speaking Korean in person and so I was proud of myself for being able to.

image of a korean class online

Fast forward to now and I still work there and quickly became one of their closest employees. They come to me for translations and I also go to them for any questions I have about grammar and such. At work, my boss passes me the phone when a customer is online and tells me in Korean what to say and so I translate it for her, or she will come and tell me a story about when she lived in Korea. I would have never been able to have this kind of connection with them if it weren’t for my want to learn about Korean culture and language, and if it would have not been for the NSLI-Y Korean Virtual Summer Program, and so for that, I am extremely grateful. Thank you so much and I hope anyone reading this gets a sense of motivation for the language they are learning because it is definitely all worth it!

image of nsli-y korean students on zoom