January 15, 2010 | Myrna Anderson

Sun-Yang Hwang teaches Korean language and spreads the jeong.

Sun-Yang Hwang finished her first semester of teaching Korean language at Calvin with a high opinion of her students’ work ethic. “They are struggling sometimes, but their motivation is very high,” she said. “It seems to be difficult to learn Korean. Everything is different for them: organization, grammar … The pronunciation has some phonetic sounds that aren’t found in English. The sound and meaning of words is very arbitrary—especially to Americans.”

A native of Seoul, South Korea, Hwang spent three years teaching her native language at Indiana University of Bloomington before coming to Calvin to teach the college’s first Korean language classes.

Students answer the question: Why Korean?"

The new Korean language program builds upon Calvin’s well-established Chinese and Japanese language programs. Calvin has long held the distinction of being the only college in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities to offer four consecutive years of both Chinese and Japanese language studies; the college is now one of only three institutions in Michigan that teach the Korean language. (The other two are Michigan State and the University of Michigan).

"There are so many reasons to rejoice over Calvin College now offering Korean language classes,” said longtime Calvin Asian languages professor Larry Herzberg. “Korea is an important country in the world after all and of critical importance to the U.S. in so many ways. But beyond that, we have so many students from Korea as well as Korean-American students on our campus, and have developed so many close ties with Korean universities and churches, that it's especially meaningful for Calvin College to teach Korean language and culture.”

Hwang’s debut classes were made up of American students, Korean heritage students (students who have a cultural connection to Korea through their families) and future missionaries. Korean studies are attractive to a wide swath of the student population, something Hwang attributes to “Korean wave” or “halluy”: “Korean culture is spread to Asian countries with movies, TV, music,” she described this phenomenon. “Even the American students … are interested in Korean culture.

The food and the jeong

"And everybody is interested in Korean food,” she added. Hwang made sure her students sampled plenty of bulgogi (Korean barbeque) and dokbokki (rice cakes in spicy sauce) at the Korean open house and Korean Thanksgiving organized by the class. The social gatherings, which also featured music, were a means of propagating another Korean phenomenon: “jeong”—which is pronounced "chung" and means "attachment," "bond," "affection.”

Hwang explained the term this way: “The Korean people like gathering … We take care of each other … And that is, I think, one of the philosophies of Christianity: Jeong. We feel we are one, and we have to care for each other. I think that it’s very important with students. I try to make the classroom atmosphere filled with a kind of jeong, caring for and taking care of each other.”
It was a form of jeong that drew her to Calvin: “The first time I came to interview here, it was January, and it was too cold,” said Hwang. “But I had some good impressions … I did a teaching demonstration and I got good reactions.”

Herzberg agrees. "Sun-Yang Hwang is a very experienced Korean language pedagogue," he said. "She's also an extremely sweet, caring, and nurturing teacher who really tries to make learning Korean as accessible and fun as possible. We're extremely blessed to have her join our growing Asian languages faculty."

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