International, UT students exchange language, culture at weekly meetings

Sara Schleede

Campus is usually next to empty on the weekends as people escape to their apartments or dorms, leaving the stresses of education behind. Yet each Friday at 5 p.m., nearly 40 students congregate on the second floor of the Texas Union, clustered around laptops and tables littered with worksheets and flashcards, ready to learn something new. 

These students are a part of Korean English Table at Austin, or KETA, an organization that pairs international and American students together to teach others their native languages.

“More people (have become) interested in Korean culture … but they can only learn those things through YouTube or they need to travel to Korea,” KETA member Junghoon Seo said. “So I want to give opportunities to them to learn about
our culture.”

Each week, students break up into randomized groups of four to five people, learning Korean for one hour and English for
another. Business freshman Taryn Silvas-Guerrero said groups are given prompts to help facilitate conversation, but the structure is informal. Silvas-Guerrero is a new member of KETA.

“It’s less of tests or questions you have to answer and more things to start conversations to help you learn how to speak less textbook-English or Korean and more the parts of the language that people use in daily conversation,”
 Silvas-Guerrero said.

Most of those teaching Korean are part of Korea WEST, an exchange program developed by the Republic of Korea and U.S. Department of State that provides intensive English classes and internship opportunities for Korean students and
young professionals.

Juyeon Lee studied computer science and business administration at Kyungpook National University in Daegu, South Korea, before moving to Austin last August as part of Korea WEST.

Lee has been learning English for more than 10 years, but said she enjoys KETA meetings because she gets to practice more and teach her own language among a friendly community.

“I recommend this not only for people who are interested in the Korean language but also to people who wonder about foreigners’ thoughts (and) experiences about the U.S.,” Lee said.

Seo has been involved with KETA since its inception three years ago and hopes to expand it to other cities across the United States to make the exchange of Korean culture
more commonplace.

“Most people from other countries have an opportunity to learn English since they were young, but here they only speak English,” Seo said. “They’re not exposed to other languages
very easily.”

Seo said he has been learning English for most of his life, but it wasn’t until he moved to Austin four years ago and started classes at Austin Community College that he began to understand how to interact well with others and see the educational and cultural advantages the rest of the world has to offer.

“Since I couldn’t see other countries, I thought (Korean universities) were the best,” Seo said. “But when I came here, Korea became so small.”