Essen Korean School

I wrote yesterday about discovering my two girls doing their Korean homework by themselves, unprompted by me. They looked absolutely angelic and quite content filling in the squares of their Korean notebooks and workbooks. Later when I reviewed a bit what they were doing I discovered that Stella, my 5-year-old, still stumbled over stroke order, and Vera, my 7-year-old, was writing properly but didn’t really know what she is writing. I laughed. I didn’t get stressed out or impatient about it. Considering how high strung I’ve been for the last six months (read: bitch on wheels), this was a laugh of sincerity and gratitude. I was actually relaxed because I knew they were going to get there in the end. It wouldn’t be a smooth journey, but it wouldn’t be the combative, agonising slog that it could have been.

As I signed off my last post, Vera and I ended the evening reviewing flashcards that we had had for three years. They hadn’t been used much except to have perhaps gotten lost or unsorted. She in fact reached for them and initiated using them (!!). And during this process, I realised that although she could write gi-eug, ni-eon, di-geot, mi-eom plus all of her vowels properly, she couldn’t yet read them. So, I started showing her how she could start reading them, and it was slow going, but she was getting there.

One of the big selling points of moving to Essen was that we knew we would be able to find a Korean school for our kids in the region. At worst, we were willing to drive to the larger city of Düsseldorf, which is 30 minutes away, if that was where the most suitable one was for our kids. I found a few online. One in Bochum and one in Duisburg. There was also an overwhelming portal in Düsseldorf that made me want to call my mother for help. Meanwhile, my father-in-law told me that he was certain there would be one in Essen since there were enough Koreans for one. He said he would look into it for us.

So, as I already said, I had a hard time navigating the one in Düsseldorf. There is probably more than one, but I didn’t bother digging deeper until I eliminated the other ones I had already found online. The one in Duisburg looked OK and small, but the one in Bochum got me really excited. They have a great website – visually clean, well organised and well written. I really liked what they had to say about themselves. They noted that the school had been around since the first generation of immigrants came in the late 60s and now their target group was the third generation of Korean Germans. That’s us! is what I though. I also liked all of the different cultural activities they had, the Kindergarten groups they offered that were play-based as well as classes for grade school kids AND adults, the fact that the site was written in German, and that they posted PDFs of the curriculum in Korean.

I started looking at the curriculum more carefully though and realised, wait a minute. This is pretty advanced stuff, and wait a minute, what’s this book they use? It’s the same book that Korean kids in Korea use in grade school. I realised that they expected the grade school students to have significant previous knowledge of Korean. This was a big problem for us, and while the administrator was very helpful and nice, we knew that this was not an ideal situation. This was a hardcore academic curriculum. On top of that, we would be making the effort to drive to Bochum late on Friday afternoon every week for an imperfect fit. Meanwhile, my parents-in-law came through and provided us with some basic information on the Essen Korean School. My husband then called and had a helpful, lengthy conversation with the director of the school. What we instantly recognised in this conversation was that the school saw the students as Germans who are Korean, not Koreans who live in Germany. The way I would say it in German is: Sie sind deutsche Kinder die auch koreanisch sind. She wanted to make clear that if we were looking for something heavily academic-based, they were not the school for us. In fact, Duisburg and Bochum were good schools for parents with these goals. The Essen Korean School is small right now with less than 20 students and they even have an adult class that our au pair could attend!

Everyone was excited about going the first Friday late August soon after we moved. It was an intense and long initiation, but when I was in the car driving back to our temporary flat in the rain with my oldest and youngest children, I turned around and asked Vera what she thought. “I loved it.” My jaw nearly dropped. When I asked her why, these were the reasons she gave me, “Stella is there. There are other kids like us and the teacher is really nice. Everyone was really nice.” Stella had driven back home with her father, so I got a chance to ask her separately what she thought, “Great. Really great.” I wasn’t expecting such superlatives, and while I know that there will be groans later on this year when I tell them it’s time to go to Korean school, I am optimistic since even now, two and a half months into it, the girls still say how much fun it is. I think it does get tedious at times for them, especially for Stella who doesn’t know how to read and write in any language yet, but I am deeply grateful for this sea change my children are experiencing towards learning Korean.



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