Korean language learning [Image Source: Julien Viry/iStock]

American High School Students Connect to Korea Through Language and Culture


In recognition of Global Youth Service Day in mid-April, a group of American high school students in the National Security Language Initiative for Youth program (NSLI-Y) visited Mapo Youth Training Center (Youth Naroo) in Seoul, Korea to discuss American school life with Korean students. The American students prepared outdoor activities to demonstrate a typical American recess period and practiced their Korean language skills hard to be able to communicate well with their Korean peers. The NSLI-Y students are currently living in Korea for a year to study both Korean language and culture and wanted their exchange to be a returned favor for the Koreans who helped them adjust to the new country and culture.

The NSLI-Y program was launched in 2006 to get American students to develop advanced-level foreign language and cultural understanding skills. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the NSLI-Y program chooses eligible high school students and provides scholarships including accommodations, host families, schooling, cultural experience programs, and additional language education to support them. Korea joined the program in 2009 and annually hosts American students for either six-week intensive language programs or year-long academic year programs based on students’ preferences. After having 50 students in the summer of 2015 for a six-week program, 15 students are currently there for a year-long program.

To take full advantage of studying abroad, the students work with Koreans who are willing to help out. NSLI-Y Supporters, a Korean college student group, is currently recruiting members to engage with the American students in their daily life, as well as with language study and activities. The NSLI-Y students are actively participating to various projects and events to get to know their host country, such as conference to learn about Korea’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) and a youth cultural exchange camp.

Demand for foreign language skills is increasing in the US, while the rate of bilingual adults is far below the rate of businesses looking for that skill, so youth programs are important in preparing students to enter the workforce. It is also noteworthy that young Americans are expressing an interest in studying in Korea, as for many years it has been much more common for Korean students to come to the US. According to Korean Educational Statistics Service, American teenage students in Korea numbered over 3,000 in 2014, up from fewer than 500 in 1998.

Seo Hee Chung is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an Asan Washington Young Fellow with the Asan Academy in Seoul.