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Remembering the Korean War

Ph.D. candidate, Chanamas Phengsomboon from Thailand, studies teaching Korean as a Foreign Language at Ewha GSIS, Department of Korean Studies. She is no stranger at Ewha GSIS as she earned her master’s degree back in 2013, in the same major, teaching Korean as a Foreign Language.

Ms. Phengsomboon’s motivation to learn Korean can be a result of her grandfather, of Thai descent, who had a role in one of the most significant wars, the Korean War. As an honor, the Korean War Foundation offers scholarships to descendants of veterans of the Korean War, of which Ms. Phengsomboon was a recipient.

Through this interview, you will learn more about Ph.D. candidate Chanamas Phengsomboon and her grandfather, and as a result, how she was heavily motivated to study the Korean language. As well, you will get to know about another scholarship opportunity for those students who have a family member who participated in the Korean War!

Ph.D. candidate Chanamas Phengsomboon

What year are you in and what is your major?

I major in teaching Korean as a foreign language, department of Korean studies, and I am in my 7th semester so three years and a half.

Have you been to Korea before?

The first time I came to Korea was in 2012 when I came to pursue my Master’s degree. I actually spent a year in Busan learning only Korean and then I came to Seoul to attend Ewha in 2013, so the first time I came I spent three years here. I got my master’s degree and then I went back to Thailand for three years and then I came back three years ago. I was on the GKS program both times when I was pursuing a master’s degree and now the doctoral degree.

What did you study for your master’s degree?

Same major teaching Korean as a foreign language, because in Thailand if you want to be a college university professor you have to hold a doctorate degree, that’s why I came back to Korea.

How and why did you come to Ewha?

So you know if you talk about teaching Korean as a foreign language, not like teaching Korean to natives, I think Ewha is pretty outstanding in that aspect. You know there are a lot of professors who are very talented and they specialize in each field, so I think that even among Thai students who want to become a Korean teacher, I think Ewha is one of the first choices that they consider if they want to study this field.

You know there’s a lot of professors who are very talented and they specialize in each field.

Why did you choose Ewha’s Korean language program?

Even before I knew that I wanted to become a Korean teacher I minored in Korean language because back in the day when I was in college there was no Korean major, so I majored in English and then I took Korean classes as my minor. I learned about my advisor and I learned that she is pretty outstanding and pretty well known in this field even in Korea. If you mention her name, I feel like everyone who is in this field will be able to recognize. Also, my first Thai teacher who taught Hangul to me, she also graduated from Ewha.

What are your future plans after completing your degree?

Actually, a lot of people who are in the same situation as mine, let’s say like back in the day there was not a lot of people who specialized in teaching Korean to foreigners but then the regulations changed. Like I told you for those who want to become professors in college they have to hold a doctor degree but since there are not a lot of people who have that qualification the universities will kind of ease the qualification and you know accept those who only get Master’s degree. So, what people do is just take a leave, so they apply and become a professor and then they’ll take a leave and come to Korea to pursue a doctoral degree, and then they’ll go back and teach. For me, my case is special because I quit. A lot of people when they take a leave, they still get at least 50% of their income, they still get I’m not sure if it’s 50% or 100% of their paycheck. Let’s say they take leave for three years, during those three years they get a paycheck but then when they go back, they will have to work there for at least two times longer than the period that they take the leave. But then my case is special because I quit so it means I don’t have to go back and teach, but if I go back there are opportunities for me to teach at universities that provide Korean classes. Korean language has been gaining a lot more attention from people like even those who are not enrolled in school. Let’s say people will graduate but they still want to learn Korean for you know they want to be able to communicate with their favorite K-pop singers so I feel like there will always be opportunities for those who take this degree, this program, teaching Korean as a foreign language. So, my ideal plan is to go back to Thailand and teach at the university that I graduated.

Where is your family from, were your grandparents always there, or did they move around? And have you always lived there?

So, all of my family are living in Thailand right now, we live in a city near Bangkok, it’s called Samut Prakarn, it’s close to Bangkok.

My mom was actually from another part of the country, she’s from a small city which is pretty close to Cambodia, it’s so close to the border of Thailand and Cambodia. My dad was born and raised in Samut Prakarn, the place my family is living in. Yes, I was born and raised and grew up there. But I worked and studied in Bangkok which is not that far.

How did your family get involved in the Korean war, how did your grandfather get involved?

Actually, I did not know a lot because he passed away before I was born, he passed away when my dad was a teenager. But I heard this kind of like glimpse of story from my grandma, while I was a sophomore when I started to take Korean classes, I heard that my grandad participated in the Korean war. Which by that time it was 60 years ago. She was pretty young, she was pregnant with her first daughter, my aunt, so she just told me something like ‘I was pregnant when your grandad left me for the war.’ He was a soldier, a navy and then I don’t know how back in the day they assign people to participate in the war, but my grandfather was a professional navy. I found it’s like an ID for veterans, saying he was a veteran for the Korean War, and I learned that we got a discount for electricity bills and water bills because you know there is like a privilege that you and your family can enjoy when you do something for the country.

How did your grandmother feel about your grandfather participating in the Korean War?

At the time I don’t think she was happy; imagine you are pregnant, and your husband has to leave for the war. You know when you talk about war you don’t know if he will come back or not. And then I don’t think she realized how important this war was, all people back in the day, education was not well developed. When I post about my grandfather being in the Korean War, some of my cousins don’t even know because grandma doesn’t talk about this a lot. I learned Korean history, so I learned how important it is, so I am proud of him.

I’m not sure if I learned this from my dad first or from my grandma, my dad passed away 10 years ago too, so I really want to know more about this because they are secondhand witness. It is more special to learn it from someone who directly experienced it, rather than learning from a book.

How do you feel about your grandfather serving in the Korean War?

Definitely, I feel proud of him, because I think that was part of the motivation for me to study Korean. When I started learning Korean. Actually, I didn’t start learning because I liked Korean movie stars, I was just interested in the Korean language and culture itself. But then when I realized that my family member was part of the history, I felt some kind of connection. Especially when I take Korean history class, 20th-century history I feel like it became more meaningful for me. It is not like I am learning someone else’s history, because my family member was part of it. I think the Korean War is one of the topics that I enjoyed the most when I learned Korean history.

Definitely I feel proud of him, because I think that was part of the motivation for me to study Korean.

Lastly, how did you learn about this scholarship?

So actually, I really want to give more details about this, they sent an email to everyone, I believe all the enrolled students asking if there were any students whose family member participated in the Korean War. I was excited because I actually learned that there are some scholarship programs for students, but I never looked because I was always on the Korean Government Scholarship. For me it’s the third year, I got this scholarship until August this past August, but I haven’t finished my program yet, I still have 1 more year left. So, it means from September on I have to support myself financially, so I was excited and happy. Besides the money that I will get, which will be very useful for me to spend on my thesis and my research. I felt like it’s been 70 years but the work, the deed, that my grandfather has done was still recognized. I think that is another feeling apart being happy to get the scholarship which everyone would feel the same. I felt more honored, I got to say my grandad’s name again.

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