Koreans take the TOPIK, too.

Today my third graders were in my office during lunch digging through my Korean study materials, as they usually are, when they came across a copy of last year's TOPIK exam. There was a lot of general hubub about when and why and how, as well as a scan through to see whether or not they could answer all of the questions (no, they couldn't, but they did quiz me on the ones they could).

And then I heard a side conversation break off in Korean. One student was explaining to another that Korean people also take the TOPIK exam. I broke in out of sheer curiosity and asked him to explain what he meant. He explained it once in words I couldn't catch, and then broke it down into baby Korean for me: People whose bodies are Korean, but who don't speak Korean.

Ah. You mean 교포.

Yes, they said, 교포.

At this point I just laughed and faltered a little, as they wanted to know what I found amusing about that, but I was having a hard time finding the words to explain it. What I wanted to say was, of course Koreans who didn't grow up in Korea don't always speak Korean, and therefore they would take the TOPIK. But that's not quite the same thing as saying that Koreans also take the TOPIK, is it? The race is not so extremely tied to the language....

But what I managed to get across was this: I think most Americans don't consider Korean-Americans to be Korean -- they consider them to be American.

Now, that's not purely true, obviously. Korean-Americans are Korean, but only an American with a very shallow puddle of a mind would claim that they are not also American. Fully American.

This concept was shocking to the students, and I, frankly, wasn't surprised by that.

But Teacher, why do Americans think 교포 are American? They don't look American. They look Korean.

Kiddos, give this some thought: What does an American look like?

Ahhhh. They got my point.

But a 교포's ancestors are from Korea!

Where are an American's ancestors from?

They mostly got it, I think, but it was obviously still amusing them that Americans think that American-born Koreans are American. Hopefully that's something that will change, as more and more foreign and half-foreign children are born and raised in Korea, and there is more of a home-base frame of reference. It was definitely an interesting exchange, though.


Khanate said...

You will be taking the advanced TOPIK exam? Woah~

I'm no Picasso said...

Haha, no. I wish. Right now, I'm just trying to get prepped for intermediate. I reckon I might have a chance of scoring level 3 with where I am, but level 4 is a big fat "when hell freezes over" at the moment.

These students who hang out in my office.... let's just say English isn't the only subject they struggle in. Haha. But they do their best.

Skeptigirl said...

My husband just took the YKI test, which I assume is the same thing, but in Finnish. It was on the intermediate level too after finishing his intermediate Finnish class. I wonder how I would do with it. I am finnish but my knowledge of the language is a little spotty. I can talk just fine, it is the grammer in writing that trips me up.

Khanate said...

I will receive my results for the beginner TOPIK tomorrow and have registered for the intermediate in April. Aiming for level 3 in the July one :)

쏘냐 said...

Lolol this reminds me of the time that we learned the word 'gyopo' in my first-year Korean class. The definition was written as "a Korean living abroad" and so I assumed it meant a study abroad student or a first-generation immigrant who hadn't been naturalized. When all of my Korean-American classmates started referring to themselves as gyopos afterwards, I assumed they either hadn't read the definition, or were just being assholes who wanted to steal the new word for themselves even though it obviously didn't apply because they weren't Korean. And they didn't understand why I didn't understand that it meant Korean-American. I don't think I understood why the definition was written that way until almost a year later, when I first actually visited Korea. Oh well...

I'm no Picasso said...

Skeptigirl -- Exactly. I still sometimes have to scratch my head a bit about some of the questions my students ask me about English. Spoken and proper are two very different things.

Khanate -- It's no fun. No fun at all. Good luck to you.^^

Sonia -- Yeah. It's one of the reasons why I kind of cringe when foreigners say Koreans aren't being racist -- they're being nationalistic. Because Koreans are not Americans, and in Korea, nation and race are the same thing. Korean blood makes you Korean and anything else makes you foreign, regardless of language, cultural background, or where you were born and raised.

Again, it will probably start to change as more and more "foreign" babies are born in Korea. But it will be a while.

eve said...

What an interesting post. It strongly reminds of the time I was in Korea with other gyopo like me; we spoke some conversational Korean (but probably not well enough to take any level of TOPIK exam lol, congrats on your progress INP!).

One hot summer day in Busan we ran into some small children who did not appear Asian in any way.

Me: Hi! What brings you guys to Korea? (in English)

The kids stared at me in confusion, before the Mexican kid tells me that while he spoke English (and Spanish and Korean), the other children did NOT speak English, and as the gaggle of children walked away I heard them chatting in PERFECT native Korean complete with 경상도사투리.

Taught me not to presume ANYTHING.

And also, love the blog INP. I really admire your stance and thoughts as a foreigner living in Korea.