New program aims to help troops navigate South Korean culture
TAEGU, South Korea — When Army Pfc. Shaquita Hall first came to South Korea, the world outside the post in effect was off-limits because she didn’t know a word of Korean.
“I didn’t even want to leave post,” said Hall, 19, of Capitol Heights, Md., a personnel clerk with the 19th Theater Support Command in Taegu. “Because I didn’t understand, and you know, some Koreans, as you go further into the city, a lot of them don’t understand English. So they’re laughing at what I’m saying, and I’m laughing at what they’re saying.”
But, Hall said, she’s since picked up quite a few phrases, with the friendly help in part of KATUSA soldiers, Korean troops assigned to duty with the U.S. Army.
“You acquire them from KATUSA soldiers and the cab drivers and when you go shopping,” she said. “I can say ‘Hello,’ ‘Goodbye,’ ‘Excuse me,’ ‘How much does this cost?’ and ‘Take me to this place.’”
That’s how one troop widened her comfort zone in an unfamiliar culture. Now, the 19th TSC is starting an effort toward helping all its soldiers have an easier transition to a new Korea assignment: a three- pronged attack on language and cultural barriers the command hopes to have under way by October.
It’s part of the U.S. military’s new “Good Neighbor” push to improve relations with the Korean public, said Maj. Andrew Mutter, the 19th TSC’s public affairs chief.
The unit, a logistics command with about 3,000 troops stationed throughout the country, is putting together its own tailor-made, updated version of Headstart, a program the Army uses to acquaint its new arrivals in Germany and Japan with some basics about their host countries.
As soldiers report, part of their in-processing will include about two days of classroom time with a heads-up on Korean language and tips on life in South Korea.
“It’ll have some basics about culture, it’ll have some Korean phrases, there’ll be things like directions, a little bit about the laws,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Hartzel, the 19th TSC’s civil-military operations officer. “All the types of things that a person needs to know to be somewhat comfortable out in the local community.”
Faculty and students of the American studies department at Taegu’s Keimyung University are working with the 19th TSC to adapt the Japan Headstart material for use in South Korea. “It will alleviate a lot of fear and anxiety just by learning a little bit about Korea when the people arrive,” said Mutter. “They’ll be a little more comfortable to explore and experience Korean culture and meet the people.”
But even before troops come to Korea, the 19th will mail them an interactive CD they can use to teach themselves basic Korean. All they need is a computer with CD-ROM drive and sound.
A third effort will be two weeks of daily classroom instruction for high-ranking members of the 19th TSC command, and other key unit members.
“We’re working with Keim- yung University,” Hartzel said, “on some options for sending key folks like brigade-level commanders, public affairs officers ... maybe provost marshals” for “some intense language instruction coupled with some instruction on culture.”
Huh Jung-myung, Keimyung University’s American studies professor and the school’s director of international education, said she believes the planned efforts will be a gateway to culturally broadening experiences.
When American soldiers “know the basic information on Korean people and this country,” said Huh, “they definitely will not fear to step out of their camp, which is a small U.S.A., so it is going to be an opening of a whole new world.”
“That makes perfect sense to me,” Hall said of her unit’s plans. “It’s very helpful. I mean, it’s always nice to know another language ... I’m able to talk to the Korean nationals more, and actually they’re surprised ... when you speak to them. And you get better service too. I’ve noticed that.”