Born in Koreatown, Los Angeles and raised in Cerritos, California, American-Korean student Autumn Khym CM ‘18 grew up speaking fluent English, but she wanted to bridge the communication barrier she had with her first-generation Korean immigrant parents.
While Khym’s father spoke Korean and English along with two other languages, her mother only spoke Korean. Khym used hand gestures and spoke “Konglish,” a combination of Korean and English, to communicate with her mother. By sixth grade, Khym was able to speak with her mother, even though she still considered it “broken Korean.”
Due to her desire to engage in Korean culture and deepen her relationship with her mother, Khym took it upon herself to learn how to improve her speaking skills as well as how to read and write in Korean. Over a two-week period before her first year of high school, Khym taught herself Korean through books and television shows. She ultimately became fluent, and from her ability to communicate better in Korean, developed a closer connection with her mother.
Shortly after Khym grasped the language, she received first place for the “King Sejong Award” for an essay contest. She also received the “Summer Program in Korea” scholarship from the language and culture immersion program, Foundation for Korean Language & Culture in USA, which fully funded a 20-day trip for her to visit Korea during the summer of 2011. After the experience, Khym traveled to Korea on several occasions and visited almost every city and province in Korea.
“Although my mannerisms and social traits are more aligned with the American culture, I would say I’m as much Korean as I am American,” Khym wrote in an email to TSL.
Starting this semester, Khym has been tutoring Korean at the Scripps College’s Modern Language Resource Center (MLRC), a place for students and faculty to study and practice their language skills. Khym became involved with the MLRC when she emailed Associate Professor Minju Kim, who works in the Languages & Literatures Department at Claremont McKenna College, in hopes of a potential research opportunity.
In previous years, there was no “need for a Korean tutor as [the MLRC] has a Korean language resident who comes from Korea each year,” Kim wrote in an email to TSL. “However, this year, [there was] a great increase in number of students, so we need an extra help.” As such, Kim connected Khym with Assistant Professor Marino Forlino, who leads the MLRC, to become a potential Korean tutor. According to Forlino, Khym is the first and only Korean tutor at the MLRC.
Every Wednesday from 7-9 p.m., Khym is available to tutor students at the MLRC on a first-come-first-serve basis. The number of students coming in varies over the weeks, which Khym attributes to the fluctuating rigor of the Korean classes’ assignments throughout the semester. “It’s tremendously important that [the students] utilize this time,” Khym said. “[Professor] Kim worked hard to get this time implemented, so she really wants these students to take advantage of the tutoring.”
For students learning Korean, language resident Eunseo Lee also hosts office hours and teaches tutorial classes during CMC’s school year. Through her involvement at the MLRC, Khym hopes that “the Korean language [will become] more prevalent on campus” and that they will have “double the students” next semester.
This is not Khym’s first experience with tutoring, as she has worked at several SAT academies and recently picked up private bilingual tutoring in Orange County during her school breaks, working mainly with Korean students who seek her help after who have just moved from Korea.
Along with tutoring Korean in Orange County and at the MLRC, Khym has also been involved with Good Samaritan Home, a non-profit organization where she currently works as a liaison and interpreter, since 2007, helping translate Korean or English documents and conversations between clients’ families and the organization’s administration.
As an aspiring clinical psychologist, Khym hopes to “help out the Korean community” by incorporating her knowledge of the Korean language and culture into her future profession. “There is a dire need for Korean American therapists in the Los Angeles area so I definitely want to make myself known in the psychology field and [become] accessible to Koreans and Korean Americans in my community,” Khymn wrote in an email to TSL.
But Khym isn’t done learning languages: she also hopes to learn Portuguese to converse with her father, who has lived a portion of his life in Brazil and is now fluent in Portuguese. Khym’s brother learned Portuguese as well, leading Khym to share that both she and her brother “got one of each [language]” from their parents.
“Languages are a great asset,” Khym said. “I’m truly grateful I know how to speak Korean. … It changed my life and I hope that [learning Korean] will do the same for other people.”