Korean storytelling

Winners from the 18th annual Korean Storytelling and Essay Contest.

The Center for Korean Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa will be holding its 20th Annual Korean Storytelling and Essay Contest on Oct. 5 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

This year marks the 573rd year of the proclamation of the Korean writing system, hangul. For the past 20 years, the Korea Times has been organizing a storytelling and essay contest to commemorate the national Korean holiday, Hangul Day, on Oct. 9.

Before the creation of hangul, Koreans would write in traditional Chinese, however, spoke in their native language. Moreover, many of the people were illiterate unless they were a member of the elite class. King Sejong saw this rift and developed Hunminjungum (The Correct Sounds to Instruct the People) followed by Hunminjungum Haeryebon (Explanations and Examples of the Hunminjungum) by a group of scholars commissioned by the King himself. This allowed Koreans to express themselves in their native language. It was completed in 1443 by the Great King Sejong and later promulgated to the public in 1446. 

This makes hangul special because its origins and creator are well documented. Many scholars have regarded to hangul as one of the most remarkable writing systems devised because the 14 consonants depict the shape of human vocal organs that provide a systematic phonological representation of Korean sound patterns.To add, the Asian principle off ŭm (yin or dark) and yang (bright) is integrated into hangul; the 10 vowels represent heaven, earth and human according to the Asian philosophy of the cosmos. 

After undergoing changes, the first use of the name hangul, the great letters, is not quite clear but is presumed to be around 1913. 

Hangul lives on and is perpetuated by efforts from the Korea Times Hawaii/Radio Seoul, Korean American Foundation and the Center for Korean Studies at UH Mānoa, who are the main sponsors for this event. These organizers share a unified academic and cultural goal of serving the people of Hawaiʻi. 

Sumi Chang, instructor at the UH Mānoa, said that the event is part of an “ongoing effort to disseminate Korean culture through the Korean language learning and to broaden Korean and Hawaiʻi cultural exchanges. The Korea Times, the only Korean language newspaper in Hawaiʻi, together with the UH CKS hopes to reach out to inform the public and serve the community.” 

According to Chang, this event is intended to “promote (a sense of) Korean identity among the next generation of Korean Americans growing up in the diverse ethnic melting pot of Hawaiʻi.” 

In earlier years, only one round trip ticket from Honolulu to Incheon, Korea. However, among other prizes, another airline began offering another plane ticket and awarded two participants in recent years including last year. Marking the 20th year, there will be four round-trip plane tickets to South Korea offered by Korean Air and Asiana Air. In addition to the plane tickets, there are cash prizes for each of the two categories.

With such prizes, Dr. Chang says students are highly encouraged to participate and to enhance their Korean language skills.

The essay contest is divided into two categories, and varies in topics and allotted time to prepare. The essay writing category follows the tradition that is done in Korea, in which the organizers form up to three to five essay prompts for students to select from on the day of performance and prepare and perform in Korean. The questions are typically in reference to the student and something about the Korean culture, mainly language.

According to Chang, the essay could be about the student and what is special about the Korean language, experiences, or customs they may find interesting with the culture. The contest is divided into two categories: an essay portion and a storytelling portion.

For the storytelling category, the categories are provided on the application, which allows time for the participants to prepare an immaculate performance. No notes or powerpoints are allowed, however, as this will be a natural speech telling the audience about the participant and the Korean language or culture. This year, they are giving out four topics: language, culture, food and the country. In other words, person, place, food and experience. These questions are meant to be open-ended to allow for creative freedom. 

The length of the performance is three minutes maximum, according to Chang. 

Due to the growth and expansion of this contest, there will be more participants outside UH. What really sets this year’s contest apart from previous years is the diverse range of participants. 

Christ United Methodist Church, founded in 1905 and the oldest Korean church in Hawaiʻi, will have adults that teach Korean on weekends (Korean community School of Hawaiʻi) will be participating. Last year, the organizations came and observed the event. Moreover, Moanalua High School students will be participating as they are a pipeline school for the Korean Language Flagship Center. 

Last year, Karren Gonong, now a UH alumna, was the grand prize winner with her essay “My Dream.” Lacey Bonner, Nicole Bradshaw, Yini Lin and Sumin Kim also won and received awards.

This year, three UH Korean faculty members are invited to judge the storytelling with the addition of two local Korean community leaders: Dr. Han Byul Chung, Assistant Professor and Dr. Sumi Chang, Instructor and Dr. Hye Seung Lee, Instructor.

The previous winner and recipient of the award, Kamilah Dreux, shared, “I competed in the Korean language speaking competition two years in a row. I really valued the confidence I gained from presenting in Korean in front of an audience. I was not only able to learn while preparing for the competition, I was also able to learn from who I competed against and improve my Korean as a whole. I grew a lot as a person when I competed in this competition as well, I was able to work harder toward my Korean language goals. 감사합니다 [thank you].”

“For the students it's an excellent opportunity for them to really hone in on their Korean language skills and be in front of an audience and deliver what they think about the Korean language and culture using only the Korean language which is quite challenging and very exciting too,” Chang said.

To that, previous winner Erik Leef shared, “The Korean language speaking competition was a fun and valuable opportunity to compete with and learn from other peers. Being able to listen to other students' experiences and share my own as part of the competition provided a friendly and beneficial experience that helped me gain confidence and improve in my language ability.”

Likewise, Chang recommends that students interested in further exploring the Korean language should consider joining the Korean program.

For persons interested in signing up, see any Korean language teacher at UH or call (808)955-1234, or contactChang at atchanghan@hawaii.edu or (808)956-2493. Walk-in registrations are welcome for the essay contest. However, the last day for registration for the story-telling contest is Sept. 27.