Culture Minister Yu In-chon, right, poses with U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Stephens after he presented her a letter of appointment as goodwill ambassador for the Korean language in Seoul, Monday.
/ Courtesy of U.S. Embassy
By Kim Se-jeong
Ambassador Kathleen Stephens now represents not only the United States but also the Korean language.
Last Monday, the Korean Language Society together with the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism appointed Stephens as a goodwill ambassador for the Korean language.
Her appointment added another ``first'' on her resume already decorated with a few ``firsts.'' She is the first female U.S. ambassador to Korea, and the first to speak Korean fluently.
The ambassador vowed to promote the language and to encourage non-Korean speakers to learn what she described as a very ``logical language.''
Her qualification for the position here has been well proven. From day one, at the airport upon her arrival, she amazed people with her fluent speaking ability.
More amazement came with a photograph, which got a shot of her hand-written speech notes that were written in Korean ― ``Nice to meet you. My name is Shim Eun-kyung, and I am the U.S. ambassador to Korea.''
Almost three months into her job, it now has become a custom for the ambassador start off her speeches with a brief talk in Korean when a Korean audience is present, and ends it with a humble statement. ``My Korean is not good enough, so I will now speak in English.''
That has served both purposes of quickly impressing the audience and giving them a sense of closeness.
During an alumni meeting of the Fulbright Grant Program, the U.S. government-sponsored student and scholar exchange program last week, Stephens' depth in Korean understanding was shown.
She began with her usual small Korean talk, but this time had an old Korean proverb.
``As the saying says, it only takes three years for a dog to recite a poem, yet, I, after 33 years of learning Korean, am still not good enough,'' she said. ``So now, I will speak English.''
Stephens is the first envoy to open a Korean language center at the embassy.
She came to Korea in 1975 as a peace corps volunteer, teaching English at a school in South Chungcheong Province. She returned to Korea as a diplomat between 1987 and 1989, and married a Korean.
Along with Stephens, fashion designer Lee Sang-bong and TV announcer Choi Jae-hyuk were also appointed as ambassadors for the Korean language.