To thank is to share what we have
Through her window are Bukak Mountain, Hyeongje Peak and Bohyun Peak. On her wall are twelve-fold large ink-paintings. The mountains and the sky, not so far from her room, look different day by day, carrying the different forms of beauty of the various seasons.
“I’ve lived here for 40 years now. I raised three children, and wrote 40 books and 200 papers in this house. These days, I’m working on a novel. Looking back, every single day I spent here was a blessing for me.”
She climbs Bukhan Mountain every afternoon with her husband, who she married 53 years ago. The couple count on each other, just as they do with hiking sticks. They don't push themselves to go up to the top, and having breathed in the daytime air of the forest deeply enough, they descend. Her husband has always been supportive of her dreams and her decision to donate to KU. When she told him about her plan, he nodded assent without hesitation.
Her donations started in 2006, two years before her retirement, when the construction of a new building for the College of Education had just begun. On that occasion she donated KRW 50 million in order to celebrate the new building and to thank the College. Sharing, she then came to realize, was a route to happiness. Since then she has made donations for the development of the Department of Korean Language Education of KRW 50 million and 30 million in June and July last year, respectively, thereby joining the Crimson Honors Club, whose membership consists of those who have donated KRW 100 million or more.
“In the past two years, I received two honorable recognitions. I was selected as the Hangeul Person of the Year in 2017, and received the King Sejong Prize in 2018. The National Hangeul Museum selects one person who has made major contributions to the development of Hangeul culture, and records her oral statements on her life and experiences, as a resource for others in the future. While they normally choose one person, they sometimes choose no one at all. That’s how careful they are in deciding who to select, and that’s why I am so deeply honored. The same goes for the King Sejong Prize. The Prize, initiated to celebrate the accomplishments of Sejong and to promote the spirit of creativity, is one of the most authoritative among culture-related state-sponsored rewards. These are indeed such great honors that anyone who seriously studies the Korean language would be humbled by them.” She has always believed that this recognition would not have come her way if she had not worked as a professor at KU. So she decided to show her gratitude by sharing more of what she has.
The Korean Language, Finally on the Global Stage
She held her professorship at Korea University from March 1981 to February 2008, and it has already been 11 years since she retired. She received recognition even after her retirement because she has made great contributions to the international appreciation of the Korean language.
She is the first Korean Language major who earned a doctorate degree abroad. Starting in 1970, she chose to walk along “the road not taken” by studying linguistics at the University of Illinois, with a focus on psychological and social linguistics, to earn her Master’s and Ph.D. She then came to see the need for the systematic teaching of the Korean language as a foreign language while witnessing second generation Korean-Americans who spoke both Korean and English, and began her quest to put the language onto the global stage.
“I’d led a number of academic societies since coming back home, like the Association for Korean Linguistics, the Sociolinguistic Society of Korea, the Korean Society of Bilingualism, the Society of Korean Semantics, and the Korean Society for the Education of the Korean Language and Literature. Among them, the bilingual society and semantics society I founded myself. In each society, my focus was on hosting large international conferences. The most memorable event was the International Bilingualism Conference in China in 1989, which was before the two governments established the friendly diplomatic relationship that they have now. We had to persuade the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (the predecessor of the Korean National Intelligence Service) to let us go to China, and to get visas for everyone, but ultimately we had a successful conference. I remember the people carrying around hard copies of their papers at it.”
After three years of leadership of the Global Korean Language Foundation (the predecessor of the King Sejong Institute Foundation) from 2004 to 2007, she embarked upon a project to spark global interest in the Korean language, which was already one of the 10 major languages of the world, at the International Foundation for Korean Language and Culture Education. Part of this effort involved her publishing a white paper focused on teaching Korean as a foreign language and on teaching Korean to foreigners working in Korea for free. This was a way to share what she knew with others, and it was the greatest pleasure for her.
She talks about another immense pleasure in her life. “I was born in Yecheon, North Kyeongsang. Until high school, I was in a literature society. Half of my novel Dreaming in Yecheon consists of stories from my own life. It was published in the quarterly Literature in 2010, which made me a bona fide writer. So, I finally became what I always wanted to be.”
She has already published four novels, a book of short stories, a book of poems, and a collection of essays. Among them, 20 Years in Seoul, 60 Years in Pyeongyang won her the Sohn Sohee Literature Award in 2015. Its main character is modeled after one of the greatest Korean linguists in North Korea, who she has known since 1980. In the novel he leaves Seoul where he has lived for 20 years for Pyeongyang, and, after 60 years, finds his first love, who he had had to leave behind. Professor Park's surprisingly detailed descriptions of Pyeongyang were possible thanks to her long-standing contacts with North Korean scholars. She has been continuously writing still other stories that involve North Korea, all the while picturing the two Koreas becoming one. She is always a step ahead of others, but just one step. This way she is never lonely or afraid, but is instead up ahead, leaving her tracks first on the road not taken yet.