When a bored Valarie Singh watched her first K-Pop music video in the middle of winter last year, she had no inkling of how that would change her life.
A -year-and-a-half later and Valarie has fallen in love with everything Korean – the music, the culture, the food, the people, and especially the language.
“It really started off with the music and eventually I wanted to translate some lyrics to see what they were singing about,” she says. “I branched out to K-Rap music and this just branched out to this whole universe.
“It turned out that it wasn’t just the music I liked, I fell in love with the culture and the food and the language and the people and everything.”
Valarie, a Trident High School Year 12 student, says social media has been a big influence. “I follow a lot of people on social media, my favourite singers and artists, and they give me a glimpse of what life is like in Korea. There are a lot of YouTube channels that make videos about life in Korea, like buying an apartment in Korea.”
Valarie says the resources, from apps to social media and YouTube, are all there for her to learn more about a country she is passionate about, but she wanted to take her learning a step further.
“I approached my Spanish teacher and I told her about my passion for Korean and she was over the moon because she loves people who learn languages and so she helped me a lot into getting into the Korean class this year.”
The school offers Maori, Spanish and Japanese, but through its Volcanics programme, students can study another language. Valarie is tutored by a Korean teacher through the programme and has been given the 2019 Korean Language Award.
“My relationship with my teacher is going amazing considering that we have never actually met before except online. She talks to us in Korean and takes us through practice exams, but she is just very supportive of us and it is really cool to have such a good teacher. She is a native speaker, she is from Busan, in Korea.”
In fact, Valerie was honoured by her online Korean tutor who she has been working with. The tutor was so impressed with Valerie and organised a parcel of Korean goodies to be delivered.
The 16-year-old is hoping to go to Auckland University to study linguistics and Korean in 2021.
“My interest is growing every day, it started just wanting to learn how to read in Korean, reading lyrics, and then it started me learning some vocabulary, some grammar, and now I want to go to university and study Korean. I haven’t completely figured out what I want to do with it, maybe translate books and teach English.
“The first opportunity I have to go to Korea I will take it; I think that might be at university because I went to the Auckland University open day and the professor of Korean was talking about the summer programme they do where you go to Korea and go to a Korean university. “It is an intensive learning experience, but it is also amazing because they take us to historical villages and many places.”
Valarie has projected her passion on to her family, who are all taking it very well.
“Most of the food we have at home is Korean food. I cook Korean food for them … a lot.
“And we have our favourite Korean market we got to in Auckland; we get all of our Korean stuff every couple of months.
“Sometimes I make noodles for my dad because he really likes the spicy noodles and Korea knows how to do spice, like crazy.”
Valarie says the name of one type of noodles translates to “nuclear” in English, and it lives up to its moniker.
“My dad, he is really good with spice, but he was struggling.
“My brother likes eating Korean cookies for breakfast.
“And we like watching Korean movies at home, Netflix had a lot of Korean shows if you search in the right places. That is probably the best way I have progressed because I can hear people speaking in conversations because I can learn all the grammar in the world, but I can’t actually have a conversation.”
Fortunately, Valarie’s mum also likes a good drama on telly. “And my mum also loves it because she loves TV shows and dramas and Korean dramas are very dramatic.
“My house is pretty Korean.”