Student receives scholarship to study Korean

For the last four years, senior Marlena McDaniel had the dream of working in the Olympics, and with the U.S. Department of State’s Critical Language Scholarship, she is one step closer to achieving this dream.

This scholarship is for students who study critical languages such as Arabic, Russian, and Chinese. McDaniel will study Korean in Gwangju, South Korea.

“I was so excited,” McDaniel said. “I got the email at 9 o’clock at night, and I was dancing around my room. Every step of the process has made the possibility of going seem more real.”

Two students from UNA previously received the scholarship for Arabic, said Director of Critical Languages Program Craig Christy.

Christy said this scholarship encourages the study of less commonly taught languages.

“I study Korean, but no college in Alabama offers it,” McDaniel said. “That’s how few people study it. (This scholarship will) pay for me to fly to Korea. It pays for my housing, my food, everything while I’m there.”

Schools must meet certain criteria to offer a critical language, and UNA does not meet this criteria, Christy said.

McDaniel said she studied Korean to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics.

“I was working and not going to school in 2012, and I was watching the summer Olympics,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘This might be the last English speaking Olympics in my lifetime.’ I love the Olympics, and I would like to be involved there.

“The next ones were to take place in Russia and then Brazil, but I can’t speak Russian or Portuguese. But I thought I can learn Korean within six years. That’s what I have been working towards for the last four years, and I will keep working on it for the next year or so.”

McDaniel said her interest in Korean dramas made her more interested in studying the language.

Monica Elmore, McDaniel’s sister, has been with her throughout her journey. She said McDaniel has come a long way since the beginning of her self-study.

“I remember when we first talked about her goal back in November 2011,” Elmore said. “It seemed far away and unreachable at the time, but steadily she has been working toward it, and this scholarship is part of her accomplishments to get to that goal.”

McDaniel said she went on mission trips and participated in the Magellan Exchange Program to practice her Korean.

“She is shy and reserved,” Elmore said. “She has really had to come out of her shell in her trips to Korea and it has been great for her. I am very excited for her. She has been going to Korea for several years now on mission trips and for a year for school, and it has been wonderful experience for her each time.”

McDaniel said she wants to speak Korean more fluently after this trip.

“I feel like I can speak Korean very well with children, but I wish I could speak it a little bit faster,” she said. “I feel like this being a total immersion program, not being allowed to speak English at all, I will really have a better grasp on that. I would love to be able to be able to live in Korea without having to walk around with a Korean/English dictionary and be able to survive. That is my ultimate goal.”