|Jennifer Lee, grand prize winner of the 11th Multicultural Youth Awards, demonstrates a figure skating pose in her classroom at Sangtap Elementary School in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, Nov. 28. The sixth grader loves doing sports such as figure skating, swimming and running. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul|
Grand Prize winner of The Korea Times' 11th Multicultural Youth Awards
By Lee Hyo-jin
Jennifer Lee, a sixth grader at Sangtap Elementary School in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, is a multi-talented student who excels in her studies as well as extracurricular activities.
Born to a Mexican mother and a Korean father, she naturally speaks Spanish and Korean. She also speaks German and English, both of which she has learned since her early childhood in Mexico.
Lee was born in Korea in 2010. At the age of two, her family moved to Queretaro, a city in central Mexico, and lived there until she was nine. After they came back to Korea in 2019, Lee began her school life here from the third grade of elementary school.
"To be honest, it was quite difficult to adapt to classes at first, because my Korean wasn't so good back then. Although I could speak well because I talk in Korean with my dad, I had trouble with spelling and I couldn't read as fast as my classmates," Lee, speaking fluently in Korean, said during an interview with The Korea Times on the school campus.
Things became more difficult for Lee in the fourth grade as classes were switched to being held online due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
"It was hard to keep up with classes. And since we didn't go to school for months, I barely had any chance to make new friends. I had only like two or three friends," she said.
But now that in-person classes have fully returned, the outgoing student is enjoying a normal school experience with plenty of face-to-face interactions with teachers and friends. "I'm thankful to my friends who have helped me whenever I don't know something in Korean," she said.
Lee's early childhood spent in Mexico has pretty much shaped how she views the world. Attending an international school where students were from different racial and cultural backgrounds, she naturally learned to respect other cultures.
|Jennifer Lee speaks during an interview with The Korea Times on her school campus, Nov. 28. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul|
She also feels that growing up in a multicultural family has a lot of benefits.
"I feel proud that I can speak different languages. And I'm happy that I have families and relatives in two different countries. I still keep in touch with my family in Mexico and my aunt recently came to visit me in Korea," she said.
Out of school, Lee engages in various sports activities, including figure skating, swimming, taekwondo and running. Her talent in sports comes from her mother.
"I heard that my mother used to love sports when she was young. I like figure skating the most. I train two times a week on the ice, and try to practice some skills at home too," she said.
With her bright personality and positive energy, Lee breaks down negative stereotypes that can sometimes be associated with children with multicultural backgrounds, said Han Seung-won, her homeroom teacher.
"There is nothing different about Jennifer from her peers. Rather, she is an exemplary student. She gets along so well with her friends and doesn't hesitate to ask questions in classes."
The teacher spoke highly of Lee's passion and hardworking spirit. "She is a self-motivated, goal-oriented student who doesn't need to be pushed by someone else."
Multi-talented Lee finds it hard to decide who she wants to become in the future. She sometimes pictures herself as an Olympic figure skater and sometimes as a professional interpreter.
"Since I often help my mom with doing paperwork in Korean or when she talks with other parents, I think I can become a good interpreter," she said. "And I also want to become a teacher of foreign languages."
Winning awards in competitions like the Korea Multicultural Youth Awards motivates her, she said.
"I was so surprised and happy when I found out I was the winner of the grand prize in the nationwide competition. My parents were very glad too."
|Jennifer Lee poses during an interview with The Korea Times in her classroom, Nov. 28. Korea Times photo by Shim Hyun-chul|
Lee shared hopes that all children from multicultural backgrounds can be respected for who they are.
"When I tell my friends that my mother is from Mexico, they just say 'OK' and don't ask a lot of questions about it, which I think is good," she said. "They accept me for who I am and don't think that I'm different from them."
"I hope that other friends who are from multicultural families can also be proud of their backgrounds like me. I know that it can be difficult to get used to school life at first if they've moved to Korea, but I want them to know that there are a lot of friends willing to help them," Lee said.
While many of her friends are planning to do extra studying at cram schools as they enter middle school next year, Lee seeks to spend more time exploring her interests.
"I heard that my friends will begin to go take extra courses at cram schools from next year. But I just want everything to be the same as now. I will keep on doing what I like and will never give up doing sports," she said.