It is 9.30am on Saturday morning. While most schools will be locked and empty until Monday, the Korean School of Amsterdam is just getting going. For the next four hours, around 250 Korean and non-Korean students will take part in a structured curriculum of Korean classes. “Many of the Korean children, who are aged from 4 to 18, go to international and Dutch schools during the week. On Saturdays they come here to learn as they would in Korea, using textbooks supplied by the Korean government,” says the school’s director Youngmee Choi.
The curriculum focuses on language skills, but also covers mathematics and creative subjects such as music and art. In addition, a calendar of events and activities throughout the year includes cooking classes, taekwondo and a sports day.
“People like to gather here. Parents bring their children to class and often stay on to meet and socialise. Some also join our Dutch language courses for Koreans, which are taught by our Dutch volunteer teachers.”
The school was founded in 1993 in Amstelveen, a suburb of Amsterdam that is popular with foreign nationals and close to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. “We are now firmly established in the local community, but we’re continuing to grow – both in quality and quantity,” says Choi. “Over the last ten years, I’ve seen an increasing interest from Dutch students in Korean as a foreign language, which is now our largest department. And from 2015, the school will hold TOPIK Korean language proficiency exams. Previously, students had to go abroad to sit the exams. It’s an honour for us to be able to organise them in the Netherlands for the first time.”
Having lived in a number of countries herself, Choi is familiar with the expat experience and aware that the school fulfils a broader function than simply education. “I studied in France for five years before coming to Amsterdam. In France, it was hard to find work even though I spoke the language. When I moved to Amsterdam, I could speak English no problem and people didn’t mind. Everyone was very kind to me. Even later, after I learned Dutch, people still wanted to reply to me in English. I felt good, relieved. I could find a job and build up a life here.”
“We can provide language classes, of course, but it is my vision to help our children to become global citizens in a world that’s fast, mobile and connected. In that sense, we are not just providing language skills, we are also sharing our traditions and an attitude towards living today.”