Archive for the ‘Jiwon’s Note on ViKi’ Category

The idea of ViKi first came up as something for myself

March 28, 2008

Major: education / Field of profession: IT.

My profile put in a line. Simple, huh? Right, my life was indeed getting simple. You know, as you continue to make fair progresses with your career, and all your excitement about work begins to grow stale, this thing called mannerism starts to creep in… That notion that everyday’s the same, I’m just fending for each day, what more can you expect…etc., etc.

But then this voice from somewhere inside my head yells at me; you’re still young, dxxn it! Your blood yearns for a good hot boil time to time. I mean, it’s good to be settled in and all, but this can’t possibly be the end! Still water decomposes, and unused organs degenerate…I smell you rotting, rotting… life should still have some other surprise in store, (somewhere over the rainbow?)! It was about time I went seeking for new adventure – so what came up? Nothing that fancy, after all … just studying some more, but this time in the US., away from familiar surroundings.

But!!!!!!! It turned out that I was in fact ‘too old for that joint,’ no longer a perky twenty-year old whose blood indeed simmers and head scintillates with wit! Those ENGLISH words splattered all over the pages made me sick, totally frustrated: I’ve learned English at school for over 10 years, ever since junior high – but look at me now, thwarted by some stupid article in a GRE text book! What’s wrong here? Where’ve all the hours I’d invested in this language gone? Looking around, I realized that it wasn’t my problem alone. Korea spending tons of money and time in English education, but people can’t even properly order a hamburger when it comes to practice. Collective problems have systematical causes -the Korean English education system seems to be inefficient, and since I’m one of its victims, I know what’s wrong with it, what parts need improvement… can’t I do something about it? Use what I’ve learned to make some real difference?

Couldn’t stop thinking about it, even after actually being admitted and having done with the toil. Guess the issue persisted in my mind, as I was thrown right into the heart of trans-cultural/linguistic challenges, studying in a foreign environment. Didn’t some wise guy say, an urgent need is the best motivation?

Everything was new, new new… even my very self. My speech habits, behavioral patterns, outgoing personality and self-prided leadership – all gone. I was no longer the ‘me’ I knew myself to be, changed in external perception as well as internal self-conception. I found myself stuttering, getting timid because of my inability to fully express myself, and in turn being further withdrawn. That, was the new “me.”

What this experience taught me was that adjusting to my new school and its surroundings wasn’t simply an issue of language – that it involves culture, and in a wider span, life within it. No being can be defined outside the context of the given environment… Assimilation was a complex process of understanding not only language, but also the social texture that harbors it, the people who use it. I was struck by the notion that comprehension of a certain language runs parallel to an understanding of its mother culture.

That’s exactly the point where this grand discourse over ‘diversity’ hit the wall – born and raised in Korea, known for its ethnic and cultural unity, I first marveled at the cultural/racial/linguistic kaleidoscope of America. Salad bowl, melting pot… call it what you may, this fusion seemed to have a future. Disparity accepted and respected as ‘difference,’ not ‘flaw.’ Here, there was a possibility of harmony in our post-babellian world of chaos.

However… as years went by, I couldn’t get rid of this feeling that there’s a certain invisible wall between myself and other friends. Yes, there was ‘difference’ between us, which we respected.. but then, that was it. No attempts to cross over that very boundary. Right, we’re not the same, I take that – so let it stay right there, there’s never going to be complete mutual understanding, that’s a given condition! Possibility turned out to be a restriction.

All these talks about globalization, diversity, a one big happy community… but are we truly one? Is there genuine mutual understanding? Respect implies sustainable difference, but at the same time, it means there’s still a clear line drawn between ‘self’ and the ‘other.’ There has to be an overarching theme, each piece corresponding to its neighboring substance for random scraps to become a harmonious collage. Cultural understanding as the premise for a mellifluous inter-linguistic tune. No wonder Koreans waste away taking inefficient English lessons, of course I don’t feel at home among non-Korean friends. There has to be some way to share our backgrounds in a more intimate manner, pierce through one another’s daily lives that make us what we are.

So came the idea of ViKi. A totally new platform, a hybrid of community mongering and linguistic exchange. Let people share their interests, thoughts – in the process of which, inter-linguistic communication naturally taking place, consequently rendering mere diversity into a true harmony. No no, this isn’t mere cliché, one more abstract jibber jabber on world peace. We’ve got all the necessary hardware, mankind having been so smart as to materialize Gibson’s vision of the World Wide Web – now we just have to give flesh and blood to this phantom.

This is what ViKi will do, what ViKi is for.

Jiwon

Education: driving force for, or the hidden inhibitor of the equality of opportunity

March 28, 2008

Coming all the way across the ocean, plunging into unfamiliar settings, and devising academic projects in a tongue that is not of my own … this wasn’t all too easy. Think I mentioned this…., but again, realizing how ‘alien’ I am, I gradually lost self-confidence. Whenever I said something, it felt like people were eying me, whispering how awkward I sounded. My stuttering comments seemed to disrupt the flows of conversation in class. Slowly, I turned into a hermit, trying to avoid any long talks or active involvement. Well, to tell the truth, I AM an alien, a foreigner. Nothing wrong about that – others will find themselves in the same shoes if they were to come study in Korea, right? But still, it wasn’t fun. That feeling, that there’s an invisible wall blocking others from fully understanding me, something caught in my throat…

Locked up in that excruciating loneliness, I used to wonder whether this is how physically handicapped people would feel like, all the time, wherever they went. Sound too grandiose, histrionic even? I’m not saying I’d completely understand the agony and pain of being physically disadvantaged, oh no, that’d be too bold and inconsiderate, I’m not saying that at all…. Please don’t take me wrong, but come to think of it, I feel a certain sense of empathy there…. I was handicapped, in a different sense – maybe not physically, but linguistically, culturally. What pained me wasn’t the lack or inconvenience, but all the opportunities I had to forego because of such shortcomings. Won’t a boy sitting in a wheelchair feel the same, watching all his friends running around playing basketball?

Speaking of opportunities: although equality of opportunity may be the ideal motto of education, reality doesn’t always follow this line of logic. Rich kids are granted more chances for better education, while the socially disadvantaged are too busy fending for their lives. Wealth and power sustains the social hierarchy, education acting as its faithful tool. I’ve no opposition to those who make more efforts taking a larger portion of priorities, but it’s such a pity that some people out there aren’t even given a chance to make such efforts.

Well, time wares on, and the world changes in accordance… education as well, as part of it. Unilateral conveyance of knowledge no longer applies, as children are exposed to a wider context of reality through the web, learning how to write lively language through blogs and interact with other kids on the opposite side of the globe watching and posting YouTube videos. The internet has revolutionalized the institution of education – experiences are brought to life, no longer confined to pages of old books and the words of an authoritative teacher.

But, there still remains a blind spot. Somewhere and someone not reached and touched even by the ubiquitous, all mighty force of the web – the poor, the socially disadvantaged. No money, no internet connection. No time to mirthfully surf through websites, too busy washing dishes and earning daily bread. A fair share of the population remains outside the wonders of technical progress, and therefore is deprived of any opportunity to rise above the given abjection.

This being a systematical problem, and there always being shadows where there is light, such problems will persist as long as mankind exists. There’s a certain limit to what one can do.. although we may try. Depressing.. but that’s reality.

But, there still is ‘something’ we can do, what ViiKii can do to further equality of educational opportunity – helping those who are blocked from accessing the infinite treasuries of the world wide web, due to language barriers. It can hardly be denied that a greater part of online documents / web pages are composed in English, which means that people who come from a non-English speaking background are innately disadvantaged. The Julus in Africa inevitably suffer lack of available sources compared to Americans; the same would apply to most third-world nations, where technical progress benefits those stationed in the upper strata of the social hierarchy, who can freely use main-stream languages. Hence the vicious cycle, the poor and therefore uneducated reproducing itself generation after generation.

What ViKi aims to achieve, is to act as a breakthrough in this very aspect. Widen linguistic horizons, offer opportunities to access a greater variety of knowledge to those kept hostage by linguistic barriers. Become a platform for cultural interaction, bilateral education, enhancing educational opportunities. This isn’t mere naivety, or some immature dream vision of an idealist. ViKi can make this happen –not in itself, but with YOUR help.

Jiwon