A slice of Deutschland in Seoul

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A slice of Deutschland in Seoul

The entrance leading to the Deutsche Schule Seoul is narrow and enclosed, quite like those at the private residences and foreign embassies nearby. Even during recess, it is tranquil and calm, in contrast to the bustling of activity in local schools around the area.
Here in the heart of Hannam-dong, more than 90 students from ages 6 to 15, as well as 40 kindergarteners, attend classes taught in German. In this cozy school, the students, who are either German or have German passports, study everything from trigonometry to Goethe to how to make traditional Korean masks, or tal.
Seoul’s German expatriate community is centered on Hannam-dong and Itaewon, largely so children can be near Deutsche Schule. Some Germans live in Pyeongchang-dong; a bright yellow school bus brings in children from that neighborhood.
Between 1,600 and 1,700 Germans live in Korea, according to Do Pil-yeong, the press attache of the German Embassy in Seoul. “Roughly 70 percent of that number live in Seoul and are associated with multinational companies in Korea,” Mr. Do said. Most Deutsche Schule parents work for German companies such as BASF, Bayer, Siemens and Allianz; a few are in the diplomatic corps.
The Korean-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry brings members of the business community together. Other German institutions in the city include the Goethe-Institut, established in 1968, which hosts and supports musical, artistic, academic and cultural events related to Germany. The institute also holds seminars on sociopolitcial issues in Germany, and offers language courses.
Socially, there is the German Club, which formed in 1995 and meets every month for a “coffee morning” in the Seoul Club near Dongdaemun. “About 40 or so wives of German expats gather to discuss life in Korea, and learn more about Korean culture,” says Stephanie Schaefers, the club’s president. “In recent times we have had Korean ladies interested in our group join in our meetings.” The club, which has 140 members, also organizes annual tours to the Demilitarized Zone and, every two years, a German Ball.
“I find life in Korea to be wonderful,” Ms. Schaefers said. “People are so friendly, and there is lots to see and do here. The problem that some find is that the [German] school only goes up to the 10th grade, so some kids have to go to Seoul Foreign School, but it is crowded there.”

There are two buildings in the Deutsche Schule compound. To the left is the kindergarten; to the right is a three-story building that houses first through 10th grade. The open courtyard serves as a basketball court and a playground.
On a weekday afternoon, 10 or so 3rd-graders are listening to a lecture. “Harry Potter” pencil cases can be seen. The room is decorated much like any other elementary school classroom, with students’ drawings and maps of Korea and the world.
The daughter of American parents who reside in Korea, Alina Begley, 8, speaks fluent German and English, and has attended the school for four years. Alina was born in Germany; when the family moved to Korea, her parents sent her here instead of to an English-language foreign school. “My mom wanted me to continue learning German. I like it here, and I wanted to stay here,” says Alina.
Most of the students at the Deutsche Schule have one German and one non-German parent. Others, including an Egyptian, a Czech and a few Korean students, aren’t German at all, but both parents must carry German passports ― as a dual citizen, for example ― for a child to enroll.
The Deutsche Schule Seoul was first established in 1976 in Itaewon, moving to the Goethe-Institut in Namsan before settling in Hannam-dong in 1988. It’s a private, non-government-affiliated school that operates under the regulations of Korea’s Ministry of Education and Human Resource Development.
Class size ranges from 5 students to 17, with the upper grades having the smaller numbers. In the German education system, first to fourth grade is considered the elementary level (Grundschule), and 5th to 10th grade cover the middle and high school levels (Gymnasium). In 5th and 6th grade, students decide whether they want to pursue professional training or continue with their high school education until age 18 before heading off to university. (University-bound students continue on to 13th grade, the equivalent of senior year in high school; the other students take job-training courses in the 9th and 10th grades.)
The school’s goals are to help its students adapt to curricula in German schools they might later attend, or other German schools in Asia. They also try to prepare college-bound 10th-graders for international schools in Korea. Because of this, “we push [students] very, very hard to learn English, teaching children from the first grade,” says Stefan Machleb, the school’s principal.
Robert Schumann, 15, is the only boy in his 10th-grade class. Born in Hong Kong to a German father and a British mother, Robert has spent his entire life in Asia, attending one German school after another, from Malaysia to the Philippines.
“I wanted to leave school after 10th grade, so I came here, while my brother attends Seoul Foreign School,” says Robert, who complains that it’s hard to play sports at the Deutsche Schule because of the limited space. (For playing fields, the students either use the Hannam elementary school or the Han River parks close by.)
Unlike at Korean elementary schools or other foreign schools, Deutsche Schule students take classes in religion. “We have courses in Christianity as well as Catholicism, but it is not mandatory for non-Christian students,” an administrator says. “The German education is focused on a humanistic curriculum. You can say it’s relatively conservative, but many parents prefer that to the liberal system of some other foreign schools, so they send their kids here.”
A fourth floor will be added to the school next year. However, the school eventually plans to move to a bigger campus. The Seoul Metropolitan Government has come up with an ambitious plan to create an international school in Hannam-dong by the end of 2006, incorporating several of Seoul’s foreign schools. For the Deutsche Schule, it is a welcome endeavor. “It will enable our students to use more sports facilities such as the gym, soccer fields and indoor swimming pool. We can also better work with other foreign schools to exchange teachers and students,” says Mr. Machleb.
A large number of Korean students who have resided in Germany for an extended period but do not have citizenship there are turned away from the Deutsche Schule because of the current law that forbids enrollment of Korean nationals in foreign schools. If the international campus comes through, Mr. Machleb says, “We expect growth of 25 to 30 percent in student enrollment.”

by Choi Jie-ho
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