Hannah Horton

The goal of my feature articles has always been to share with the community stories about the people of our area whose lives have included unusual and interesting experiences. The articles have included love stories, family history, special celebrations, times of war and the constant encouragement to look for the good in all situations. If fact, earlier I used the words of the apostle Paul who said to think about things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, praiseworthy and of good report.

Over and over, my experience of gathering information for the stories has resulted in surprises. When I went looking for one story, I came away with an even better one. I knew about Hannah Horton going to South Korea for several weeks during the summer of 2019 and thought others would like to know about the achievements of our younger generation, but I didn’t know about the Fulbright Award and her motivations and future expectations. Enjoy her story!

Hannah Horton, a 2020 graduate of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, is a recipient of a Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program award. The May 5, 2020 news release from the U.S. Department of State announces that she will be studying at Seoul National University in Seoul, South Korea. Her international study will start in February 2021 with the beginning of the new school year.

According to the website of the U.S. Department of State which administers the initiative, the Fulbright Scholars program “actively seeks out individuals of achievement and potential who represent the full diversity of their respective societies and selects nominees through open, merit-based competition.”

The stated goal of the program is to improve intercultural relations, cultural diplomacy, and intercultural competence.

As a Fulbright Scholar, Hannah will be participating in the program initiated by Sen. William Fulbright in 1945 when he introduced a bill that called for using proceeds from the sales of surplus war property to fund the “promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science.”

The 2021 educational adventure will be a return trip to South Korea for Hannah. Her first experience was during the summer of 2019. She received a Critical Language Scholarship awarded by the U.S. Department of State to attend Pusan National University in Pusan, South Korea. She was one of 28 students from the US and the only one from Tennessee chosen to participate in the language study program. The full immersion program included 3-5 hours daily of classroom activities with both teachers and students using the Korean language and housing in the university dorm with a South Korean roommate. Additionally, Hannah had an assigned language partner, Hyo, who accompanied her during community activities.

When asked what had caused her to develop an interest in Korea, Hannah first responded that she wanted to learn the language. “I knew of its (Korea’s) strategic location and its importance internationally,” she said. Her interest in the area had been broadened through her study of world history during her home-school years. She related how her studies had included comparative timelines of the development of countries of Europe as well as the Far East. Studying their cultures, the dynasties, and the societies resulted in a personal interest in the people of Korea.

Her initial response concerning learning the language led me to language websites where I discovered the extreme difference in form between English letters and Korean characters. The variations in the pronunciation of sounds and the absence of some English sounds seemed, to me, to add to the challenge of learning the language.

Hannah’s program in the summer of 2019 was described as a cultural immersion program. In our discussion, it was apparent that she had recognized many differences and similarities between South Korea and the United States.

Besides the language, Hannah experienced various other cultural distinctions. She lived in Pusan, a large industrial area, a thriving port and a cultural and educational center. Pusan is the 2nd largest city in South Korea with a population of 3.4 million which calculates to 12,000 people per square mile. Contrast that to Rhea County with an appropriate population of 33,600 equating to 101 people per square mile.

Transportation in the city was primarily by subway with many underground shopping areas. It was underground that Hannah shopped in her first Gucchi store. “Name brand items are status symbols,” she said. Above ground, Pusan has the largest department store in the world, Shinseqae. Hannah’s community activities allowed her time to shop in the gigantic store.

Respect for the elderly was another cultural distinction identified by Hannah. Many families had multigenerational housing in “super small” apartments.

Traditional greetings included bowing of the head. Even verbal greetings differed according to type of association with the individual.

Visitors removed shoes when visiting private residences, and in homes families generally had meals while seated on the floor.

“South Korea is ranked as a first world country and as such, in many respects, it is on par with the US,” according to Hannah. She gave several examples. The infrastructure is similar, economic development is evident, product availability in all types of stores is comparable, and there is a stable democratic government.

When asked her greatest concerns about going to South Korea, she responded that “being alone and not being able to communicate” caused her uneasiness. Hannah soon discovered that “strangers became friends.” She finished the interview with these words, “God opens doors and gives you the courage to be where He wants you to be. I believe the trajectory of my life is held by the hand of God.”

Hannah anticipates working in a diplomatic position in South Korea.