'We love it so much': Ōtara rangatahi excited learning about Korean language and culture

By Candice Luke

By Candice Luke, Te Rito journalism cadet

Annyeonghaseyo (hello) is a Korean greeting you would not expect to hear amongst rangatahi in South Auckland. But over the school holidays the Ōtara Youth Hub held its first Korean language class graduation, bringing cultures together in the melting pot of the Pacific. 

Mary Kim is a Korean language tutor who had never taught students in South Auckland before, and has not been able to travel home to South Korea since before the Covid-19 pandemic.  

“When I came into Ōtara Youth Hub I felt like it's my hometown. It's very, very comfortable. It’s not just language. We build each other and get to know each other. My sisters, my brothers, I already miss them. It’s like I found my lost siblings,” Kim says.

Ōtara Korean language class graduation. Photo / Supplied

BTS, K-Drama and Korean barbecue have brought the culture to the forefront in Aotearoa but the students wanted a deeper understanding. 

Liz Salesa from OLA Squad (Ōtara Youth Leadership Army) says, “Being able to experience ethnic diversification especially here in Ōtara has been nothing short of a blessing and it's so cool to see.”

Recent gang tensions in the community have made safe spaces like this vital for rangatahi to express themselves. 

“People don't realise how many Māori and Pasifika rangatahi love Korean culture," class participant Swanie Nelson says.

"A lot of it filters its way through the form of K-Pop. It's such a dynamic, aesthetic culture. It's about fashion. It's about being who you are. It's such a creative space.”

The connection for this group runs deeper than just pop music and cute selfies. Cultural similarities draw them together. 

“Especially when it comes to respect within our culture, putting people first. He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. I think that's why we love it so much. And we learn it so easy and gels so quickly,” says Nelson.

Vocalist Sorvana Williams and members of the Ōtara Youth Hub in Pōneke.  Photo / Supplied

Many of the graduates are a part of OLA Squad, the youth group behind K-Pop dance classes and events in Ōtara. In May they shared their talents in Pōneke at the Aotearoa round of the World K-Pop Festival, with Ōtara Samoan vocalist Sorvana Williams taking first place. 

Williams and members of OLA Squad are heading to the Changwon K-Pop World Festival at the end of this year in South Korea.