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Thomas Jefferson student shares love of Korean language

| Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Only good things happen in a classroom where the teacher and students are ready to act their parts.

Last week, Gina Kilmer, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School, brought her passion for language to classrooms at McClellan Elementary School. For the second time, the 17-year-old instructed gifted students in Hangul, the official script of South and North Korea.

The alphabet was created in the 1443 by King Sejong, so his people could read and write the language they spoke. To form words, 24 vowels and consonants are grouped into blocks of characters, forming a syllable.

Kilmer is uncertain where her interest in all things Korean came from, although she admits to being fascinated with East Asia. Japan had been her favorite country in middle school, but sometime in high school, she discovered Korean songs on YouTube. The group was Monday Kiz, who sing more ballads rather than pop.

“I got into the language,” the Pleasant Hills teen said. “I thought it was beautiful.”

Beautiful and interesting enough to teach for her senior project.

“The kids took to it easily,” said Colleen Triffanoff, one of the gifted support teachers at West Jefferson Hills School District.

This year, students asked: “Is the Korean person coming?”

Triffanoff, who has been with the district for 14 years, couldn't say “no.”

She and Kilmer, an alumna of McClellan, agreed the younger students could learn six characters during their first class and the older students, 12. Of course, students all wanted to know how to write their names.

This year, she taught more characters, brought books on Korean etiquette and CDs. She also added a PowerPoint lesson about Korea.

“It was like making a presentation to a class,” Kilmer said. “They were interested.”

As a student herself, Kilmer is a proponent of “learning language as early as you can.”

She plans to “follow the straight line of what I want to do” to a university next year where she can pursue East Asian studies with a concentration on Korea. She already has been accepted at Indiana University in Bloomington and the University of Hawaii.

After college, she hopes to work in Korea or with the United Nations in humanitarian aid.

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or

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