The Words of the Nicolopoulos Family

Understanding Korea

Zoe-Anne Nicolopoulos
March 1987
Interview by Angelika Selle

Question: How long have you been studying Korean?

Answer: I began studying in 1977 at a university in France. At that time no one else in the church, that I know of, was learning Korean. It was very difficult, because I was doing other missions as well as going to school. The first three years were such a terrible struggle that I wanted to quit all the time. But Henri Blanchard, the president of the Unification Church in France, had asked me to learn Korean, so I couldn't just say, "Oh, Henri, I want to stop:' I had made a pledge to Heavenly Father: If I ever fail the examinations, I will quit. But strangely, even though I was the worst student in the class, I never failed.

After I had been studying for three years, President Blanchard asked me if I could translate from Korean into French. I told him it was impossible because my vocabulary and understanding were so limited. At that time I thought I would never learn very much Korean. But I decided to make one final attempt -- by living in Korea for a year. If I couldn't learn the language by the end of that time, I would give up.

That year in Korea, from December 1979 to December 1980, was difficult, but I came to understand and speak Korean quite well. I started studying at a language institute, but Heavenly Father also gave me many opportunities to learn different kinds of Korean. By witnessing in Korean I learned to speak about many spiritual things. I lived with a Korean family, so I could observe how their children learned to speak. Even by hearing the vendors shouting in the marketplace I learned so much. I felt God wanted to give me a broad understanding of the Korean language and culture.

Spiritually, it was also a very good year for me. I was very much on my own because I lived with a home church family rather than in a church center. It was entirely up to me to take care of my spiritual life. I struggled very hard to keep a strict life of faith. This opportunity hadn't been given to anybody else -- only to me -- so I felt I could not betray God.

From this experience I understood that Father sends us pioneering in order to make our faith more mature.

When I returned to France I continued to study, and I received a master's degree in Korean literature. In 1984 I went back to Korea to pursue a doctorate on a government scholarship. I hope to finish my studies by 1988.

Question: Was it difficult for you as a Westerner to grasp the logic of Korean grammar?

Answer: Yes, especially in the beginning. My teacher in France was a Korean woman from Ehwa University, the school that opposed our church in the 1950s. She persecuted me and ignored my questions, so I had to try to memorize everything. I did very poorly but I had no choice.

But the teachers at the language institute in Korea knew how to answer the type of questions that Westerners ask. Finally I could understand the rules of grammar rather than just memorizing. I had to go through a stage of learning without understanding before the reward of understanding could come.

Question: Father always says that Korean is very scientific, yet many Westerners cannot see anything scientific about the structure of Korean. Can you explain this?

Answer: When Father says Korean is scientific, he means it is logical from the viewpoint of Oriental philosophy. If you don't know Oriental philosophy and the cultural context of the Oriental mentality, you cannot see the logic of the Korean language. European languages don't seem logical either unless you know the culture and philosophy of those nations. Language is an extension, an outgrowth, a continuation, of culture. Korean is scientific in the sense that it is consistent with the philosophy of its culture. From this point of view, studying Korean is very exciting.

Last year I attended a lecture on the origins of the Korean alphabet. The speaker showed that there is a spiritual aspect to the Korean language. The scholars who created the alphabet in the 15th century wanted to make their language much more than a means of communication.

They wanted to be able to express the entire culture. It was also meant to strengthen the national identity of Koreans against the dominance of Chinese culture and language. Unlike Chinese, which has thousands of complex characters, the Korean alphabet was designed to be simpler and easier for everyone to learn.

Question: How has learning Korean helped you to understand Father's speeches?

Answer: Knowing Korean is, I think, essential for really understanding Father's heart. If someone is speaking in a language you understand, you hear not only his words but his spirit. You can sense his thinking and his feeling. You can even tell what he will say next. But if you use a translator, this spiritual awareness disappears.

Father emphasizes learning Korean because we can come to know his heart directly and share his eagerness to realize God's ideal. We need to learn Korean in order to inherit his desire to create a world of goodness.

Also, if we can understand Korean language, culture, and history, we can understand the soil from which the flower of God's providence grows. The flower may be different from the soil, but they share the same essential elements. Understanding Korean tradition has helped me understand our church.

Question: Father always emphasizes that he is not promoting Korean tradition but heavenly tradition.

Answer: Yes, that's an important point. I think Korean members face a greater challenge in accepting heavenly tradition than Westerners do. For us, everything about heavenly culture is new and fresh. We go through a total change. But for many Koreans, it is difficult to distinguish between heavenly and Korean culture. It's easy for them to feel Korean culture is good enough.

Father emphasizes heavenly tradition, not Korean tradition. There are many things in our church that shock Koreans who are not members. Our church traditions are not simply Korean. While they have a Korean flavor and color, it was God who created them. We should understand Korean culture, language, and history not for themselves but in order to understand Father. We need to understand the character of the nation that was called to give birth to the one who had the sensitivity to receive God's principle, our True Father. 

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