A 26-year-old volunteer teacher from Tacloban City won the grand prize in the recent Korean Speech Contest grand finals held last April 30 at the Ateneo de Manila University.

Angeli Marie Baclea-an, who bested 10 other finalists from Manila, Cebu, Baguio, Iloilo and Davao, won a six-day Fun Korean Language Trip to Korea courtesy of the Korea Tourism Organization Manila (KTO)  and 30,000 pesos.

Placing second is Christine Dizon of the Philippine International College followed by third-place winner Janine Laddaran of Ateneo de Manila University.

Baclea-an’s Korean speech, “The Typhoon that Changed Me” centered on how the typhoon “Yolanda” changed her outlook in life.

She told the audience that she was born with a congenital heart disease that limits her to live normally.

“Every day, I trembled with fear as I face death and I wished God would just come and take me instead. During those depressing days, the only thing that brought me comfort was Korean music and Korean dramas. And it became an opportunity for me to learn Korean language,” Baclea-an said.

Using free sources on the internet, Baclea-an started to study the Korean alphabet and basic grammar. She eventually bought grammar books from Korea and took the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) and received a level 4 certification.

When the typhoon “Yolanda” devastated Tacloban City in 2013, the Korean government sent a 300-member military unit more known as “Araw” Contingent to the Philippines to assist in the rehabilitation of Leyte. Even though Baclea-an is sick and still having doubts with her Korean language skills, she went to the “Araw” Contingents and volunteered as an interpreter.

For four months, she was able to work with the Araw Contingent soldiers and at the Korean language school established near the base camp.

“I was happy to see that I was slowly improving. These experiences became an opportunity for me to take up a new life that’s different from the lethargic and depressing life I used to have and it made me to think more of other people who are in more pain than I am,” she said.

Currently, Baclea-an is a restaurant manager in a Korean restaurant in Tacloban City and also volunteers at the Tacloban Korean Methodist Church as Korean language teacher.

The Korean Speech Contest was organized by the Korean Cultural Center in the Philippines (KCC)  and is sponsored by KTO Manila along with partners United Korean Community Association in the Philippines, Ateneo Initiative for Korean Studies and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

The Korean Speech Contest is one of the flagship projects of KCC. Last year, the speech contest started to expand its reach in the provinces of Cebu, Davao and Iloilo wherein the regional champions will compete in the final stage in Manila. This year KCC added two more provinces namely, Pampanga and Baguio to accommodate more Filipinos who are interested to join the competition.

This year’s panel of judges was composed of LEE Jong Min, wife of Korean Ambassador to the Philippines KIM Jae Shin; KIM Jong Ho, principal of the Korean International School; LEE Jong Hwa, professor at the University of the Philippines (UP); PARK In Shik, director of KTO Manila; and KCC Director OH Choong Suk.