Korea — The Second Coming

November 29, 2012 at 10:24 AM | Posted in (All Posts) | Leave a comment
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한국 — 오랜만입니다.

I have returned. After being apart for well over a year, I am back in Korea. This time not as an exchange student, but as a full fledged graduate student.

I may have mentioned this in one of my posts from last year, but the Korean government provides a program known as the KGSP (Korean Government Scholarship Program) for international students who wish to pursue their graduate studies and Ph. D studies in Korea. When I first found out about the program, I can remember a feeling of excitement coming over me, but also a very heavy feeling of hopelessness. The scholarship is becoming more and more competitive each year with students applying from all over the world, and the chance of me being selected seemed incredibly small. I can recall speaking with an employee at my Korean university last year and having this employee look me in the eye and tell me, “It is impossible for you.”

Side Note: That specific employee has since been (and has always been) extremely kind and was one of the first to congratulate me when I was awarded the scholarship, so no hard feelings. :)

Currently I am studying Korean language at Sunkyungkwan University (Suwon Campus), and I will be doing so for one full year. Next summer, I have to take a Korean proficiency test known as TOPIK. TOPIK has 6 different levels being divided into 3 different tests.

^ Some of my roommates at Sunkyungkwan University — having our first Korean BBQ dinner — representing Costa Rica, the US, Georgia, and Lithuania. This was taken probably 2 days after I first arrived.

It’s taken me quite some time to get this post out, and I hate to admit that. I was hoping I would be more regular and putting out new posts all the time, but that just hasn’t been the case. When I was hear last year, I had such a sense of accomplishment whenever I finished a post. It was great to go back and read about the way I was feeling and the experiences I had at that time. But the truth is, this Korean language course is dominating me.

As I finish typing this now, I’m in a level 2 class and I just finished the midterm for this session. Some tests were okay, but some of them royally destroyed me — as has the class itself. Everyday feels like this struggle of trying to hang on, while seemingly every other student in the class soars through. I know I’m not the only one struggling, as when I talk to my friends outside of class they all talk about how stressful it can be, but there are times when I feel like I am a step below where everyone else is, and I just can’t seem to catch up.

^ My Level 1 class near Namsam Tower.

If I sound negative, I really don’t mean to be, but it’s a very difficult situation to describe unless you can just experience it yourself. I understand what a great opportunity this is, so please don’t mistake my tone as a lack of effort, but this is the first time in my life when it feels like you can put hours and hours and hours (and hours) into something, and the results don’t always equal the hard work.

Back at my last university in the US (working towards my Bachelor’s), I knew the formula to do well on papers. I knew how to write articles and I knew how to interview people. I could piece a story together, and the harder I worked, the better my story was and the higher my score (usually) was. But here — it feels like the amount of work you put in doesn’t necessarily add up to the corresponding results.

For 5 days a week, I sit in class from 9 AM to at least 3 PM. For at least 2 of those days, we have an extra class from 3:00 to 4:30, not to mention if you go to extra tutoring sessions or use the post-class time to work on the daily homework. Not since high school have I sat in a classroom this consistently going over subjects for an extended period of time, and to make matter worse — you could argue that in this situation, we are only studying ONE subject. Granted — this is divided into grammar and speaking and listening and general vocabulary, but still — it all revolves around learning one new language.

…which brings me to understand, learning a second language is NO easy task. I considered myself “decent” in Spanish for years, after studying it since I was 12. I took classes in middle school and high school and in college, but never before have I really been exposed to learning a REAL second language. Not to say Spanish is not a second language (please don’t misunderstand me), but there is a drastic difference between learning a language to LIVE in a new country and learning a language to just pass a university course.

I am proud of the amount of Korean I’ve consumed in such a short amount of time, but there are times when I disagree with the teaching here. Some teachers bend the rules a bit, but 90% of them WILL NOT under any circumstances explain something in English. There are a number of Chinese students also at this language institute who cannot speak English, but in general — in Korea, if you can’t speak Korean, you’re at least expected to know English, so it’s not asking much to have an English explanation now and then.

We can rely on our phones for translators, but teachers discourage using this too much — which I can understand. But still … *sigh* … at moments like this I can only  laugh and be thankful I have friends who can feel my pain. BUT again — I love being here, overall. I’ve made good use of my free time (when not studying) by taking up a new hobby — hiking. Or more appropriately, 등산하다. My Dutch friend introduced me how accessible the mountain climbing life is here in Korea, and now he and I and our Lithuanian friend have started a climbing group. Even counting all of my experiences in Asia last year, climbing the mountains near Seoul has been one of my favorite things to do since I came here.

^ Note to all my friends who have had their pictures posted: Hope you don’t mind having your handsome faces all over a blog (lol).

I’ve been jumping back to this post over a period of days, so if it doesn’t seem entirely consistent — please do forgive me.

All in all — I am very happy to be here. I truly am. I have made some great new friends and already I have had experiences I will be telling friends about for years to come. Even though I am struggling with this course and I question my own ability, I feel like I am getting better with the language  And from a physical standpoint — I feel like I am getting to a point where I am stronger and healthier than I have ever been in my entire life. I’ve always been fascinated with bodybuilding and working out, so I’ve used the free time I have here to invest in it. I ordered plenty of Whey Protein and lots of supplements and I joined a gym at my university — sometimes going twice a day. If nothing else comes out of this experience, I have picked up a very beneficial new hobby.

And if I can say so myself, I have some great pictures.

Hopefully the posts from here on out won’t be so general and will flow a bit better, but I just had to finish this one before I can move on.

I just found out a few days ago that I will be fortunate enough to go home for Christmas. I have some family that used to work for an airline, and I am very thankful I can use their benefits to help me come home for the holidays (JTT eat your heart out). My brother and his wife just had another little girl, so I’m now an Uncle x2 — and I really look forward to seeing my nieces — along with the rest of my family and friends.

So as I wrap this post up on a late Thursday night (technically Friday morning), I hope I can look back on this someday and see that I got through this program and passed TOPIK. It will not be easy at all. But I’ve got to keep my head up.

For long time readers — thanks for reading, and for anyone who is checking AOW out for the firs time — I hope you enjoyed!


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