Ewha Level 4 Wrap-Up

As I said before, Level 4 is much more balanced and effective than Ewha’s Level 3. The workload is much more manageable, so students can not only commit vocabulary and grammar stuctures to memory, but also have the time during class to practice them. The new segments such as class discussions and presentations allow students to practice putting their own thoughts and opinions formally into words. I felt that some topics for class discussions were realistic and interesting (how marriage traditions have changed around the world and why, birth rates, Korea’s competitive school and work culture, etc) but others I found a bit awkward or childish. For example, one discussion session was about the pros and cons of events like festivals and conventions, and we had to create a festival as an exercise. This resulted in a bunch of 20 and 30-year-olds pitching ideas like Fruit Day in which people should give apples to each other to confirm their friendship, or Cleaning Day (I’m sure you can guess what that one’s about), or Nap Day…Okay, not gonna lie, that one was a good idea.  It’s cute and everything but I couldn’t help but ask myself, Why are these topics even in here? Are they supposed to be a break from heavier topics? Are they supposed to build camaraderie or something? Who knows.

One other thing that bothered me, not just about Level 4, but about Ewha over all, is that there’s no listening or writing review for the midterm or exam. There’s also no listening or dictation homework like there was at Sogang. At Ewha, you only get grammar/vocab and reading comprehension review packets. And this might explain why there’s usually such a big gap between listening scores and vocab/grammar scores (not just for me, but for most people I talk to.) I know listening is a skill that you just have to cultivate over time by exposing yourself to the Korean around you and in the media, but I still think it’s worth it to have a listening review to give students an idea of the possible topics and to help students adjust to the pacing of the listening portion of the exam. Because passing Ewha’s test is at least in part about how well you can take a test. The more accustomed to the format you are, the better you’ll do. Also, listening comprehension homework would actually help students steadily improve their listening. So if this was made part of the program, that’d be amazing.

Other than those two things, I don’t really have anything else to say about the program. The teachers in Level 4 were great, pacing was nice, tests were fair. It was a pretty good 10 weeks. The end of Level 4 at Ewha means it’s been six months since I came to Korea for my post-grad Light Fellowship. It also means I have one more quarter left in my studies. It’s a little hard to believe, really. It feels like my mom was just whining about how long 6 months was and now we’re already talking about what I’m gonna eat when I go home next week for break. Now that I’m almost done with the Fellowship, I guess it’s time for me to start thinking about what I’m gonna do next…


Quick Post-Midterm Update

I was worried a bit about midterms because the tests tend to be much harder than review packets or anything you do in class, but I think I’m getting better and better at figuring out how these tests work and how to better prepare.

This time, however, the reading portion had a new type of question that threw me for a loop at first. You’re given the headline and first couple of sentences from a newspaper article, and you have to pick the answer that correctly summarizes what the article might be about. What’s important here is not knowing the exact word in the newspaper articles but knowing the compounds of the vocabulary words. You put two and two together and boom, you can decipher newspaper speak, which lands you correct answers across the board and a perfect score on the reading section.

Writing went better than expected; listening was about average; speaking could’ve been smoother but I didn’t walk out of the test slouched in shame. All in all, this round of  midterms went way better than last semester.

Now I just need to do the same thing on the final exams….

Falling for Level 4

It’s only been about a week and I can tell that Level 4 is gonna be fab.

First off, unlike level 3 in which there are 15 chapters spanning two textbooks, Level 4 only has 10 chapters in ONE textbook. Each chapter has three new grammar points and one dialogue as opposed to Level 3’s 4 grammar points and two dialogues per chapter. The second part of each chapter in the Level 4 textbook is dedicated to 토의 (discussion), and as usual, the third and last part of each chapter is reading/writing. Because there are fewer grammar points (and even vocab words!) to cram into our brains, the pacing of Level 4 is slower and more enjoyable, unlike that struggle bus called Level 3. You actually–dare I say–get to PRACTICE, your Korean instead of regurgitating what you just memorized the night before.

The new discussion section gives students a chance to talk in groups about a given problem or situation, formalize their thoughts, and then present them to the class. For example, one discussion was about how to build and maintain healthy relationships; this required us to come up with Do’s and Don’t’s for making friends and the reasoning behind each. (Haha, they’re asking ME?) Another discussion was about solving roommate issues, and for this one, half of the discussion group argued person A’s point of view and the other argued person B’s point of view. In the end we had to come up with some concrete solutions for this dysfunctional pair of roommates (one solution may or may not have been just to find another roomie….) Flipping through the book, it looks like there are some great discussion/debate topics. I’m looking forward to spending one day out of the week doing 토의.

And the talking doesn’t stop at 토의. We have to present newspaper articles in Korean and discuss them as a class. We usually discuss possible writing topics in detail before putting pen to paper. (This also results in us spending less time wracking our brains for writing ideas at home. Major PLUS.) Even when learning grammar points, we are no longer reading example sentences from a powerpoint; we’re given the beginning of a sentence and then encouraged to complete it ourselves. There’s no way you can slide by silent in class because the teacher calls on EVERYONE to talk. It keeps you on your toes, forces you to use your Korean, and it’s fun.

Supplemental material like clips for Korean movies, TV shows, music videos adds to the fun and teach us a bit more about Korean culture. All in all, it’s nice not to stare blankly at a page all day. It kind of pisses me off that they don’t do these kinds of activities in Level 3.  I think it’s especially unfair because there are lots of people (on Light Fellowship or otherwise) who are only in Korea for one semester. If you’re stuck in Level 3, you’ll get jam-packed with grammar, vocab, but you could essentially do these things on your own time with no time to put those things in action during the four hours you’re sitting in class. It’d be fan-freaking-tastic if there were more class discussions, presentations, and supplemental material in Level 3 so those students can get the most out of their time in class too. Now that I know Ewha’s classes can be fun and engaging, I’m giving Level 3 some serious side eye.

Anyway, rant over. Really, Level 3 wasn’t that terrible, but it could definitely be better. I’m sure a lot of other factors (my living situation, lack of sleep, etc) also influenced my experience in Level 3. This quarter, I’m going to bed earlier, eating a healthy and filling breakfast everyday, and I’m hearing Korean before and after school. I’m just ~primed~ for learning right now. I actually bought supplemental material for my school-given supplemental material. Man, if I had been like this all throughout college, can you imagine what I would have accomplished? I could’ve had a 4.0 as a triple major, cured cancer, and become a world-famous contortionist or something…Alas.


Fall Quarter Wrap Up

Finals didn’t go as well as I had hoped, but they went. I was particularly worried about the writing and speaking portions this time, so I focused on sharpening those skills for the final. Long story short, these extra preparations did pay off, but at the cost of my other test scores being a bit lower than last time. You win some, you lose some, I guess.

Now that the semester is over and I know I didn’t fail, I can give you my honest opinion of the third level of Ewha’s Korean language program. You might think it’s crazy of me to worry about failing, but about 40% of my class didn’t pass Level 3, which is a ridiculously high number, in my opinion. The thing is, daily class activities and homework aren’t that difficult, but overall you learn A LOT of material in Level 3, so you’re almost sure to forget a few words or small grammatical rules.

Let’s talk a bit about the textbook and how class is structured first. Each chapter in the textbook had 3 sections. Section one contains two grammar structures, one dialogue, and a listening portion; section 2 contains another two grammar structures and a dialogue; and section 3 was a reading passage, writing, and studying a special group of vocabulary words. We covered one section per day (on average) and homework usually consisted of writing your own example dialogue, writing a short (4-5 paragraph) essay on a topic related to the reading passage, and of course, the workbook pages for each corresponding chapter.

When we were learning new grammar, the teacher walked us through example sentences and proper conjugations with a powerpoint presentation. We would practice making sentences using the key grammar with a partner and then as a class, and finally we used a supplemental packet to make example sentences with a partner again. The fun thing about level 3 is the grammar. You learn a lot of grammar points that aren’t super basic, but are used a lot in natural everyday conversation. When I started to use this grammar with my friend/language partner (from Tinder of all places LOL) he was quick to compliment how natural my Korean sentences had become. I have to say, that was a really nice feeling. When it comes to actual speaking, though, I’m not sure if Ewha’s teaching methods really help. For speaking practice, we read the example dialogues in the book, practice it as a class and with a partner, and finally students come up with our own dialogues similar to the example ones and present them to the class. This is all fine and dandy, but the example dialogues focused so much on that chapter’s key grammar that it kind of excluded grammar from previous chapters. I think including a bit of everything from previous chapters would help me see all the building blocks of grammar come together. Plus, it’d definitely help students remember the grammar points.

I don’t really have any complaints about the textbook listening practice at Ewha. But the speed of the recording was much faster than the speed at which either of my teachers spoke in class. The hours and hours of teachers speaking slowly undermined anything we would have gained from the listening practice, which was done every other day or once every 3 days. And because listening isn’t something you can really cram the night before the test, you have to make an effort to listen to Korean radio or watch TV (or live with a host family…) to really improve your listening.

The star of Ehwa’s language textbook is definitely the third section of each chapter, the reading/writing portion. Whereas Sogang’s teachers kind of rushed through the reading portion of a chapter (at least in Level 2), Ewha’s teachers really walk you through every reading passage paragraph by paragraph, highlighting how written language differs from spoken language and paying special attention to understanding the rhetoric, tone, and format of each article, not just the overall meaning. Of course, understanding how to read different kinds of articles in Korean is really helpful when it comes to writing too. I don’t write much in Korean outside of homework, but my writing has definitely come a long way from what it once was. And, if you’re planning to take TOPIK, like most of my classmates are, being able to quickly outline and write an essay in the proper tone and format will help you ace TOPIK’s writing portion.

Another thing that really helps with reading comprehension is the sheer amount of words you learn at Ewha. By the end of the 10 weeks, we had learned about 1500 new vocabulary words (or about 100 per chapter) and you can best believe a lot of those show up in online articles, magazines, and advertisements. However, I think cramming so many words into such a short period of time also drastically slowed my speaking speed. Now that I have so many words floating around in my head, it’s taking me a while to pick one with the exact connotation that I need. This is something that can be overcome with practice, but there was no time to really get a good grasp on these words between the time we learned them and the exams. I mean, you roughly have 3 days to learn 100 words before you’re tested on them and then you have to dive right into hammering another 100 words into your memory. On top of that, we were learning new material all the way up until the day BEFORE the exam, so where was the time to let it all sink in?

But I guess it IS an intensive program, so you just have to learn to take it all in stride…

I can’t draw any big conclusions about Ewha yet (because I’ve got 2 quarters left!) So far I can say that I recommend this program to learners of Korean who want to go to college or graduate school in Korea and/or those who just need to focus on reading and writing. If you want or need to take TOPIK, I think Ewha would put you in a good position to pass. But if you’re looking for class to provide a lot of speaking practice, Ewha’s classes might irritate you (at least level 3).

I hear Level 4 is structured differently and is not jam-packed with as many vocabulary words as Level 3, but I don’t have a lot of details yet. I’ll let you know about that in a couple of weeks!



For Whom the Midterm Tolls

I knew we were learning a lot at Ewha, but I didn’t know exactly how much we had learned until I was faced with about 800 vocabulary words and 34 grammar points to review for the midterm. Now, I could’ve done better by simply studying bit by bit over the one week break (for 추석) but I felt I had a good grasp on everything and didn’t need to start studying THAT early. Haha…

That changed several days before the exam, when I learned about the structure of Ewha’s exams. The midterm is split into 5 mini-tests: listening, speaking, reading, writing, and grammar/vocab. Listening and speaking are scheduled on the same day and reading, writing, and grammar/vocab are on another day (that’s right; two days of testing). My confidence was in grammar and vocab, so I was most prepared for the grammar/vocab section (naturally) and the reading section. However, I had no idea how to “study” for listening, writing, or speaking. So, I spent those several days before the exam listening to all the book dialogues over and over again; I also made sure to review all the mistakes I made in my writing homework and rewrite each writing assignment with the corrections. As for speaking, I just figured I should probably just wing it. I think speaking tests are almost impossible to prepare for unless you’ve been talking with a  native speaker all semester (*cough cough*) and/or you know exactly what topic(s) you’ll be asked to talk about.

On the first day of exams, we did the listening and speaking portions. Listening wasn’t too bad; all the questions are multiple choice and you’re given little time before each recording to read the questions, and they let you listen to the dialogues twice. It started out fine and then got progressively harder. The most challenging part was closer to the end, when the number of listening comprehension questions per section doubled or tripled in number (so, from 1-2 per dialogue to 4-6) and it was nearly impossible to read all the questions before the dialogue started. This resulted in me reading questions as I was listening which is a dangerous game because it’s easy to miss what’s being said. Only one dialogue really threw me for a loop, and that was because there were words in it we definitely hadn’t learned. And once you encounter one or two words in a dialogue you don’t know, you’re kind of screwed for the rest of it, so…that was that. But other than that, I felt it was a very fair test.

The speaking portion….went. Haha. You sit one-on-one with your teacher and do three things: read a paragraph, make a dialogue (based on one from the book), and free talking. Reading and free-talking went pretty smoothly for me, but the dialogue part was just awkward. You’re given a scenario (from the book) and supposed to have a smooth conversation with the teacher using key phrases and vocabulary from that specific chapter. The dialogue happened, but there were lot of awkward pauses as I tried to remember exactly which key phrases had been in that chapter (plus I tend to be awkward in general when it comes to speaking tests anyway, so….that wasn’t working in my favor either.) By the end, the teacher looked disappointed, I felt disappointed. I went home and sat in my own puddle of disappointment.

The second day was reading, writing, and grammar/vocab. I blazed through grammar/vocab and, to my surprise, I also blazed through the reading section. See, on the placement test, reading was my lowest score and they held me back from level 4 mostly because they didn’t think I could handle the reading. When I got the reading test and thought it was relatively easy, I was a bit shocked. And proud. (HA! I can read!) But that writing section was a blood bath. We had 80 minutes to write two essays. The first one, while it wasn’t the best, was all pretty and nice looking with long sentences. The second one, however, was a hot mess. I couldn’t decide what to write about, so I just scribbled something in the end. Pretty sad.

My test scores reflected exactly how I felt, for the most part. I did very well on grammar/vocab and reading, speaking and listening were decent….that writing score though….Well, let’s just say I passed. That’s what’s important, right? I PASSED.

I think I would’ve done better on the writing portion if I had also prepared an outline of a backup essay. The prompts on the writing test were the same as our previous writing assignments, so if I just come up with several ideas for the same prompt beforehand, I won’t spend so much time thinking about what to write on the test. It’s an easy fix (in theory)! I think I can also improve my speaking score if I group all the grammar and key phrases by chapter, so I know what “goes together.” Honestly, I find it rather frivolous to do that (because will that really make my Korean any better…?), but if they want me to use the key phrases from a specific chapter, fine.

At least I know what to expect for the final! Onward and upward.

I’m Here to Exchange Languages, not Saliva

In line with being a proper student of Korean, I’ve been on the hunt for a language partner. I guess by language partner, I mean a native Korean speaker I can meet once or twice a week, who will let me fumble through embarrassing stories in Korean, correcting me as I go… someone who will teach me how to not sound like a textbook. And, if such a person would like to use half of our time together to practice their English, this is completely fine with me as well. Even better if we like each other enough to look forward to our weekly meetings and–dare I say–even become friends.

I thought it would be relatively simple to find a language partner, but I’ve realized that this is might be a tall order because so far everyone I’ve encountered is looking to exchange saliva or other bodily fluids, not languages.

To be fair, I’m probably not looking in the best places. The first place I tried was an app called HelloTalk, which lets you connect with native speakers of the language you want to learn. They’ve had quite a presence on YouTube lately, having sponsored several of my favorite (black, female) YouTubers (living in/visiting Korea). Both KennieJD and Megan Bowen (used to be a big fan!) made some videos about their experiences on the app. Of course, they said you get some creepers, but not everyone is blatantly trying to get into your pants. So, I thought I’d try it out. (Am I just a sadist?)

As advertised, I was quickly able to connect with a lot of Korean speakers. Unfortunately, most of them only wanted to message me in English, so I was kind of put off. Also, all of them were men. I got some messages from people who said they were really interested in African culture and African dance, so they wanted to be friends with me (sorry, can’t help you there buddy….) some avidly expressed their love of “Black music” (Dear God, I hope they don’t actually call it that in Korean….) and some conversations just went like this:

Him: Hi

Me: Hi.

Him: U r prety

Me: Thank you.

Him: Kakao?

Me: …….

Him: Hi

Him: Hi

Him: Hi

Etcetera. But there were two people that really stood out to me on this app. One was a guy we’ll call Horseface (My roommate named him.) He lived in Australia for several years, so his English is quite good, but if I message him in Korean, he will happily answer me in Korean. All in all, seemed like a regular guy on the app. But, once we switched over to Kakao it become more and more apparent that he wasn’t exactly trying to keep up his English. (He was trying to get something else up, y’know what I mean?) He kept bugging me for pictures, for one, and being way over the top with the compliments when I did finally send him a picture (OF MY FACE). But the icing on the cake was when we finally agreed to meet on a Saturday evening. To me, 6 or 7pm is a decent time to meet in the evening. So I asked if we could meet around then. He said that was fine. Then, a little voice in the back of my head told me to also make up a curfew so he wouldn’t try to keep me out so late. So, I told him I had to be back by 10:30, to which he replied….

Horseface:  Heyyyy, why the rush?

Me: Oh, I haven’t really talked to my parents since I’ve been here, and they’re really missing me. It’s the only time that works for them (LIE LIE LIE)

Horseface: Oh, I see…Well, we can hang out when you have more time.

Me: What? But if we meet from 7-10, that’s three hours… isn’t that enough?

Horseface: I was hoping we could hang out longer.

Me: How long did you want to hang out, exactly?

Horseface: I dunno….just depends on how well he get along 😉

Me: I think 3 hours is more than enough if we’re meeting for the first time.

And then I didn’t hear from him for a while. GURL, these people think they’re slick. Puh-leaze. Anyone with two eyes could see straight through that “I just want to spend more time with you” cutesy act. And then he had the nerve to pull a classic f*ckboy move and text me at midnight two weeks later, saying “Heyyyy. It’s been a while. Wanna hang out tonight?”

What did I say to him? The world will never know. Because he was blocked and deleted. NEXT.

The other guy I met on HelloTalk seemed quite normal. We messaged once or twice per day in Korean, just talked about our hobbies or what we did that day. We ended up switching to Kakao after 3 weeks of using HelloTalk and then things got weird. (I feel like shit gets real on Kakao…)

He went from chill to desperate real fast, girl. He messaged me good morning and told me to eat breakfast everyday. He texted me mid-morning and said “good luck with school”, asked me what I would eat for lunch, what I planned to eat for dinner. It was kind of creepy, to be honest, so I just started lying about everything I did (It’s still language practice, so who cares?) If I said I was going to a cafe, he would say 그 카페에 가고십네~ If I said I ate soondubu jjigae for lunch he would say “Ah I wish we could eat together…”

I didn’t mind talking to him, or meeting him in person, honestly, but because he didn’t have a profile picture on Kakao and he later admitted to me that his profile picture on HelloTalk was a fake, I didn’t know if I was actually talking to a 29 year old Korean guy or some 60 year old ajusshi. I know you can’t always trust photos, but somehow it was even creeper that he had no pictures and absolutely refused to send me one when he’d seen my profile picture and asked me to send other pictures before. So I stopped answering him, hoping he would cool his jets.

When we started chatting again–about hiking, this time– I thought everything had gone back to normal. But when I mentioned that it’d be nice to go hiking again soon, he sent me: 같이 가요! 같이같이같이같이같이같이같이같이같이같이같이같이같이같이!!!

Sooo…that sat unread in my inbox for a long while….

Honestly, I’d like to have a female language partner so maybe I won’t run into these issues as often, but they don’t seem to be as responsive on HelloTalk, which is a shame. I think it might be better to go to language exchange events so I can get a read on people in person. But even then, events like those have a reputation for drawing people who are looking for dates… *sigh*

Surprisingly, the closest thing to a language partner is a guy I met on Tinder, who has a girlfriend and actually just wants to practice his English with me. He teaches me Korean slang and is actually really nice. No creepy vibes at all so far! One point for Tinder….? (It’s got a lot of strikes too though…!)





Well Butter My Butt and Call Me a Level 3 학생

If you recall, last time I studied in Korea, I was in Level 2 at Sogang. As much as I loved the conversation-focused instruction at that school (read my semester report here: https://thecarmensutra.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/so-long-sogang/ ) I wanted more balanced instruction this time– listening, speaking, writing, reading, with vocabulary quizzes and cultural excursions, the whole nine yards.  The language school that best fit the bill happened to be Ewha, a women’s university famous for the sprawl of cheap clothing and accessory shops right before the main entrance (that had nothing to do with my decision….)

I’ll spare you the gory details of my placement test and the bit of placement drama afterwards and just tell you that I’m taking Level 3 this quarter. I was disappointed to say the least. The Level 3 teachers teach the class in slow, dumbed-down Korean, and my classmates speak in very slow, broken Korean, if they speak in class at all. Not to shade anyone’s speaking abilities, of course; my speaking is less than stellar, but my classmates in Level 2 at Sogang could talk circles around my current Ewha Level 3 classmates, so it’s hard to feel like I haven’t gone backwards.  Additionally, when I flipped through Ewha’s textbooks, I knew most if not all of the Level 3 grammar already. “What good is Level 3, then?” I thought.

The short answer is: Level 3 at Ewha is good for vocabulary and reading comprehension. Within the first 3 weeks of class, we had completed 4 chapters of the 3-1 textbook and learned approximately 400 new vocabulary words. (And they are very useful words. I’m surprised I’ve been bebopping around Korea without knowing them….)I can skim Korean websites about food, health, and travel, and usually understand at least half of what I’m reading. I’ve had the chance to write about the benefits of yoga and meditation and how to ease symptoms of insomnia (Things I’m actually interested in….!) I definitely see why the professors thought it would be best for my to stay in Level 3. There’s a lot to learn here. (Whaddaya know, Level 3 has MERIT!)

Though Ewha’s program is technically very “balanced”– as in, we don’t spend any more time reading/writing than we do listening/speaking– the methods for teaching reading/writing just produce rapid results. When we do the speaking portion of the chapter, it’s usually a very practiced conversation with set phrases that you have to use; there’s really no opportunity to express your own feelings or opinions, or talk about your own experiences. The professors will usually ask for people to share their own feelings after you practice the set conversation, but by then, I guess everyone is tired of talking and doesn’t want to say anything else…

It’s easy to follow my classmates and stay silent, but I know if I get into the habit of not talking in class, my speaking will never improve (and this is a crucial skill if you’re LIVING IN KOREA, y’know…?). So, I try to talk more in class, even if I don’t feel like it or don’t really have anything enlightening to say. Still, I can’t help but feel like it’s not enough speaking practice. Because I’m not living with a Korean family this time around, I really only speak Korean in school, or if I’m with my classmates, or if I go shopping or something (…..it’s for the language practice, okay?) If I really want my speaking to improve I know that I’ll inevitably have to find a language partner or a language exchange group or something….




So Long, Sogang

It’s difficult to believe that my 10 weeks at Sogang have come to an end when I feel like I just arrived in Korea yesterday. Final exams and interviews were held this past Monday and Tuesday and by Wednesday the culmination of all our (hard?) work was handed to us on a single sheet of paper. My test and interview scores were high enough to land me in Level 3 if I were to continue studying at Sogang, which I severely regret not doing. Each Korean program approved by Light Fellowship has its pros and cons: After seeing Ewha’s campus, and hearing about their classes’ cultural excursions, I regretting not going there; after envying the improved vocabularies of friends who had studied at Seoul National, I wish I’d chosen the university closer the the glitz and glamor of Gangnam. Sogang has its weak points, but I see why it would be perfect for those having finished L1 and L2 Korean at Yale.

The focus on listening comprehension and speaking quickly produced results outside of the classroom. As time went on, my ear steadily began to untangle the gibberish of my host family, Koreans on the bus, waiters and waitresses into long strings of distinct words, many of which I did not know the definition of, but I could parse sentences and identify grammar structures to look up on my own later. The grammar you learn in Level 2 at Sogang is very common “building-block” grammar, so whatever I learned in class naturally made its way into conversations at home as well. There’s a noticeable difference in the way I communicate with my family now. Actively listening, asking small clarifying questions about the meanings of words and of course inserting remarks like, “oh, that must’ve been tough” or “you must be relieved.” I certainly feel friendlier and more equipped to talk to native Koreans.

My conversation skills better have improved, considering 2 of the 4 class hours are dedicated to speaking. In this class we read and reread and reread the book dialogues before practicing them with our tablemates, classmates, and the teacher. We spent the other hour making our own sentences using the featured grammar points, usually aloud with a partner or as a class. Writing the sentences on paper was something we could do on our own time, but it wasn’t required. This class was more or less predictable and the example conversations very staged. I wish there had been more variety in the activities we did, like board games or other methods (besides repeating the dialogue) to help the vocabulary and grammar stick.

The other two classes were also repetitive, but the writing class more so than reading/listening. The entire writing class was basically spent using featured grammar to make longer descriptive sentences. We pretended to be journalists and wrote articles, we crafted stories and wrote about many unfortunate circumstances and memories, both real and imagined. Everyday it was the same pattern: practice sentences in class and brainstorm ideas for a specific topic, and then write on that topic for homework. Lather, rinse, repeat. The reading/listening class was slightly less repetitive only because it alternated between listening exercises and reading comprehension. This was also the class which introduced us to facets of Korean culture from superstitions, fairy-tales and traditional culture, to manners, food and the processions of Korean weddings and other major holidays. Occasionally aided by a powerpoint and other posters and pictures, the teacher of this class was the most lively and the hardest to understand because she didn’t dumb things down as much as the other two. It is a listening class, after all.

I would also say it’s true that Sogang’s program is less intensive than the others on Light’s list. Classes aren’t difficult. If you pay attention, you’ll be fine. There wasn’t much homework other than daily writing and completing the workbook, but again, this wasn’t absolutely required (aka: a very, very, very small percentage of your grade) However, doing the work certainly helped me feel better prepared for the exam (especially the writing one). I would also say the pace of the class is medium-slow. We spent way too much time practicing a fixed conversation with our partners instead of learning new things. But this is strictly my opinion; others in my class felt differently. Some thought we didn’t spend enough time on the grammar or that it wasn’t explained well. There was a lot of irritation and rants about potholes in the program that I had to grin and bear. I feel like a jerk for saying that it was actually a pretty smooth ride. I’d already learned a decent portion of the grammar from Yale’s Korean teachers, who threw in extra grammar just to keep things interesting. It was easier for me to remember the Sino-Korean words because of my background in Japanese; in fact I think we could’ve learned more vocabulary. By the end of the summer I felt my ability to use grammar had improved, but I didn’t have the words to put into the grammar structures.

Light Fellowship already knows this and had set up an individual class for over-ambitious students like me, who wouldn’t know how to shut up and take a gut class if lives were threatened. I met two hours a week with a Sogang instructor from Level 4 who tailored the individual class towards what I wanted to do. But she did it her way. I told her about wanting to learn more vocabulary, so she brought packets of vocabulary words from Level 3, explained them to me in Korean, made me memorize them and then tested me on them within the same hour. And then again the next time we met. It was a lot to do that I didn’t want to do. I could sit down and memorize vocabulary words myself, and it kind of bugged me to have to learn these words on her time and then watch her suck her teeth if I missed one on a quiz. I don’t mean to vilify her. She was actually a lovely and very funny woman who laughed with her whole body. Slap the table kind of laughter. She had to take off her comically-large glasses and wipe off her eyes kind of laughter. But I didn’t like being force-fed vocabulary when I’ve already spent all day repeating after teachers and reading from lists. The last thing I wanted was another hour of that with all the attention solely on me. I had to understand her Korean because I had to answer her because I was the only one there. On the plus side, I got one on one preparation for both my midterm and final interviews and if I had a clarifying question about something in class, I knew who I could go to. At our last class together, she patted me on the shoulder and gave me a cookie, so there’s that. It was nice to have a teacher who seemed personally invested in my improvement. Not saying my regular teachers weren’t, but students were kept at a very polite distance. Hell, even students kept other students at a polite (almost cold) arm’s length.

My restlessness towards the end of the Sogang program had nothing to do with the monotony of the classes, but everything to do with my classmates as they tried to cram three months of companionship into our final few hours at the graduation ceremony: selfies, videos, shoulder-patting, arm clinging, half-lies like ‘I’ll miss you’ and ‘Let’s keep in touch.’ Even our teacher, who had been plainly that– not a friend, confidant, or did anything more than strictly was necessary–smiled tightly throughout the whole affair. Maybe I’m just projecting my own feelings, but it looked like she wanted to end the madness and go home. Can’t blame her. The atmosphere of my particular class was a bit competitive and divided. Japanese students stick with Japanese students and somehow manage to make everyone else feel like a foreigner when technically they’re also foreigners. We’re a class of foreigners who should’ve bonded over our love for Korea, but instead it became more and more apparent that people in our class were looking for our differences rather than our similarities. Not all nine people in my class were like this, of course. Some formed loose, convenient bonds over K-pop and girl-talk and went out to lunch and Starbucks together. But to put it in a nutshell, we were a class of co-existing cliques.

Not to be deterred by silly things like classmate bonding (pfft, who needs that?) I still say my time at Sogang was overwhelmingly positive and productive. With my new ability to parse Korean, I could stand to study Korean for a little bit on my own. Watching Korean dramas and TV shows would actually serve as good listening practice and a source for useful new vocabulary. Since soil of my mind has been well-primed, I feel like I could soak up a whole book of Korean grammar right now. I still have a long way to go, but I’m excited about continuing my study of Korean. Unfortunately, since I have Japanese placement tests at Nanzan in about two weeks, I have to put Korean down and pick up Japanese once again. Oh how it has suffered! Korean words come to my mind faster now! How traitorous I am, how low!

I Can’t Parse Korean

can't korean

I didn’t pat myself on the back for being able to introduce myself to my classmates in Korean or tell my host mother that I like Korean food (read: I can handle my spice) because I know this is essentially the limit of my Korean. Things I learned in a classroom setting are useful in theory, but my survival Korean is lacking. The first night I had to look up “I’m thirsty” and “I’m full.” The very next day, I was scrambling for the words for “transfer,” “last bus/train.” Since learning how to talk about transportation in Korean, I feel decently comfortable telling my host sister where I’m going through text message. Ordering at restaurants or cafes is a completely different matter. There are times when the set phrases you’ve learned such as “(menu item) 주세요” (Please give me…) won’t cut it. You walk into a place you’ve never been before. You think you’re safe because you can read the menu. You’ve done your 저기요 (if it’s that kind of place). But then this happens:

Weak, weary and terrified foreigner: (menu item) 주세요

Waitress/waiter: 네.


Waitress/waiter: kfdjgbvsdfhrbcoedjxd 드릴까요?

Weak, weary and terrified foreigner: ……

And then what do you do? Say yes? Ah, but then you find out it wasn’t a yes or no question. At this point, the waitress flails to try to help you understand, making gestures at the menu you don’t fully understand anyway. You just agree to whatever she pointed at first.

Sometimes this is a vocabulary problem: if you don’t know the word for “bone” for instance, ordering fried chicken might become somewhat of an awkward encounter. I thought it’d be just a (menu item) 주세요 type of situation, but then he answered with the dreaded “kfdjgbvsdfhrbcoedjxd 드릴까요?” It only took half a second for him to understand that I didn’t get what he said. He shifted his weight, looked away to remember any English word in his vocabulary he could use to help me understand. Eventually he said, “Bone? No bone?” and all was good. I felt quite sorry for him, though. Especially because the next group that walked in spoke absolutely no Korean, and insisted on repeating their order to him in progressively slower Chinese. At that time I wanted to learn how to navigate that kind of situation in Korean so I don’t make the waiter do the “Lord help me” face. I looked up the phrase for “to remove bones” and stored it in my phone.

But guess what? It happened again. And again. I wondered, “Did I look up the wrong term? How do I not get this?” It’s not that I didn’t know, but the phrase was being said too quickly for me to catch it. Additionally, the way I (as the language learner) would read the written phrase is different from the native pronunciation (thanks consonant assimilation). These things in conjunction with each other make anything a native speaker says sound like complete gibberish to me, even if it’s something simple like, “뭐 타고 왔어?”

I had an inkling that listening comprehension would be something to prioritize if my Korean was going to improve, so I was adamant about attending Sogang University language program during my time here. It has the reputation of being the best program for improving conversational Korean (even students at other Korean language programs think so). The first hour of class is technically a writing class, but we always discuss our responses with our classmates before writing them down. The next two hours of class are dedicated completely to speaking and conversation: practicing the conversations in the textbook, role playing, using real life (kind of) situations. The last hour is a listening/reading class where we listen to the CD and/or read some text and answer some questions about what the material. In my opinion, the real listening comprehension exercise comes from trying to understand whatever the teacher says. My teacher talks at lightning speed (which is most likely slightly slower that natural speed) without checking to make sure we all understood. There’s always one or two people in class who can speak Korean way better than everyone else, so this creates a situation in which the teacher doesn’t have to slow down because someone gets it. It’s just my luck the golden ones don’t speak the same native language as I do. I just play follow the leader.

After a week and a half, I’ve started to catch on to what the teachers are saying because they essentially say the same thing from day to day, unless they decide to tell a story (in which case, I simply laugh in the appropriate places). Being constantly bombarded with Korean and hearing the textbook conversations come to life is starting to help a little. If I can get the gist of it the first time, the second time around, I can listen more carefully for the vocabulary I’m unfamiliar with. Right now this progress is limited to the very stable classroom environment, where the Korean is almost predictable. I still can’t quite parse what my host parents say, but I’m starting to get the gist of what they mean using context and body language. Until I get better at parsing Korean, this is the method I’ll have to use.