Monday, August 29, 2011

2011 Korea Summer Fellows - Reflection

As I write this post during my long layover in Tokyo Narita Airport, it definitely feels bittersweet to be heading back home. I think that what usually makes a person fall in love with a place is the people, and before arriving in Seoul this summer, I had no idea how close I would become with so many amazing people. I came with the primary purpose of improving my Korean language skills and didn’t expect much beyond that, but not only did my language skills improve considerably as I hoped and expected, but I also learned a surprising amount about Korean culture that I somehow missed or overlooked before.
As for my Korean language learning, my speed, listening and speaking skills improved dramatically, which is what I was really hoping for. Sogang University lived up to it’s name and everything I heard about it. While it wasn’t an immersion program, Sogang’s Korean language classes force students to interact with each other repeatedly and immediately after learning a new grammar structure. They were also quite strict about their Korean Language Only policy inside the class. Also, the vast majority of students at Sogang were dedicated, disciplined, and serious about their studies. That system coupled with living in a Korean household made for a great combination. On all of my tests in each class, Comprehension is what I scored highest in every time. I myself noticed my sharp increase in comprehension and was surprised at how it came so suddenly and passively. For all future Korean Language Fellows, I highly recommend considering Sogang University’s program.
As for what I took from my experiences with and in Korean culture, one clear lesson I will take away from this summer is how different of an experience one will have if they purpose to immerse themselves in a foreign culture, as opposed to merely living in another country and sort of dipping into the culture from time to time when one “has the energy” or finds it convenient. I found that I am much more inclined to be privately judgmental of things I don’t understand or agree with when looking in from the outside “as a foreigner”. It’s another experience altogether to spend all of your time, day in and day out, with Koreans, and to naturally begin viewing things through their lens. No doubt, it can be exasperating at times when differences seem so sharp in certain moments and all one can do is accept it. There were several times where I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) comprehend why something was being done a certain way, convinced that my way was superior somehow. In reality, maybe I was right in some way and some of the time, but what does “right” mean? If everyone in this country says that I’m wrong while everyone back home might say I’m right…then I think it simply comes down to “When in Rome….” Fortunately those moments were far outweighed by overwhelmingly positive ones. Time and again I was touched by how much my Korean friends and “family” were willing to share with me. I almost feel like the secret mission of every Korean person I met was to give me the best possible experience and best possible impression of their country. In that, they certainly succeeded.
I am so grateful to The Sigur Center for making these kinds of opportunities available to my fellow classmates and I. Before this summer it had been a very long time that I had wanted to seriously take up Korean language studies again, but both the time and money were never there. Because of The Sigur Center’s generous grant, it enabled me to realize this long-time wish of mine. I am now even more encouraged than before to continue my Korean studies, and to continue pushing to refine my Mandarin skills as well. Besides accomplishing my goals for language study this summer, my life was personally enriched. Right now I can’t imagine not having done it all.
Caleb R. Dependahl
Double B.A. Asian Studies and Chinese Language & Literature 2012,
Sigur Center 2011 Korean Language Fellow, Sogang University, South Korea

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