Monday, August 11, 2014

Language Study at Seoul National University

               In choosing a language program in Seoul this summer, I was faced with an overwhelming number of renowned university programs to consider. After having talked with students who had studied in South Korea, I was directed to Seoul National University’s Korean Language Education Center (KLEC) based on the evaluation that the curriculum offered would provide a well-rounded approach to reading, writing, and speaking. Without a doubt the program advanced my knowledge of the Korean language, but this achievement required an immense amount of time and energy.
                On the first day of the summer session, I was completely surprised by the pace of the class. From the textbooks, lectures, and even amongst the teachers, there was no English explanation to be found. At George Washington University the language classes are to a large extent taught in Korean, but there also exists a reliable English crutch for clarification. Yet even in KLEC’s Introductory Level 1, where students presumably have had no prior exposure to the language, classes are taught entirely in Korean! There are definite benefits to this strict “Korean Only” policy as it forces students train their ear and speech, but in the first few weeks I felt completely overwhelmed. 
I have been studying Korean for a few years now, but the vocabulary and grammar I understood did not coincide with the foundational material of KLEC. This became clear when I submitted the initial placement exam and, from a quick glance and a matter of seconds, it was declared that I was “halfway between levels”. From such a helpful deduction I chose to round-up and to proceed to the next level. This was perhaps the greatest challenge for me during my time in Korea- aside from reviewing the material learned in class, I also strove to play catch-up. In a mere ten weeks I learned more than could ever be imagined in the year equivalent, let alone a semester, at George Washington University.
On the left are the textbooks used during ten weeks at KLEC.
The book to the right spans almost a year's worth of study in the United States.
               As I began to acclimate to my new life in Seoul, the students in my class were the kindest people who came to truly define my experience in this city. Despite our diverse backgrounds and ages, the fact that we were all studying in South Korea reflected a shared passion amongst us for the country and its culture. Applying one’s knowledge of Korean outside of the classroom extends only so far, especially given the lack of both time and patience for strangers to aid you. Yet in the comfort of a class group, we could support each other whilst stumbling through the language. Although most of the students had studied together since Level 1, my entire class was extremely welcoming and became my greatest aid through the informal review sessions we created for those new to the program.

The class celebrating having successfully ordered, over the phone, pizza to be delivered!
This has been my first experience participating in an intensive language study, but it will hopefully not be my last. Ten weeks, four hours each day in the classroom, and all the studying which proceeded it, was no simple task. In retrospect, I would recommend Seoul National University’s Korean language study only to those whom have had a much longer exposure to Korean, perhaps at Level 4 or 5. It required quite a bit of work, but such an opportunity allowed me to study alongside equally motivated individuals, exposure to multiple cultures, as well as the ability to actively apply the grammar points after each lesson. I will now be leaving Korea with greater insight into its culture and language, quite a fair share of strange stories, long-lasting friendships, and a burning desire to return!
Seoul National University's Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies
Adena Peckler
B.A. Asian Studies, International Affairs 2015
Sigur Center 2014 Korean Language Fellow
Seoul National University, South Korea
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