Halfway Through

(Was supposed to be posted last week…when we were actually halfway through the program. Please pretend that another week has not yet passed.)

Quick heads up! This is a lengthy post.

So last Thursday marked the third week of our program, and it’s strange to think that we’re already halfway through. It feels as though I just recently started adjusting to the program schedule and my classes, but suddenly I’m on autopilot and just got back my midterm results from last Thursday.

In this post, I just wanted to take a moment to reflect on what my life has been like lately and give friends, family, and future applicants a clearer idea of our schedule. My blog posts have done a pretty poor job of depicting just how many cool experiences I’ve had thus far.

In the past few weeks, I’ve done quite a bit that I never found time to write about:

-Had my midterm

-Went to Gyeongbokgung again, but this time with Sarah and my host mother in 한복, traditional Korean clothing

-Met my lovely supporter

-Went with my supporter and friend David to an escape room in Hongdae. Failed to complete half of the mystery within the allotted one hour… 😅

-Went to a music festival and saw Crush and Heize, two of my favorite artists

-Went to a 노래방 (karaoke) twice, once with my host family and another time with a group of friends. I had one experience with karaoke in the U.S. and didn’t really enjoy it, but I think I’m kind of addicted to it now. Singing (or in my case, yelling) your favorite songs with friends to music and an echo loud enough to mask your terrible voice is somehow cathartic. I bonded with my host dad over Buzz ballads I learned from watching too many episodes of 아는 형님 (Knowing Brothers).

-Experienced sudden, unexpected bouts of homesickness mixed with a desperate desire to continue studying Korean here and not return to the mind-numbing schedule that is the school year

-Met so many interesting individuals, who have made my time here all the more enjoyable

-Went to Namsan Tower and ate tonkatsu

-Went to Myeongdong (shopping district)

-Befriended the owner of the hotdog shop outside our apartment

-Satisfied my wish of studying at a cool cafe after school with a dessert and a mocha latte beside me

-Went to a North Korea observatory deck

-Hit a wall with speaking Korean and retaining all the vocab I’m exposed to every day. There are points when I feel like I haven’t improved at all or that trying to learn vocabulary is pointless because there will just always be so much that I don’t know. It’s especially frustrating when I’m trying to communicate my thoughts but can’t find words with the right nuance, so I end up settling for a simplified version. I’m trying to get over this mindset as quickly as possible. Lately, it helps to spend some time to enjoying the things that piqued my interest in Korean in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still very much in love with Korean and have no intentions of decreasing the amount of effort I put into my studies; I’m just trying to make sure that it doesn’t ever start to feel like a chore.

The Schedule

Alright, so my weekly schedule looks something like this:

6:30 – Wake up, slowly roll off my floor mat, assume a sitting position, remain sitting for maybe fifteen to twenty minutes, wonder why I have to rush every morning while hurriedly shoving cereal into my mouth.

7:30: Leave the apartment and walk to the subway station

7:44: Catch the train headed to Sinchon, a stop that’s walking distance from Ewha University

8:20: Reach school day earlier than we really need to be there. You’re either way too early or close to being late; there is no in between.

9:10-1:00: Have a Korean class in which we do so much I’ll probably have to write a separate post about it.

1:00-9:30: This is the part of the schedule that varies every day.

On Monday’s, we have a weekly meeting that lasts about an hour with our RDs (Residence Directors). We discuss events that’ll be taking place throughout the week and reflect on how things have been going.

On Tuesday’s and Thursday’s, we have supporter meetings. Supporters are college students who meet with us in small groups of two to three to help us practice speaking Korean. We go through exercises from a book, record ourselves speaking, and receive homework that typically involves us interviewing people.

My group that consists of just me and David usually meet our supporter at 1:45, which means that we purchase lunch from the convenience store inside the university due to lack of time. My favorite thing to eat is tuna 삼각 김밥. Supporter meetings last from 2 to 4, but a lot of groups end up hanging out afterwards too. Our group went out last Thursday to an escape room in Hongdae and then had dinner together. Two times through the duration of the program, supporter groups go on cultural excursions. We went to Hangang to ride bikes and and the Trick Eye Museum in Hongdae. I’ll have to write about both of those trips sometime soon.

Wednesday’s are the only day we don’t have any required activity.

On Friday, we all attend cultural clubs, and I’m in the traditional drums class. It’s a lot of fun but more physically draining than you’d expect. We also have to somehow memorize the four-minute sequence we’ll be performing at the end of the program by only attending one class a week 🙃 This is another day that typically requires a rushed lunch from the convenience store because of how much time it takes to get from the university to our drum class. It’s also the only day I can’t avoid riding buses, which I despise with a passion. Class is from 3 to 5. It takes an hour and a half to go straight home from there, so I usually go out with friends and explore some place or another before going home.

The weekends are usually free, but we do have required community service with the elderly one week and attend a Korean-American youth exchange event this weekend.

Then of course every day after activities, we have to do homework that typically includes studying for vocab quizzes, writing down conversations we construct in class, completing workbook pages, and preparing for presentations.

And if it doesn’t require my utmost concentration, I always try to sit in the living room with my host family while doing homework because I love chatting with them.

It was really hard for me to sleep more than six-ish hours for the first week or two, and that might not sound too bad for a few days here and there, but it’s definitely not sustainable considering the effort required to function in a foreign language every day and walk around a bunch in this sweltering heat. Obviously, I’d have a lot more down time if I went straight home after activities and class, but how often is it that you’re in Seoul with the sole responsibility of studying? Every time I’m tired but presented with a potentially fun outing, I think about how I’d regret not doing everything I could after the program ends.

Midterms

Finally, I wanted to include a short section on how midterms were.

They went pretty well! There was a listening section, a reading and vocabulary section, a grammar section, and a speaking assessment.

No questions missed on the listening section! I was laughing to myself at one point because Baek Ji Young’s song “That Woman” started playing as a part of a question. It’s an emotional ballad from a famous drama, but in the dialogue they credited the fictional “Ewha Band”, and I laughed even more.

Aside from one genuine mistake, I only missed .5 and .1 of a point on the written section due to silly spelling errors. I think I was too relaxed with this exam.

I didn’t get super detailed feedback on speaking, but when I asked my teacher about how I ended up missing 1.7 points, she told me that some of my answers were vague as a result of some grammar mistakes. That much was expected. But then she also mentioned that my pronunciation of the consonant ㅂ was strange, and I was taken aback because I’d never received that feedback. I can’t help but wondering how no one ever told me/how I never caught it. Guess I can pay more attention to it from now on!

And as always, she told me to consider expanding my vocabulary through reading articles. I swear this is the most consistent feedback I’ve ever received in my life. Both of my teachers have told me this repeatedly.

Overall, the exam went pretty well, and my small errors don’t bother me much because they’re not representative of my actual ability. My goal for next time, however, is to improve my speaking score.

Also, as a general observation, my vocabulary has expanded, and I’m able to talk about a lot more topics than I could before.

Random side note

I’ve actually written a lot more than what I’ve posted on my blog because I never know if something is interesting enough to publish, but I feel like that’s a dumb way of thinking. My intention of keeping a blog this summer was to have a place I can post insignificant observations and thoughts, so from now on, you might see a lot more journal-style posts about my everyday life here. I apologize in advance if you find them boring.

Thanks so much for reading! Check back for updates.

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