So this is a reflection that we were all asked to write for the program at the four weeks mark, but there’s no real reason to not use it for my blog.
These past four weeks have been a period of immense growth for me in my Korean studies, relationship-building skills, and knowledge of myself.
The most obvious and measurable example of my growth has been the improvement in my Korean proficiency. There has been no drastic change, but I’ve definitely reaped the benefits of learning Korean in a class setting for the first time.
While self-studying, I like to think that I’m proactive about seeking out feedback on the internet and correcting myself accordingly. However, my Korean teachers have given me personalized help and explanations that allow me to pinpoint my weaker areas. For example, I’ve learned that I tend to fall back on the vocabulary and grammar structures I’m comfortable with instead of using a wide variety and that my pronunciation of the consonant ㅂ has always been slightly off. I was really pleased to finally receive constructive criticism that I can incorporate into my studies later on.
On the same line of thought, I began to realize the importance of confronting my flaws instead of hoping that no one notices them. During the first meeting I had to with my supporter, several of her words flew over my head. Convinced that I could get by with the gist of what she was saying, I laughed and nodded my head instead of asking questions. My supporter saw through me easily and encouraged me to ask questions whenever I didn’t know something rather than remaining silently confused. A sense of guilt that comes from interrupting the flow of the conversation has made this a hard habit to break, but I’ve since become used to admitting my lack of knowledge so I can grow.
Additionally, living in Korea has forced me to speak spontaneously, something I had zero experience with while studying alone back home. I’ve often felt uncomfortable and embarrassed by my flawed use of certain grammar and my limited vocabulary, but I recognize that every mistake of mine guides me closer to sounding natural and that each of them is a learning opportunity.
I also think it’s helped not to take myself too seriously. No one expects me to be anywhere near fluent in Korean, so there’s no real reason to to feel scared of speaking. People don’t tease my Korean; on the contrary, they cheer me on upon observing my efforts and dedication. This is a behavior consistent through most all my experiences with Koreans and not just with my host family and language instructors. Even complete strangers have applauded my attempts to learn their language and have never once ridiculed me for trying. I had been expecting far less patience from people, so this came as a considerable surprise. Though, I do think that most other Americans would do the exact same thing if they encountered someone trying their hardest to learn English.
Beyond my Korean, I’ve also had the opportunity to make new friends and cultivate meaningful relationships. It may just be because most of my peers have similar interests, but I’ve found it really easy to talk with them. I’m surrounded by people who are just as fascinated by foreign languages and linguistics as I am, and it’s been so much fun having discussions with them. Just earlier today, I listened in on a conversation between two classmates who are both Latin lovers, and the other day a friend was explaining to me why language learning benefits the brain.
Also, a lot of my future ambitions overlap with those of my classmates, and I think it’s helped me gain a clearer sense of what fields I might want to study in the future. I’ve also received information about opportunities relevant to me now as a high school student, like the Concordia Language Villages.
Knowing that I’m an introvert, I anticipated mingling with people all day long to be draining and uncomfortable. To my surprise, I barely ever felt stressed out by socializing while on program and have actually found myself seeking out opportunities to hang out with my peers quite often.
I’ve gotten to know myself better in other aspects, too.
I’ve dreamt of pursuing a career in foreign language or international relations for years, but was never sure how I would handle living in a foreign country and whether I would really like it. Through NSLI-Y, I’ve reaffirmed my passion for studying language and other cultures, and I feel more confident about working towards it in the future. Obviously NSLI-Y provided us with the most ideal and comfortable conditions to experience immersion in, but I really do feel more capable of navigating my way in foreign countries. Even through simple things like learning how to use public transportation without getting terribly lost, I’ve gained a sense of independence. In the instances when I am lost, I know how to help myself or ask people in the vicinity for assistance.
Finally, I’d like to reflect on my time with my host family. I worried a lot before the trip about having an awkward relationship with my host family, but my time with them has probably been the most memorable and enjoyable part of my experience with NSLI-Y. My favorite moments with my host family have been when we’re all gathered in the living room watching TV and just comfortably conversing. I’ve really enjoyed spending time with them, even when we’re not doing anything special. In our time together, we’ve become closer through teaching each other correct pronunciation in English and Korean, challenging each other to tongue twisters, and exploring our cultural differences. I genuinely feel that I’ve found long-term friends in my host parents and am sure that we will continue to stay in contact in the future.
I have so much more to say about this program and the way it’s affected me, but to put it simply, I’ve had a wonderful four weeks filled with growth and countless new experiences.