Okay has anyone noticed that it isn’t till you’re about to leave an experience that you finally start to make huge improvements and grow into yourself? What’s up with that? The good thing is, the end of CLS doesn’t mean the end of opportunities for me to learn Korean, to experience new things, etc.
Speaking of growing, in some ways my CLS cohort has “regressed,” in the best way possible. So in Korea, there are claw machines on every block stuffed with high-quality, authentic plushes, many of them Pokemon! A few guys on our program have gotten really good at catching them without spending too much money, and I myself have amassed a sizable collection of Pokemon dolls at a fraction of the retail price thanks to Cody’s mastery of the 인형 뽑기 ^^ So basically every day, a bunch of us walk into class cradling stuffed animals, just like back in the day in, like, kindergarten. I’m not complaining, though. It’s oddly comforting, especially in the stress of an intensive language environment, and my teacher even let me borrow the Squirtle that Luke got for her to hold while I took my OPI! hahaha I feel crazy even typing this.
On Monday, during office hours, I practiced for the OPI with my teacher. I was so nervous that I kept psyching myself out, and I ended up crying, telling her repeatedly that I sounded like an idiot. She was so kind about it and told me I was doing great, and she even wrapped me into a hug and wiped my tears away lol. I’m telling this story because I’m constantly blown away by how teachers (not just on CLS but across all educational institutions) go above and beyond their duties to make sure students succeed not only academically but also emotionally. Since I’m applying to be a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant right now, I’ve been trying to soak up as much from my teachers and “authority” figures as I can, learning how I can in turn be an effective teacher and positive role model/trusted authority figure for my own students, if I were to be accepted. These are also things I want to apply to my own life in general so I can be a better friend and mentor to others, whether I become a teacher or not.
Later that day, I was really excited about my host family’s new whiteboard and drew some pictures, then wrote my name and my host sisters’ names with a red marker. I had learned just a couple weeks before that it’s bad luck in Korea to write people’s names in red, but I completely forgot! I came out of my room later to find my host sisters looking sternly at me, and one of them hesitantly said in Korean, “In our country, you can’t write people’s names in red.” They were totally cool with it and understanding of my mistake, but it just goes to show that even if you feel comfortable in a new country, something will come up, usually a mistake of yours. 😛 Also, can I just say how dang cute it was to see them looking so solemn and nervous about telling me off?? They are the cutest humans I’ve ever met.
On Wednesday, I got lunch with Emily so we could practice our French together. 🙂 Peter was supposed to come too, but I misheard what he said and ended up accidentally ditching him while he was in the bathroom lol whoops sorry Pee Teoh. It was refreshing to speak French again, and I was relieved to find that I do still speak French at the same level I always have, that I haven’t lost any despite being in Korea. 🙂 I think the other day was just an anomaly because I made myself nervous and overthought it.
Also that day, a few of us got “interviewed” for a video being put together for graduation! We had to talk in Korean about our host families, language partners, excursions, etc., and I’m really proud of myself for volunteering to do it despite my weak speaking skills. It did take a couple takes for me to answer each question, but I did it and had fun in the process! 🙂 And the other people who did it (Aksha, Emily, Echo) killed it, so I’m excited to see the finished video!
Thursday was my OPI. I already did a whole blog post on it so I’m not going to talk about it here. But I feel like I’ve been peaking after the confidence I gained from it, which I never expected to say about an OPI in my life!!! There’s a first time for everything, right?
After our weekly test on Friday, we did some calligraphy, ate chocolate cake, and took Polaroid pictures with both our grammar and our speaking teachers! 🙂 it was so much fun, even though we were all a little lacking in the calligraphy department. We were all pros in the devouring cake department, though.
After class, Yeji, Liza, and I got together with Syejeong and a teacher from an elementary school to practice the presentation we were giving to Korean children the next day. I had spent an afternoon at a cafe preparing a pretty thorough, “academic” script, making sure to use solid grammar and good vocab because I’m a noob and didn’t realize that complex themes and impressive grammatical structures are not what’s gonna knock kids’ socks off. So when it came time to practice, I ended up scrapping the script and just coming up with things off the top of my head, prioritizing energy and audience engagement over content. Even better? I was told it was better NOT to use hard grammar and vocab, which took so much pressure off my shoulders.
That night, Aksha, her language partner Eunseon, Peter, Justin, Liza’s language partner, a French girl named Tiphanie, and I went to a free youth music festival in downtown Gwangju! 🙂 At the festival, I met exchange students from Paraguay, France, and Turkey (she’s from the same city where a lot of my friends did their NSLIY Turkish programs, Bursa!!), and I even chatted with a half-Jamaican, half-Venezuelan food vendor!! I made a status about this on Facebook, but I was really uncharacteristically outgoing that night and spoke so much Korean, French, and Spanish that night, switching easily between the three, something I’d NEVER been able to do before. Like I said, code-switching between an “easy” language and a “hard” language without compromising fluidity has been one of my top linguistic goals for a while, and I actually achieved it that night, far sooner than I expected to. What really helped me with this was just blurting things out and not thinking about what I was saying. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s what Aksha did to get from knowing no Korean to speaking at the same level as some of us that have studied Korean for years. I tested it out that night as I switched between different languages, and it’s so true. Basically, if you’re not thinking about what you’re going to say, you won’t get languages confused because your brain doesn’t have time to clump them together. And the best way to not overthink? Just go up to people and start talking, giving yourself no time to get nervous or jumble languages in your head as you try to plan what you’re going to say. 😉
I was already pretty high off the success of my OPI, so this just really solidified my confidence and pushed me to keep having a positive attitude and actually using Korean without getting angry at myself for sounding dumb. And my friends and my RD have noticed too and have been surprised by but happy for my gains. 🙂 This is such a far cry from how reserved and quite honestly depressed I was in the beginning of the program, thinking that I sucked at Korean and was incapable of making friends and was a loser in every way. I know that sounds super dramatic, but it was how I felt, and since this blog is all about being honest about my feelings, I’m putting that out there. Which is why these successes feel even sweeter!
On Saturday, Yeji, Liza, and I gave our presentations at the Gwangju International Center! We talked about American culture (culture everything from hamburgers to a diverse population), as well as our identities as Korean-American, Ukrainian/Russian-American, and Chinese-American, respectively. So normally I don’t know how to talk to kids, like it’s to the point where I don’t have much of a relationship with my host sisters because I straight up don’t know what to say to them. But I became a new person this day lmao. I was talking to the kids in a way that was actually engaging for them, using voices and enthusiasm I didn’t even know I had. And best of all, it was all in improvised Korean, and it was actually a lot of fun! Maybe I can talk to kids, it just can’t be in English haha. We also baked chocolate chip cookies with them and colored American flags with them because, after all, this was a lesson about American culture. 😉
This sounds kind of dumb, but what really blew me away was listening to the kids speak Korean. Like, all these grammar points and vocab words that my friends and I have spent hours trying to perfect in a sterile classroom setting and been tested on in the form of a piece of paper just slipped easily out of these kids’ mouths. It reaffirms for me 1) how amazing language is, and 2) how miraculous human life and the human mind are. Another thing is that I learned so much about my own American culture by hearing it explained to the kids. The adults in the room would give hints to the kids whenever we asked questions or explain stuff to them when they were confused, and it was honestly kind of wild to hear my own culture explained in simple terms, the same way their culture has been explained to me in simple terms in a classroom. This isn’t a judgment, by the way. I’m wording this kind of negative but I actually was really positively amazed by it all and just seeing myself in a different lens. Like this kid was asking us if we were married and how old we were, and his mom gently reminded him, “In our country this is normal, but in America it’s very rude to say these things!” Then she asked us, “But if you get close to someone, can you ask them?” I don’t know, it was just really interesting for me.
And the chocolate chip cookies were heavenly.
CLS Instagram Hunt:
5. An intercultural exchange – Sharing our love of America, chocolate chip cookies, and picture-taking with the Korean youth 🙂
16. Your favorite phrase in host language – “산 넘어 산” basically means that once you cross one mountain, there’s another one waiting for you. Since every challenge presents new opportunities, I don’t see this as “with every challenge you overcome, there’s another one waiting for you,” but rather “for every opportunity you take, there’s another one waiting for you.” This couldn’t have been truer this summer because I honestly can’t think of many other times in my life when I felt so low so consistently, yet at the same time surmounted so much, challenged myself to try new things, and eventually overcame and really started ~blossoming~