After a full night of much-needed sleep, we started Day 2 with the infamous language placement test. Professors from Korea University’s summer language program greeted us in the English Center (known among students as the “Fish Bowl”) and administered the test, which contained a written exam and an oral interview. The prompt for the exam was to write a self-introduction in Korean. More than half of the ETAs, who did not know any Korean, wrote their names at the top of the test and handed in a blank page, at which point they were allowed to leave without taking the oral portion of the test.
I knew a few phrases and sentences from the last few weeks, so I wrote “Hello! I am Janine” in Korean and stood on the line to hand in my test, expecting to be excused. When one of the instructors saw that I had written something, he whisked me away for an oral interview. Wait, what?!
I found myself sitting across from a professor, who smiled kindly and said, “Annyeonghaseyo!” Nervous and feeling severely underqualified, I answered, “Annyeonghaseyo! Jal jinaeseyo?” Hello, how are you?
Then he spoke in rapid Korean, and (surprise, surprise!) I didn’t understand a single word. Embarrassed, I stammered back, “I’m sorry, I really don’t know any Korean! I studied on my own for a few weeks, but only know the alphabet and a few words and phrases.”
The professor nodded, handed me his pen, and asked me to write “chingu” (“friend”) in hangul. I did, and he suggested that I should be placed in the “advanced beginner” class because I could form words and did not need to start with the alphabet. Not sure I qualify for “advanced” anything at this point, but let’s give it a try! Language classes (four hours a day) start on Wednesday, and we have until next week to change our levels.
After the placement test and a quick walk around the town, we had workshops on the Korean educational system and a few cultural words. We discussed some of the stereotypes about Korean high schools and universities, as well as the very real pressure students face in preparation for the Suneung (수능), the college entrance test that can decide students’ futures in the course of a few hours. If I am placed in a Korean high school, I will witness more of these experiences firsthand.
School site visits are tomorrow, and then language classes the next day. They are certainly keeping us busy!