I was walking around Jungwon today, taking pictures with two of my friends, when we saw a Korean woman and her three children playing on the steps of the university. As the three of us walked past, we smiled and waved at the young family. The woman smiled back, inclined her head, and called out, “Hello!” She nudged one of her sons and said what sounded like, “Say hello!” The three children smiled and waved back, the son calling an enthusiastic, “Annyeong!” (“Hi!”). When I responded with “Annyeonghaseyo!”, the mother suddenly grabbed the child’s hair and pushed his head down into a full 90 degree bow. His siblings followed suit.
So maaaaaybe “advanced beginner” is a little ambitious for me!
The little Korean I knew promptly disappeared as soon as 선생님 (“seonsaengnim” or “teacher”) began speaking. I have not heard much spoken Korean, so I spent most of the class trying to follow along and hoping that I was not the only one who was lost. It’s tricky to listen to the teacher, take notes, and look at the textbook at the same time when missing a word or two means the difference between understanding and confusion.
Today the ETAs went on site visits to elementary and high schools across Korea. I was in the group that shadowed David, a current ETA at Gongju Sa-Dae-Bu High School, and sat in on a few of his classes. During the day, we met the school principal and a few of David’s co-teachers, and we also ate lunch with the students in the cafeteria. It’s hard to believe that this will be me in a few short weeks!
Like in America, it is common for Korean high schools to be all girls or all boys. But even coed schools in Korea often have their classes separated by gender. Such was the case at David’s school. The ETAs in my group shadowed two of his female-only classes. Each class had a different lesson, but both were equally fun and successful for the students.
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?!
So today was the big day! Until now, Korea seemed like a point way off in the future and a place far away on a map. But as I packed my (waaaaaay) overweight suitcases into the car and said goodbye to all my neighbors, my trip suddenly became much more real.
“So, what are your plans after graduation?”
My uncle looked at me over the Thanksgiving table as he began carving the turkey. I cringed as he asked the one question every college senior dreads. While several of my friends knew exactly what they would be doing after May 15, I was still unsure. I knew only two things. The first was that I applied for a Fulbright ETA.
The second was that I hadn’t told my parents yet.