Friday, September 18, 2020

54 Weeks of Korean, and I'm Free!

I did it! I finally graduated from Korean class at FSI (the Foreign Service Institute)! My training was supposed to be about 36 weeks, and instead I was there for 54. I'm not sure how much more I could have handled. It's depressing to admit this, but I'm not sure I made much progress in the past six months or so. All I can say is that I think Zoom and self-study really helped me maintain what I learned, but I am so ready to hit the ground running in South Korea and actually put these language skills to work in a proper immersion environment.

For those who missed my previous posts, I passed my language test back in May, but I was delayed from moving on for months due to the pandemic. Now I'm finally allowed to graduate (albeit four months late)! Oh well, it could be worse: I'm hoping for a speedy resolution for all of my friends and colleagues still stuck in training limbo, too.

Although I don't think I improved quite as much one-on-one with a teacher over Zoom than I would have with in-person classes, I must leave a glowing review of the Korean department at FSI. The teachers are outstanding and helped me learn so much. The photo of this post is actually of a full-length Korean novel I am reading (largely as a result of their hard work and patience). As any foreign language learner can attest, reading a novel in another language is not easy, but I'm surprised at how much I can understand and the fact that it's even possible for me to get through the book. I thought these lines I selected were particularly gripping. (Bonus points if you can translate it into English and extra bonus points if you can guess the name of this extremely popular book. The name is actually mostly in the picture.)

Besides reading, I'll be attempting to keep my Korean skills up by watching Korean dramas (kdramas) on Netflix. I already watched Crash Landing on You, Designated Survivor (yes, there's a Korean version and it's awesome), My ID is Gangnam, and Itaewon Class. I'm currently working my way through It's Okay to Not Be Okay, and I've got Romance is a Bonus Book, Sky Castle, and Kingdom still on my list. Let me know if you have any other recommendations for me in the comments!

For any other Korean learners who might be reading, I'll end on this poem by Kim Sowol, a celebrated Korean poet who died tragically young. It's beautiful and accessible, but difficult to translate perfectly into English. It's called 진달래꽃 (Azaleas).


나 보기가 역겨워
가실 때에는
말없이 고이 보내 드리오리다

영변에 약산
아름 따다 가실 길에 뿌리오리다

가시는 걸음 걸음
놓인 그 꽃을
사뿐히 즈려밟고 가시옵소서

나 보기가 역겨워
가실 때에는
죽어도 아니 눈물 흘리오리다

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