Sunday, February 20, 2011

My Life as a Korean High School Student

Greetings from Goesan, South Korea!
Goesan, the site of my orientation back in July, is my new home for the month of February. I'm back at Jungwon University, also known as the "marble palace," a moniker myself and my fellow ETAs dubbed this ostentatious stone monument to education. 
the Marble Palace, July 2010. In case you forgot what it looked like...

The marble palace, circa February, 2011. By the way, I don't claim to be an expert on winter, but paving the walkways in marble is not conducive for traction, especially when it snows....

I arrived on February 4th to participate in the State Department Critical Language Enhancement Award program, (known as CLEA) for short. The program
" ....helps promote the Fulbright Program's goals of cross-cultural exchange and dialogue. Fulbright grantees capable of communicating in the local language in their host countries are likely to form stronger bonds with their peers, conduct more meaningful research, and develop a greater understanding of a foreign culture. The experience grantees bring home after their Critical Language Enhancement Award and Fulbright grant will serve them in their chosen careers and throughout their lives. "
What does this mean in laments terms?
STUDY KOREAN ALL THE TIME. To be specific, that means 6 hours a day, 6 days a week of intensive Korean, totaling 120 hours of language instruction in one month. It may sound tortuous, (and it is) but it was an incredible opportunity I couldn't pass up.  CLEA is only available for specific "hard to learn" languages, such as Arabic, Chinese, Turkish, Urdu, and Korean, and you're only eligible if you're a Fulbright grantee in one of the aforementioned countries. While its a rather competitive award to receive, the tangible benefits are numerous, aside from the obvious perk of sticking "U.S State Department-Critical Language Enhancement Award, Korean" on your resume. Plus, 40 of my closest Fulbrighter friends are here with me also.
The best part is that the State Department funds the entire program, including tuition, room, and board. So here I am, back at the marble palace for free, in a quadruple room with three other Fulbrighters. Since we're all in class from 9am to 4pm, Monday through Saturday, and studying late into the evenings, we don't spend too much time in the room together.
The intensity of this program accurately mimics the daily lives of Korean high school students, who spend upwards of eight to nine hours a day at school, not including extra classes in the evenings. As a part of the education system that feeds this ferocious tenacity for studying, I couldn't help but juxtapose my current situation with that of my students. How do they stay sane? My life for the past two weeks has revolved around Korean, Korean language, Korean studying, an hour at the gym everyday, and Korean workbooks. I've barely had time to myself, let alone socialize or relax. I can only imagine the stresses that the average high school student endures. Good thing the program finishes on March 1st.
Although CLEA has been stressful, and we stumble through the language like babbling toddlers, our classes often result in butchering the Korean language to the point of hilarity.
 After learning the prepositions "after," and "before," we practiced a free form dialogue describing the daily activities of the textbook's handsome main character, Yoon Sangwoo.
The objective of the exercise was to utilize the prepositions to correctly form a sentence according to the order of the pictures. For example, Sangwoo eats breakfast after he wakes up.  He goes to work in the office building after he eats breakfast:

What does Yoon Sangwoo do after he goes to work in the office?
The next picture, however, really stumped one of my classmates. His turn was to describe what Sangwoo did after he went to work in the office. Perplexed, he asks the teacher, (or 선생님 in Korean):
"선생님, how do you say 'volunteer?'"
We all look at him, wondering why he was asking such a bizarre question. He immediately follows up with
"선생님, how do you say 'blind'?"
The rest of class sat there confused as to what he was thinking.
Finally, he says his answer (translated from Korean):
"Sangwoo volunteers with blind people after he goes to work."
The class erupted in laughter. Apparently, Yoon Sangwoo is a businessman with a heart for social service.
When we're not talking about Yoon Sangwoo's daily routine, our textbook teaches us useful phrases such as "I do not go to class because I drink Soju last night and I am sick today," "the boy is fat and short but nice," and "my birthday is next month. Buy me a present!"
I don't know if this means I can "form stronger bonds with my peers, conduct more meaningful research, and develop a greater understanding of a foreign culture," (as the State Department suggests) but it I can now construct  the ever so useful phrase "the fat boy volunteers with blind people after he drinks soju."  
I return to my pear village of Naju on March 1st to begin work again. Until then, it's study study study. 
Until next time...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

great post as always, 조치! hang in there, buddy, we're going to see this thing through!