Friday, July 6, 2012

School is in session

This morning, all of the Fulbrighters were administered a placement exam that would determine which level of Korean classes they would take for the next six weeks of Orientation.

The exam was fairly straightforward: write an essay about yourself in Korean, and then have an oral exam (an "interview") with a Korean teacher to determine your fluency. It's been quite a while since I've done any written Korean. While I did take beginner Korean for one semester, that class was during my sophomore year, and I've forgotten almost everything I learned that wasn't purely conversational. So what did I write about myself? Just my hometown, my nationality, where I go to school, and why I have a very Korean-sounding Korean name.

The testers looked at my essay, placed me in one waiting area for oral exams, re-read my essay and moved me to another one, and then re-re-read my essay and put me back where I started. And then I waited. I became increasingly nervous about the oral exam because I haven't had to speak Korean for longer than ten seconds for two years, and I was sure I'd have no idea what my examiner was saying, let alone be able to answer her.

As it turns out, the oral exam wasn't horrible. It started with my name and very, very basic information, mostly repetition of what I'd written in my essay. When it came to things like telling time and the date and describing my family, I forgot some key words, but the examiner was very kind and prompted me, even giving English translations when I looked totally lost and could only say, "미안해요; 몰라요." (I'm sorry; I don't know.)

I heard that more advanced Korean speakers had tougher examinations, and were told to describe the personalities of their friends and families in minute detail. I had trouble even explaining what my brothers do for a living, so I definitely wouldn't have been able to talk about their personalities.

At the end of the day, we were given our class placements, and I got into Level 2 (Intermediate). This is good, because my goal was to get above beginner level, and I'm satisfied.

Another part of me is kind of -- and I'm not ashamed to admit this -- wildly excited to have classes again. Don't get me wrong, it's great to be done with college. But the part of me that loves school, structure, and schedules is teaming up with the part of me that really, really wants to learn more Korean, and I can't wait for my first Korean lesson on Tuesday morning. While we're still getting grades for our work (and, of course, are required to pass), somehow the pressure seems much lower because I'm learning Korean as job training and not just for a letter on a transcript. Hm... that seems backward, doesn't it? But you know me: all my life I've striven to get the "A" really for its own sake, even at Swarthmore. Now, it's like I know I'm going to try my best no matter what -- because it is utterly vital that I do -- so whatever grade I get is really not important. Higher stakes, less stress. Weird, huh?

So school is in session. To wish me good luck, say 화이팅 (hwa-i-ting/fighting)! And "way to go!" is "힘내!" (himnae)