Kyle – Korea

Contributor on ‘2020 – A Year’s Worth of Ruminations’

January 31, 2020

1. January 31st this year is a Friday, and in that sense it flies by because I’m so busy with school and trying to figure out plans and transportation for the weekend. Classes get out at 1pm and everyone’s brains are done well before that during the lectures. I abruptly moved January 7th into the first advanced section of my Korean courses and the burnout from studying so hard to score high enough on my intermediate final exam just in order to move into the advanced class is being felt even after 3 weeks. With no break and adjusting to the new classmates, teachers, and difficulty followed only one week later by the Korean Proficiency Exam (TOPIK), my usual drive to preview all material to be covered the following day has waned to a pitiful one or two incomplete attempts per week as the problem is further exacerbated by switching to completely different textbooks which are harder to follow.

Everyone is anxious because the TOPIK results come out next Wednesday and while us graduate students have potentially another semester, the undergraduates must pass January’s test to move onto university lest they potentially lose their scholarships. It’s a high pressure environment as there are also a few graduate students who want to achieve the highest levels (five or six) to move to their programs early (and one person even has to do this because their program won’t admit people for the Fall semester).

Personally I’ve already passed the requirements set for me in November and I’m mostly trying to be supportive and sympathetic to those around me. Everything is much lower stakes for me because I’ve lived in Korea for almost two and a half years, have some money saved, and know my way around almost the entire country. Most people in my program haven’t studied Korean, came straight from undergraduate, and are struggling with the limited living stipends and adaptation that needs to occur for them to thrive and succeed here. The gaps between us are big enough without being strained by the fact that I still have many friends actively in the Fulbright program here that I make time to see, thus taking time away from seeing friends and making new ones at this language school.

Above all, I feel anxious, because I’ve recently been thinking more about how I will always feel slightly uneasy unless I organize my life better and start living more productively and purposefully. I’ve kept myself very busy and done a lot of worthwhile things in the last few years, but I know I need to start long-term goal planning, alongside being more regular and scheduled with my time so that my leisure time doesn’t jeopardize my academic and work goals and so the time I spend in leisure is better able to be enjoyed and spent helping and growing my relationships with others.

2. January has been an odd month. I passed my required Korean test last month so in some sense you could say I’m “done” with what I came to language school to do, but I really like studying Korean and want to improve my skills more. I made a good number of friends in my new program early on but have struggled to really connect with people in my program outside of those core people, and have had to divide my time between them and my old friends who continue to teach in programs here, alongside trying to keep in contact with friends who have returned to the US or gone to other countries. I’ve become a part of now a 3rd “cohort” in Korea and each one is very different and challenging in adjusting to the different dynamics between them.

Overall each day is regulated here and that can itself be a little overbearing. Our scholarship rules dictate very strict policies for leaving the country, missing school, and how we are taught in the classroom, which has been tough for some of my friends trying to learn in lower levels, some trying to become proficient in higher levels, and me because as I have spent many years in education I can clearly see many moments where teaching time and class time in general could be used more effectively.

Overall I’m just glad it’s Friday and I get to see my friend race their first 5 kilometer run tomorrow! It’ll be another weekend outside Cheonan (the city I live in) but I’ve planned to have a movie night with friends tonight (Howl’s Moving Castle) and am hoping to make that a weekly occurrence! Here’s also to hoping I can hone in my study habits to prepare for our final exams starting on February 11th!

3. My current routines are quite sustainable in the sense that I can continue to live my life this way and continue passing my classes and get along well enough socially. However in contrast with how I actually feel, they are remarkably unsustainable. I need to better regulate when I go to bed, when I wake up, when I exercise, when I do my homework and preview for the following day’s studies, and budget for how I’m going to eat more cost effectively and really just budget in general. I’m cushioned by work I’ve done in previous years financially and academically but am extremely dissatisfied anytime I find myself unprepared or stressed because I planned poorly. This bleeds over into other aspects of my life and limits my abilities to truly be present for my friends. Along those lines I’ve already deleted or hidden a few apps on my phone in order to stop wasting so much time mindlessly perusing the internet.

Things I do that I would recommend to others are things I’ve generally done well in the past. I have a history of running 5 out of the 7 days in a week (a ‘lazy’ habit given in college I ran 6 or 7 days a week when competing for my college cross country and track team). This has allowed me to have an outlet for stress, and playlists during running have really energized my enjoyment of those times running and particularly helped me get through times when running alone has been tough since no one where I live runs at the level or intensity I do. I’ve recently gotten friends to bike alongside me to chat while I do some easier runs and that’s been very lovely.

Additionally, when I’ve been studying well I noticed I excelled in class when I’d gone over all the material we would see the following day, grammar, vocabulary, and reading/listening sections. It can take 2-3 hours to thoroughly do this but I feel I learned really well by doing so and was happier in class and less stressed than usual. Teachers also seemed happy with me and I participated more, which I know as a teacher is really what I’d hope for in a student as low energy and participation can make teaching days really tough.

Finally, as stated before I want to add purposeful scheduling into my life to feel like I am in better control and to utilize my time effectively so that my preview, in-class exposure, and review models can help me best optimize and retain my learned material. I hate forgetting things I’ve learned or seeing a word I know I learned but can’t recall the meaning of. The same goes for names of people I’ve met and things they’ve told me, so I want to add in journaling at the end of each day to solidify details better retain general memories since I do so much every week here that I’d rather have a record of even the little things to look back on later and keep track of the things that worked well and the things that led to success or failure in the future.