Studying Abroad at Yonsei University in Seoul: See you soon, Seoul

Believe it or not, but I’m headed back to Seoul this summer – back to Yonsei University, in fact. I seem to be blessed with endless doors opening for me over the past two years and so I’m planning on charging full speed ahead (hoping that I won’t charge headfirst into a closed door anytime soon).

Yonsei University runs a summer program called YISS, or Yonsei International Summer School. It’s a relatively short program of about a month and a half that is geared towards international exchange students who come and take a Korean language course alongside one or two regular academic courses.

But beyond the classroom! Wherein lie the true lessons of life! And Korean. Because studying at KLI/YISS is all very well and good but speaking Korean with the convenience store clerk, or navigating the subways and bus routes, or asking for directions to a performing arts center to attend a musical – this is the stuff that truly challenges. That proves whether the classroom has provided the foundation and whether I trust myself to stand on that base of knowledge – and most importantly, whether I can lead myself and others through moments of challenge both great and small.

That’s my dramatic spiel for the day.

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Books I bought in Korean (and other acts of madness)


새해 복 많이 받으세요!

It’s already been over a week since I left the Land of the Morning Calm and returned home – and discovered that Seoul has more snow than Michigan, which is terrible. Michigan, I feel betrayed!

In my three heavy suitcases, I lugged back my earthly possessions: clothes, gifts, selfie sticks, and of course, books. Textbooks, biographies, and works by Andrei Lankov, obviously, but more pertinent to my language studies, I brought back books in Korean.

Me in the Kyobo Bookstore inside Gwanghwamun Station

I am a firm believer that the more you read, the wiser you can become, and the better you learn to write and comprehend. It doesn’t matter what language you read in; it will help you. Korean is no exception, which is why I pushed myself to buy two novels that I know I cannot read without laboring over each paragraph. You can’t get better without challenging yourself. I also chose to buy poetry, because poetry is artistic and allows one to learn about the creative soul within a language.  Continue reading

Manhwa Mania (sort of)


This summer has been full of preparations (mixed with far too much stress and madness) to go to Korea and almost no true, consistent studying of Korean. The one reassurance that my Korean abilities haven’t completely fled comes from my nightly manhwa time.

만화 (manhwa) – a glorious method of reading delightful comics for fun under the thin disguise of “studying Korean”.

When I began reading manhwa, I only really read Penguin Loves Mev because even that simple and sweet story was difficult for me to read in Korean. Each short sentence had a cute, comical illustration that helped me figure out the meanings of words I didn’t know – but I struggled through one chapter at a time, and I translated infrequently but with great effort, dissecting the grammar and asking my language partners about the usage of some words.

Sometime last fall, I got a new phone and discovered that Naver Webtoons has an app (I’d always read Penguin Loves Mev on my laptop). While I was exploring how to use the app, I became interested in trying other manhwa. As much as I loved Penguin Loves Mev, I wanted to challenge myself more (and I generally like fiction/fantasy/adventure). I bookmarked a few new manhwa to try and quickly became fascinated with 천년구미호 (1000 Year Gumiho).

There are lots of reason to read this manhwa. I absolutely love mythical creatures and legends, so anything about a nine-tailed fox (gumiho) from Korean myth – there are related legends in other Asian countries – is sure to grab my attention. I could also extol the virtues of the illustrations and plot….but this post is about language learning.

Time to put my study face on. And study James McAvoy’s beautiful face.


The other reason I love this manhwa is because of the language itself. It’s set in modern-day Korea, so there’s slang and modern colloquial conversations, but since it incorporates lots of ancient mythical creatures, these characters converse in old, historical Korean: very formal and often very different from what you’d hear a friend say to you. It’s an awesome mixture of old and modern Korean and I learn new things in every single chapter.

One of the best things about this manhwa is that the story is so interesting that I never can read just one chapter at a time. I often read at least five, even if it takes a long time, but this is a huge improvement from me struggling through one chapter a night (if that). I’m motivated to continue reading and practicing Korean because I want to know what happens next.

Don’t misunderstand; I definitely don’t understand everything in each chapter, but I’ve vastly improved since last fall when I began reading manhwa again. I can tell that my speed and comprehension has picked up enormously, and the more consistently I read, the better I am at Korean in general.

And, you know, it’s just so funny sometimes. The chicken is probably my all-time favorite character.


Yes that wondrously evil-looking face is the face of doom. A chicken. Technically a rooster. Ah, well.

There are beautiful moments of comedy that make me burst out laughing, scenes of angst and romance, and entire chapters full of action and danger. And then there are scenes where someone FINALLY MENTIONS that one of the evil guys has a hairstyle that makes his head look like a 송편 (songpyeon) which is a traditional Korean food. Check out the head of the guy on the left and compare it to the picture of songpyeon.

cheonnyeon 2

Do you read any manhwa? Let me know if you have a favorite or if you’ve also enjoyed reading 천년구미호. Woohoo for reading!

And 감사합니다 for reading this^^


지금 재생 중 (because 괜찮아, 사랑이야 (It’s Okay, That’s Love) is a fantaaaaaaastic new Kdrama that finally confronts the stigma about mental illness as not being worth the same care as physical illness. Also because this song is really pretty):

나는 학생이다: Turning Laziness into Education


I’ve been spending a lot of time watching endless clips of 나는 가수다 (Naneun Kasu-da. trans: “I am a Singer”) and Immortal Song 2 on YouTube. They are music shows that feature singers who perform their own renditions of Korean oldies and I think they’re absolutely phenomenal. I’m a music lover to my very core and these old songs and these incredible singers affect me so deeply.

But let’s be honest. Watching YouTube clips for hours at a time isn’t quite conducive to attaining Korean fluency – unless I incorporate a studious attitude!

The greatest boon of Korean broadcasting to language learners like myself is its penchant for Continue reading

Korean in College: is it worth it?

korean textbooks


As an independent language-learner, I was both apprehensive and excited to be able to take a Korean language class once I entered university last August (2013). Although I took Spanish for over 10 years previously, I had no idea how my abilities in Korean compared with students who took language courses. I had never taken any test, and although Koreans who I spoke with always lauded my Korean, I felt like it was somewhat empty praise. Don’t misunderstand – I’m happy that people are happy that I study Korean; I just wish they didn’t hand down praise so easily when I say just a word or two.

I spoke with my Korean professor who told me not to take the placement test. I was already in the first level along with beginners in the language, most of whom did not yet know hangul. I realized a few weeks later that I really should have taken the exam anyways; I probably could have landed in second year very easily. However, I recognized that my speaking abilities were basically nil, and that I could focus on that and vocab as my goals for improvement.

I don’t blame my professor, either. I know that several other students approached her and said the exact same thing as me – “Oh, I’ve studied some Korean before.” Most of them meant – “I can kind of read hangul.” She found out later, and through my participation in her class, that I had studied for almost 2 years before coming there.

The main problem I found with taking first level rather than passing into second was mainly how slowly it went for me. First semester was so incredibly basic that I only really felt like I improved in counting and speaking slightly more confidently and fluently. There was nothing else new, and I knew almost all of the vocabulary.

Second semester went better, but I had yet to learn a grammar structure that I didn’t already know. Vocabulary started to be half and half with words I knew and words I didn’t know yet. Overall, we covered only 2-3 grammar points that I had never heard before or studied. I definitely improved with speaking, but my progress in everything else remained stagnant.

Looking back over the past academic year, I realize that I made two essential mistakes.

1. If you have studied Korean before, even just a little, I highly recommend testing to ascertain your level before you commit to a class. It may be more challenging to take a higher level class, but overall, isn’t your goal to challenge yourself by becoming fluent in a language?

2. Do not stop or lessen your independent studies. This was definitely my bigger problem. I was used to rapidly advancing through TTMIK lessons and making leaps and bounds with my comprehension of spoken and written Korean, but I spent almost a year of barely studying on my own. I also didn’t study much at all for my actual Korean class because I did so well in it without needing to. It made me lazy with my language studies, and I deeply regret that.

In conclusion, I have decided to never stop my independent studies. It doesn’t matter if I’m taking Korean at my university or even living in Korea and studying there. It’s pure laziness and nonsense to stop studying. I’m not going to magically become fluent by decreasing my studies. Independent studies coupled with other language learning experiences is like adding extra engines to a jet; you’re going to get there even faster if you combine rather than minimize.

Also, I’m not advising you to not take a Korean language course – I’m just advocating that you also continue your independent studies and take a placement test.

Have you ever taken a Korean language class or do you only do independent studies? Or do you combine them? Let me know in the comments about your experience! I’m also curious what it’s like to take placement tests…and TOPIK….



Here’s some lovely music for a lovely day!

Dissecting Korean Quotes

사진 3 (2)


Recently, I’ve been particularly interested in dissecting famous sayings/quotes in Korean. Or not so famous ones. Any quotes in Korean, in general, are super interesting. I’ve always loved ‘collecting’ sayings in English – I absolutely adore Quotables and I even buy the cards just for myself. When I said collecting…I mean it. I do actually collect quotes.

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