Seongsaeng-nim scurried across the classroom at 9am on the dot every Saturday morning to begin class. She was almost always wearing a floral top and I never failed to point that out to my classmates and get a chuckle. However, now wasn’t the time for chuckling. Every Saturday morning, we would stand up to attention beside our desks and sang the Korean National Anthem. And boy did we sang!
“Donghaemulgwa baekdusani mareugo daltorok!!!” we belted out louder than we would scream if the building was on fire! Aeguka would bellow through the halls and our teacher would stand at the front directing us as if we were in chorus. If we were a chorus, we weren’t too good…
What is Korean School?
Korean schools or immersion schools, are Saturday morning schools designed to provide students (usually Korean) with an immersive environment to learn Korean. I signed up for Korean School when I was about 13 years old. Every Saturday morning, I would meet promptly at 9am in the classroom hosted by a local university school building and learn more Korean than I would during the whole week. You see, Korean schools are usually reserved for those who speak the Korean language at home, so there is no English and you are totally immersed in Korean. When I read this on the website I thought, “BARNACLES! I don’t speak Korean at home!!” But I signed up anyway because I wanted to learn Korean more than I wanted to eat and sleep! So A LOT.
When I walked into that classroom and introduced myself in Korean on the first day, I was officially just like the other kids in my class. The teacher was only allowed to speak in Korean, the lessons were in Korean, the textbooks were in Korean and our daily video lessons were also only in Korean. It was the closest thing to living in Korea I would get. It was both a blessing and a curse for learning Korean.
The Other Korean Students
The other students were delightful! But I had to build the relationship. At first there was a layer of frost between me and them, I was clearly not Korean and did not speak Korean at home. They were apprehensive about talking to me at first. Maybe they didn’t understand why I was there or what my goals were, or maybe it was because I was a little bit more brown than the other students! But after a few weeks all of us were talking about K-pop and gabbing away in Korean! They introduced me to many k-pop groups and we planned and performed an end of the year dance to the tune of Yayaya by T-ara that captured all the teacher’s and parent’s hearts and won me a great deal of street cred!
My Hard Work!
I worked SO HARD in Korean School. Because I didn’t speak Korean at home, I was already behind when I showed up, so I had to catch up. And catch up, I did. I studied my (pardon my French) ass off everyday to catch up. I studied grammar, vocabulary and did everything I could to help me catch up with the other students.
There were so many times when I felt like it wasn’t possible. Like there was no way I could keep up! But I kept going. I tried to simulate an immersive environment everyday by watching videos and surrounding myself with Korean. Sure enough, by the end of the year, I was keeping up!!! I could have conversations and I didn’t look like a stunned stupid trout with my mouth open not having a clue what was going on in class. By the end of the year, when I got a shiny trophy shaped like a tea kettle (for some reason) I felt like I absolutely earned it and my teachers did too!
When I sang that national anthem the last time in the school year, it really meant something to me- to all of us.
Moral of the story is, if there’s something worth having, then it’s something worth fighting for. Never stop trying no matter how hard it gets and how bleak it looks. Now go kick ass!
If you’d like to know more about learning Korean, check these posts out: