Beatrice Chum is a current senior from Hong Kong, with a double major in Politics and East Asian Studies (Korean Studies concentration) and a minor in Latin. Beatrice spent two summers and the first semester of her senior year at Sogang University in Seoul, South Korea. Here, Beatrice shares her adventure in South Korea and her experience as a Korean Studies student at Oberlin. If you are interested in Korean Studies at Oberlin or in studying abroad in Korea, reading about her experience might be helpful for you!
How did your interest in Korean language develop? I know many people have taken Korean ExCo here (including me), but not a lot of people keep going after the ExCo. What is your motivation to continue learning Korean and later study abroad in Korea?
During my first semester at Oberlin I had a great mentor who was Korean-American. She introduced me to the popular culture but also to continued traditions. When I traveled to South Korea for the first time that winter, I became captivated by what I heard and read and saw that felt so close to home yet so incredibly different at the same time. That feeling led to me to learn the language, study the history, and gain a further understanding of the culture.
How did you find your program? Why did you come back to the same program after a year?
The An Family Summer Fellowship graciously offered me an opportunity to study at the Korean Immersion program at Sogang University during the summer of 2015 and I had a very positive learning experience. When I returned to Oberlin, I became sure that I wanted to pursue an East Asian Studies major with a concentration in Korean Studies and that I would return to Sogang to further my language studies. I chose the Korean for General Purposes program at Sogang upon my return because their emphasis on speaking appealed most to me.
How were the programs like academic-wise? What activities do you do in order to learn Korean either in class or outside class?
The Korean Immersion program is a five-week program which includes four hours of language class in the morning and two hours of culture class in the afternoon. The Korean for General Purposes program is a ten-week program which includes four hours of language class in the morning. The language class includes an hour of writing, two hours of speaking, and an hour of reading and listening. During the language class, we also become exposed to Korean culture through the texts and materials. The culture class consisted of different activities every day ranging from traditional cuisine to taekwondo to exploring palaces and museums. Although the KGP program did not include culture class, I traveled around on my own during the afternoons to various exhibitions and festivals.
Comparing to other languages you have learned, how difficult do you think learning Korean is?
I admire how straightforward the Korean alphabet is. I struggled through twelve years of Mandarin since elementary school and the number of characters I can remember how to write without reference is embarrassingly few. And I’ve probably forgotten most of the Japanese katakana I learned last year. But I suppose the link from English to French and Latin is similar to that of Chinese and Japanese to Korean. Although I can identify similarities in vocabulary and grammar, the Korean language certainly has unique characteristics that take time to learn and understand.
What was the most fun part of your study abroad? What was the hardest part?
My study away was kind of surprising. The summer program I attended was made up of mostly college students, but I was the only college student in my classes during the two semesters I returned to Sogang. The first month was admittedly awkward. Even though I recognized how privileged I was to be embarking on this new adventure, I was scared it wouldn’t be what I hoped. But I think that’s exactly what made the experience fun. I learned to force myself to venture outside of Seoul alone, to share more conversations in Korean, to find a close community at a neighboring university, and to really learn as much as I could in six months.
Obies might be more familiar with other study abroad program in China and Japan than that in Korea. What in your opinion might studying abroad in Korea be different from that in China or Japan? (campus life, social life, boarding etc.)
The university I attended had little experience hosting students studying abroad, so I had to figure out room and board on my own. Other bigger universities in Seoul have greater resources and a stronger community for students studying away. I suppose the affiliated programs in China and Japan would be similarly prepared.
This is your last semester in Oberlin. Are you going to continue with Korean language in the future? Do you plan to go back to Korea anytime soon?
I definitely hope to continue with my journey with the Korean language but will probably proceed with self-study for the time being. Someday I would love to travel to all the different regions of South Korea to appreciate the distinctive histories and characteristics of each place.
Anything else you want to share?
Korean Studies seems to be an increasingly popular concentration among East Asian Studies majors and that’s wonderful! I hope Oberlin continues to support students in learning about Korean culture and history.
Thank you very much! Enjoy your last semester in Oberlin!
Thank you! And thank you for your thoughtful questions.