“sorry, won’t happen again. I’ll try my best to check my privilege and call out other white peeps when they’re being awful. Beer?”
Hey hey, I’m happy to answer this, I’ve actually written a two-part series on where to study Korean for the Korean Herald (I’ve included the links at the bottom of this post for reference.
I didn’t start learning Korean until after I came to Korea. The first year here, as an adoptee, I was basically just trying to wrap my mind around being here, being surrounded by people who looked like me, coming to terms with my identity in general - all while working at a hagwon. Midway through the first year, I picked up a “language exchange partner” which was basically just us talking about my cultural shock and learning a few choice phrases for survival in Korea (read: Please give me the bibimbap, turn left here, I was adopted so I can’t speak Korean - actually, this was probably the first sentence I memorized, out of sheer necessity).
At the end of the first year, I looked back and realized I had learned very little so I enrolled myself in Korean classes at YBM and I finished Level 1 there during the last three months of my contract.
I went back to the US and regretted that I had done very little toward my goal of learning Korean and after three months of hanging out in the US and traveling SE Asia, I came back to Korea with a renewed determination to learn Korean. I started back up at YBM for three months of Level 2 before finally enrolling at a university program - Sogang University. I was level tested into Level 3 (looking back, I probably should’ve been level tested into Level 2 because transitioning from part-time academy classes to full-time university classes is not exactly the same thing - I say this to encourage people to take their time and feel confident at each level, rather than attempt to rush through). I finished Level 3-6 at Sogang (took a one-term break for my sanity between Level 5 and 6) and graduated from that program. For those who are looking for intensive Korean study with a focus more on conversation than academic purposes, I would highly recommend Sogang.
Afterwards, I worked for a year as an English editor and translator at the Seoul Global Center, where I was able to write about a lot of information for foreigners living in Seoul, particularly about events and/or places that didn’t have English information available - so I spent a lot of time researching websites and resources in Korean.
After that, I started the NIIED scholarship, which requires going to your university Korean language program for a year, unless you have at least a TOPIK Level 5. Since I had never taken the test, I had to take classes at Hanyang’s Korean language program for at least six months, due to timing of the semester/test. So I took Levels 5-6 there. For those who are interested in learning Korean for academic purposes, I would recommend Hanyang. Another benefit of Hanyang’s program is there are very few other Westerners, so there’s no temptation to speak English, even in the break times.
During my six months at Hanyang’s language program, I took the TOPIK and was able to get exempted from taking the last 6 months of Korean and start my MA program early. While studying for the TOPIK, I was taking the four hours of Korean class at Hanyang, plus studying for four hours every day outside of class. I also took two-hour private lessons, twice a week for a month leading up to the test. For me, investing money in learning Korean made me study harder. My teacher used to laugh at me and tell me that I studied Korean the way a Korean studies English.
Also during that time, I worked freelance at TBS, translating Korean news into English and reading the news on air. That experience helped my higher-level comprehension.
I’ve been in my MA program now for a year and it has seriously been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. For the first semester, I wrote my papers first in English and then translated it into Korean before submitting them. You have no idea how long this took - probably about 6 hours to write/translate one paper. As I had read one book/submit one paper for each grad class, each week, I was reading three books and submitting three papers every week. I sincerely contemplated running away to the US about 3 times in my first semester.
Last semester, I found that more and more, I could write directly into Korean since I processed the material in my mind in Korean first (and I just got more comfortable with the patterns in academic writing in Korean, when translating my papers from English to Korean). I think my papers only took me four hours each last semester.
This got longer than I thought, but I hope it was helpful. I hope this doesn’t sound like bragging or anything;;; I guess what I hope people realize is that, I didn’t speak Korean before I came here and it’s possible to get to an advanced level within 5 years, though it will literally break your spirit multiple times throughout the process - learning Korean is THE hardest thing I’ve ever done.
But it has also been, by far, the most rewarding. As an adoptee who was adopted when I was four (which means I spoke Korean before I was adopted), regaining Korean has meant a lot to me personally. And as an activist, I’ve been able to interpret for Halmonis when they meet foreign visitors, translate for documentaries on unwed mothers, interpret between Korean adoptees when they meet their birth families, interpret for unwed moms when they describe the coercive treatment they received at adoption agencies - all of which makes me proud to do and looks good on a resume.
But more than that, it has enabled me to foster personal relationships with other Korean activists, the Halmonis, and the moms and kids of KUMFA - some of the most amazing people I have ever had the privilege to meet.
More about learning Korean:
Part I (University programs): http://www.koreaherald.com/lifestyle/Detail.jsp?newsMLId=20100309000088
Part II (Private language academies or institutions): http://www.koreaherald.com/lifestyle/Detail.jsp?newsMLId=20100312000051