An Honest Review of 16 Months Studying Korean

I came to Korea for a variety of reasons; money, foreign-ness, a new language and a high potential of personal growth were all factors that pushed me to buy my plane ticket. I didn’t choose Korea specifically for Korean, rather I wanted to learn a new language in general, so I choose Korea and therefore Korean. So while I never had any special interest in the Korean language, per say, I did come to Korea preparing to learn the language and hopefully end up conversational. It’s been one of my big ongoing goals throughout my life in Korea and early on in the year, I was also writing about my progress with Korean language updates on the blog.

[Previous Updates: My Initial Plan, My Brain Exploding, Tortoise-ing, Writing A Story About a Tomato, Improvements]

Recently I’ve been quiet on the subject. I never stopped learning Korean, but the structured studying ebbed and flowed, ended, started, slowed, disappeared and was often put aside for more pressing matters. I poured a lot of energy into getting this blog officially up and running, I started practicing my photography, I ended up with a rescue puppy and significant time commitments to make sure she wouldn’t eat my house while I was at work, everyday. But while I haven’t been cracking open a textbook everyday (or even on a weekly basis), I have been learning Korean in less direct ways, through conversation, random research on a word I’d seen, and sometimes Korean music/media.

So now that I’ve got less than two months left in Korea (eek!), I thought it would be a good time to take an honest look at my methods, my progress and what I could have done better. While I can have basic conversations with a Korean, or text message conversations (where I can take a minute to look up any unknown words), more in depth in-person conversations are still impossible for me. I can ask for anything I need in a restaurant, store, or from a co-worker, but their responses remain a mystery to me 50% of the time. I have room for improvement. But to say I haven’t gotten anywhere would be a gross misstatement of the truth. I’ve gone far, but Korean requires more of me.

[Related Post: Tips and Resources for Learning Korean]

What I Did Right

I started off on the right pronunciation foot. Before arriving in Korea, I got private help from a Korean-American in town who taught me the alphabet and the correct pronunciation for words. When I arrived in Korea, I started meeting a Korean weekly and practicing vocabulary and verbs. By spending time with native speakers in the very beginning, I was able to get the right sounds off my tongue from the get-go. (To this day, I’m complimented on my pronunciation by Korean speakers.)

I collected a variety of resources. Studying can be boring, really, really boring. But I collected a bunch of different resources, from internet to books to flash cards to conversation partners and used them all. It was this variety that made it possible to study so often in my first couple months. It’s hard to get bored when you’ve got resources that engage all of your senses!

I met a Korean weekly. This ended for tragic, unforeseeable circumstances, but the two/three months that it continued was extremely helpful. Sadly, once it came to a stop, there was no way to begin again and I never found a replacement partner. But I learned a lot while this was in session and I think it’s one of the best ways to up your Korean game.

What I Did Okay

I spoke Korean with Korean people, sometimes. You’d think that by working with Koreans, I’d have taken that opportunity to practice my Korean with them everyday. Sadly, those opportunities arose fewer times than you’d think. When my co-teacher spoke to me, it was understandably to communicate some kind of important information. Which meant she spoke in English to make sure I understood. As for meeting Korean friends, I ended up adopting a kind of half Korean, half English conversation style. While I did use some Korean, it would have been better if I’d really pushed myself harder and tried to say more complicated sentences.

I got a Korean boyfriend. You shouldn’t get a Korean boyfriend unless you like your Korean boyfriend; the foreign language practice should be a bonus. But I can’t exclude this, because it’s played a big part in my language development. It’s been invaluable to have a living dictionary, kind of, whom I can text a question and get a quick response, or ask to clarify some grammar point I don’t understand. However, we don’t speak exclusively in Korean which would have really upped my level over time.

What I Did Badly

I invested time in language projects that I didn’t use. I spent a lot of time making flashcards, which was helpful at least to make them. Sadly, though, I made them, used them one time and they’ve been collecting dust in a pile ever since. Instead of spending hours finding the right card stock, drawing the pictures, writing the words and organizing the cards, I should have just studied more from the book. Or used Quizlet. Or anything really. I’ve never been a huge flashcard person, so I’m not sure why I thought this time would be different.

I never replaced my Korean conversation partner. While it wasn’t my fault that I couldn’t meet my first conversation partner anymore, it was definitely my fault that I never found another virtual one. My town is a third elderly, a third single middle aged men who work as laborers, and a third young children and their parents. It’s extremely difficult to find people my age in the neighborhood, so it’s understandable that another in-person conversation partner wasn’t in the cards. But I could have easily turned to iTalki, or any of the other Skype conversation exchanges available online. I didn’t.

I didn’t stick to a self-study schedule. Granted, once Mary came into my life, all schedules were thrown off. But I never had a consistent one to begin with, just a vague goal of “everyday” and some free time. If I had set aside certain times every week, then I think I’d have gotten a bit farther. My sporadic study sessions should have been regular. If I could go back in time, this would be the first thing I’d change.

At The End Of The Day

It’s funny how hindsight is 20/20 and looking back, I can see everything that I could have done better. But when it comes down to it, I’ve still learned a lot of Korean. No, we can’t discuss the intricacies of the USA political system in Korean (and a shame, because I’ve got a lot to say about that!). But I can tell you how to cook a classic American breakfast correctly. Still, I could be better at Korean by now, and it’s my own fault that I’m not. But while I can’t go back in time, I can apply these lessons to the next language on my plate. Like not to bother with flash cards, ever.

And when I get to my next foreign language (which based on history, is inevitable), I’m grateful that I’ll know, at least a little better, what to do.

[Related Post: A Critique: Benny the Irish Polyglot’s Language Learning Method]

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You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. There’s also an email list, if you’d like to subscribe.

The Juggling Act: Work, Play + Puppy

I have a full time job. I have an active circle of friends. I’m living in a foreign country and like to explore when I have the time. I have hobbies that I’m devoted to. How the hell do I manage a five-month-old puppy on top of all that?

It definitely gets tough for me, since I live alone and there’s no babysitter next door that I can call up. I don’t have parents or a sibling or anyone else that might be home when I’m not. It’s just me. I’m responsible for feeding, washing, grooming, disciplining, exercising and most importantly, loving my puppy.

And she is SO lovable!
And she is SO lovable!

Sure, when I need to go somewhere or I’m away for a weekend, I can usually convince one of my friends in town to keep her around for a short 24 hours or so. But that involves soliciting the opportunity and working out drop off and pick up times, and convincing someone who doesn’t regularly have a dog around to take on all of those typical responsibilities. And on weekends, plenty of people are out of town just like me. Sometimes it doesn’t really work out.

So how do I do it? How do I raise a baby dog while I work full time, for starters? To be honest, it’s rough business. Sometimes, it just sucks. Time is often short. I sometimes guilt trip myself to China and back about leaving her by herself or not spending enough time exercising with her or whatever reason I can come up with. But, at the end of the day, she’s taken care of enough and gives me lots of kisses when I come home, so I feel safe saying that I’m doing a decent job of a pretty demanding juggling act. For anyone else who’s found themselves in this same position, whether by choice or by chance, have no fear because it can be done. Here are the hints and tips that I’ve picked up along the way.

[Note: I have a million pictures of my puppy, Mary, so I will simply be littering this post with them. Enjoy.]

Starting now.
Starting now.

Evaluate Your Current Lifestyle

If you like to hit the clubs 3-4 days a week and you’re at work 5 days a week, maybe having a puppy isn’t going to be the best option for you, since you’re never home. If you haven’t been in town for the last 6 weekends, then perhaps it’s not the right timing for a baby animal. Step 1 is make sure you have the right lifestyle setup for a puppy. If you don’t, then don’t commit to raising one. If you are home a decent amount of the week after work and don’t spend a lot of nights out until 4am, then you are a perfectly suitable candidate for lots of puppy kisses and being a puppy mama or papa.

Exercise, Exercise, Exercise

This is, regardless of your life situation, pretty much the golden key to keeping all puppies happy and keeping yourself sane. It doesn’t matter if you spend 24 hours a day with your puppy; if you don’t exercise the little beast, your life is gonna be a nice, long nightmare. Heck, even when you do exercise your puppy, he or she sometimes pops right back up with a hidden burst of energy to try and make you go insane. When you work full time and sometimes meet friends for dinner, or are about to drop your puppy off for a bit of alone time with a friend, the key is definitely exercise. Tire your ball of fur out until he or she literally could care less about your presence in the room. Before you leave for work for 8 hours, or 5 hours or whatever, exercise with your puppy and make sure he or she is tuckered out. When you have work to do at home and need some peace and quite, take your puppy for a run or walk to keep him or her sleeping for a bit, so you can have some time to really concentrate. The golden key: a tired puppy.

Clearly she likes to run. A lot.
Mary prefers to fly as opposed to traditional kinds of exercise.

Treats & Toys are Your Best Friend

There is no possible way that you’ll be able to make your puppy sleep for 8 hours straight, while you go to work. But if you can get your fluff ball sleepy for three of them, then you can just leave a little something to fill up the next 5. This is where treats and toys are your best friend. Bones to chew on keep puppies occupied for hours. Hiding treats inside towels squished between the wall and your furniture? Your puppy now has treasure hunt to keep him or her occupied. The people-with-dogs internet is obsessed with something called “Kong toys” where you put peanut butter in the middle, so if you can get your hands on one of those, then your life is made. No more bored puppy!

Pester Your Friends

When you’re alone, you don’t have much of a choice: you’re going to need to find a puppy sitter sometimes. Your friends are your big group of babysitters. You’ll need to get pretty marketable with the situation and do your best to never complain about your puppy around them. Show them adorable pictures. Ask people individually before you ask the group. If you can get 1 or 2 people to constantly say yes, then you’ve just lifted a nice load of stress off your shoulders and won’t have to worry about managing an occasional overnight in Seoul. And then thank them: bring them presents from 711 or wherever it is that you’ve been recently. Pester your friends and then make sure they know that you’re grateful.

Most people I know are okay with taking care of something this cute for at least a little bit.
Most people I know are okay with taking care of something this cute for at least a little bit.

Just Bring Him or Her

Want to get dinner with friends, but you don’t want to leave your little dog alone again tonight? Is the weather alright? You can plan an outdoor picnic and bring your puppy along for the fun. If you want to plan an activity, see if you can just incorporate your puppy into it. Sometimes it’s not possible, but oftentimes a little adjustment can make room for your hairy ball of energy to come along too. Coffee dates inside can before coffee dates outside or simply on the shop’s patio. An outing in another city could be spent partially in the dog park and partially at an outdoor restaurant. Grab a beer from the grocery store, not the bar. Quick errands can be done puppy in hand, no one is going to stop you from walking inside with the cutest animal known to man for 10 minutes. See if there’s a way to work your puppy into your plans, instead of feeling guilty leaving her alone.

Stop Feeling Guilty

That face little girls make when you didn’t give them enough ice cream is called a “puppy face” for a reason. Don’t fall for the sad face your puppy makes when you leave, he or she will be just fine. It’s just what puppy faces look like! They look sad. They induce guilty feelings with one glance. Take a deep breath and let it go: sometimes your puppy has to be alone. Sometimes he or she has to be alone for an entire day. Sometimes he or she will need to endure a solitary overnight . As long as you’re doing your best, sleeping at home most of the time and keeping those meals regular, you’re doing a good enough job. I struggled with this myself for a long time. I didn’t want to “ruin” her by not being home every day after work all evening and at least one full day during the weekend. But sometimes that’s just not possible and that’s okay. Breathe. Your puppy will be fine. Treats, exercise, hidden treats and some trust and things will turn out alright.

You have to learn how to ignore this face.
You have to learn how to ignore this face. Somehow.

Plan Your Getaway

Just like with kids, having a dog child can get overwhelming and stressful and annoying, no matter how much you love the little bugger. Give yourself a weekend here and there to get out of town and have a friend take care of your puppy. Plan ahead of time so you’re not springing a long puppysitting job on anyone, and then take your butt to a new place and relax. Meet a friend down South, go camping, visit the waterfall you’ve had on your list or just sit in your own home and enjoy the little time you’ve carved out for yourself. You’re raising a toddler/animal combination, you deserve it.

Puppies are fun, energetic, adorable and definitely ridiculous. Really ridiculous. But with a bit of patience and some smarts about how to handle the situation, it’s not impossible by any means. You can raise a puppy alone, with a full time job, keep your friends and even see some new things in your area, if you’d like. I never expected to have a puppy when I got to Korea and I don’t have that ideal, stay-at-home-mom lifestyle that a lot of families wait for before getting one. But I’ve found a way to make it work and I know that even if I’m not home all of the time, when I am home, I make it count.

Like by harassing her with selfies to send to my friends.
Like by harassing her with selfies to send to my friends.

And hey, if you’re in South Korea, just think of all the family “pets” that stay tied up outside and in a cage all day, under exercised. I’m pretty sure you can do better than that. So don’t worry, you can raise the cutest ball of fluff up to be a kind, loving dog even on a tighter schedule than you’d like. Good luck and have fun, because puppy cuddles really are the best!

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You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. There’s also an email list, if you’d like to subscribe.

getting back to work

I’ve been on vacation from the middle school for, oh, a month or so. I’ve started my second job in the evenings and have by no means been bored out of my mind, but tomorrow, Monday… it’s back to work. kids come back, classes resume and my schedule will be in full swing. and it’s gonna kick my butt.

this is how my life will look for the next two months (until my second job ends). Continue reading getting back to work

what I do every minute of every day

being in South Korea, employed, is quite a change from being back home, unemployed, half packing and half hanging out with all my friends. my social schedule used to be my entire schedule… no longer. I’ve got myself a real schedule.

so I’ll go ahead and outline what I do / will be doing on weekdays (at least until I have friends) for you guys/stalkers.

5-7am : wake up for no reason, stay awake (this is actually typical of me) Continue reading what I do every minute of every day