4 Things to Know When You Don’t Speak Korean

Courtney Swanson is a student at Indiana State University and a former ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Seoul, South Korea.

Usually I like to focus on the fun cultural aspects, but it isn’t called “studying abroad” for nothing, so there are some really important things to know (this may apply to other countries as well, but I can only speak from my own experiences).

  1. Getting into classes taught in English can be really hard, especially depending on the department, so have backups and backups for your backups. I’m in two classes I wanted, two from my backups and one that I discovered while I was in Korea looking for another class. Be flexible, you may end up finding a course you love by keeping your eyes and mind open.

2. Just because it says it’s taught in English does not mean that it is or even that you can take it without knowing Korean. I was informed after signing up for a class that you must know Korean to take it, and another friend of mine is currently in a class that is taught equally in Korean and English. Because of this you may find a class you wanted to take is no longer an option and you may want to double check with the professor to make sure that they won’t often just slip back into their native language.

My Group Counseling Professor during lecture explaining a new concept.

3. Korean students may “avoid” you. In actuality, the majority of Korean students are insecure about their English abilities and so when they see a foreigner, they rarely ever start the dialogue. If you want to make Korean friends in your classes, chances are you’re going to have to be the one who makes the first move.

4. Group projects are going to be really, really hard. There is a common belief among Korean students that foreigners do not care about their study abroad grades so they will be unreliable in a group project. The important thing to do is to continually assert that you want to help, ask them to talk and message in English, and remind them that you want to do your share. They may not be the most confident in their English, but they are taking a class taught in English. Do your part, help as much as you can, especially because peer evaluations are important and if you just play the “foreigner” card you will get a bad grade.

My Group Counseling class, a popular Psychology class to take among full time and exchange students, with only about 7 total foreigners in it.

As rough as it sounds, classes can be really interesting, and you can get to experience a completely different style of class and teaching styles. Make sure to have fun and ask questions in class, because you are here to learn!

The world awaits…discover it.

Leave a Reply