Helo welcom 2 my websight
So there’s a reason that I haven’t really been posting anything about my life here for a while and that reason is that, to be perfectly frank, I’ve been depressed as hell for the past month. The reason for that is a long, long story, and one I was hoping to spare you all until, against all odds, it would end up with a happy ending. Actually, I haven’t contacted my family nor most of my friends during this time because all I could think about was my situation and how terrible it was, but I feel like this is definitely an important thing to share with you.
So grab a seat and get ready for a long story full of stuff you probably won’t fully understand.
So..to start at the beginning…as you know I’m here in Korea on the Korean Government Scholarship Program (for which you too can sign up starting this month, by the way, and I totally recommend it) and in order to apply for this program, you need to write an application stating why you want to come to Korea, what you want to study here and how you plan on studying that. The NIIED (National Institute of International EDucation), which hosts this program, ‘strongly advises’ applicants to select a course of study that is related to what they have studied in their home countries. As such, even though I had wanted to maybe pick Korean or teaching English at that time, I didn’t expect to make the selection with those choices considering it isn’t easy to get into this program.
So, I wrote down ‘Korean Law’, picked my universities and wrote my semester-by-semester study plan including a possible subject for my thesis and sent in the application.
As you might’ve guessed (if not: SPOILERS!) I got selected and invited to study at the Graduate Department of Law of the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) in Seoul. But before I’d be going there, I’d spend some time at Keimyung University in Daegu to study Korean since my entire major would be taught in that language.
To be honest, I guess I should’ve known beforehand that what they presented to me was impossible to begin with. For some reason, I assumed that since they offered these programs to people with absolutely no background in Korean it would totally be possible to learn the language well enough to start a Masters after one year of full-time classes. And..you know..why not? If I’d learned German or Spanish or Italian for one year 24/7 I’m sure I could understand it well enough to perform at an acceptable level, right? And Korean didn’t seem that hard the last time I was there.
But..what they don’t tell you is how completely different Korean is from European languages. I know, I know, that sounds super basic and ‘Jeez dude how could you not know that?’ but just from the fact they were offering it like this and had accepted me like this I just kind of assumed they’d know what they were doing and it’d all work out.
I was wrong, of course.
About 6 months into the program, I realized that there would be no way that I would be able to study law in this language. In fact, most of the Koreans I spoke to about it were shocked since studying law is even difficult for native Koreans considering the high amount of 한자 (Chinese characters) and the general high level language. I have studied law before in French and German, so I realized how screwed I would be here 6 months later if I were forced to start studying in Korean.
At this point I feel like I should add that one of the rules of the KGSP is that you need to do extremely well academically in order to receive the privilege of being in this country. If your GPA drops between 8.0/10 you get a warning, and if you mess up hard enough you will be kicked out of the program and, indeed, the country.
I could already imagine myself spending hours reading a single page of a 600 page book that I’d have to finish by the end of the week and how impossible it would be for me successfully study subject matter this complicated in a language I barely understood.
Or, to put it differently; I could already imagine myself being forced to go home.
And, let me be honest here, I love home.
I love the Netherlands.
But if there is something that I have felt during my time here it is that the Netherlands is not the right place for me right now. It’s not the place where I want to be. It’s not where I see myself in 5 or 10 years.
I always felt boxed in in the Netherlands..pressed into a mold from birth to go to school, pick a profession, go to university, find a job, find a wife, buy a house and work every day for the rest of my life until I die.
I know the same will be true for life anywhere be it the Netherlands, Korea, Japan, the US or anywhere else in the world but at the very least I want to do things on my own terms.
So..in short, I didn’t want to go home.
I voiced my concerns to the person in charge of KGSP students at HUFS and he kindly responded he understood and that it would probably not be a problem to change majors considering I am a KGSP grantee and had already been accepted into the university. He then sent me a list of possible majors and, shining brightly like a beacon lighting my way into my future in Korea, the TESOL major caught my eye.
I had already taught in Korea before, in 2011, and it was an amazing experience. So amazing, in fact, that I had decided to become TEFL certified in the same year I came back in the hopes of finding other teaching jobs. I love Korean kids, teaching was way more fun than I had expected and I’m actually good at English, not to even mention the fact that I’d actually be able to find a job with this major whereas with law, even if I did somehow, magically, manage to graduate, I’d probably be shit out of luck just like I was in the Netherlands.
With this in mind, I spent the next few months writing my application letter to the TESOL department, as the KGSP handler of HUFS had told me that, although it was an internal affair, I’d still have to formally be accepted by the department in order to start studying there in March.
I finally turned in my application early in January, and…that is when everything started to go downhill really fast.
Although I was told to expect a positive outcome and had basically just assumed there wouldn’t be any problems and had already planned out my future here based on that assumption, reality once again put down those dreams with a swift kick in the nuts;
The TESOL department is sorry to let you know that they have rejected your application
In once sentence my entire imagined future was burned, trampled and buried.
I cried as I read the e-mail in my home, not knowing what to do or what to think.
What was there for me to do?
I should give up and go home. There’s nothing else left.
I drank until I passed out that night, alone on the floor of my room, not being able to go to anyone for help.
But the next day, my resolve sharpened. I decided I couldn’t run away from this and if I was going to do this I needed to be committed. So, for the first time since I came to Korea, I actually gave up drinking. Drinking was my go-to way to deal with things not working out well and it had been pretty decent at dealing with small problems but this was serious shit and drinking myself into a stupor wasn’t going to do me any good.
So, even though I am not that kind of person, I tried to be positive and act pro-actively.
Nevertheless, I was feeling extremely bad and, since I still had mandatory classes every day, took this out on my fellow students and teachers as well. I couldn’t study, or chat happily or do anything other than thinking about this all ending problem hovering over my life, casting a black cloud over my future. I had e-mailed the professor in charge of my application, in English at first and then again a week later in Korean, but he simply wouldn’t read or at least wouldn’t respond to my mail and even if I were to visit the department in person there was no way to know who to speak to nor if anyone would even be in considering it was still vacation.
At that time, there was one person with whom I shared the entire story, as detailed as I’m now telling it to you; my teacher 이 선생님. I don’t think I’ve ever met a kinder person in my life. During the weeks I was having a difficult time, she always understood my situation, tried to cheer me on and helped me out with anything she could. Of course, there wasn’t especially much she could do either. She, like me, did not have any authority over what happens at another university, nor could she change the professor’s mind for me.
But then, one day two weeks ago when I finally got a response from the TESOL office that basically came down to ‘The decision has been made, please don’t bother us again’, she helped me come up with a final, desperate attempt at fixing this situation. If that professor did not want to listen to me, then I should just share my situation with the entire TESOL faculty. She helped me correct my Korean e-mail, using her knowledge of things that I have no idea about such as what is important for Korean teachers to hear and what kind of arguments are likely to hit a nerve and fixing my grammar mistakes. That night, I sent out about 16 e-mails in both English and Korean to every single professor listed on the TESOL department’s website.
And then, I waited.
I didn’t have to wait for a long time to get replies. But most of them were along the lines of ‘This is not a decision for me to make, but I have forwarded your mail to the Dean of the faculty’ and such.
I guess the Dean got fed up with the amount of CC’s, because a few days later I got an e-mail from the professor in charge of my application, asking me to come to Seoul the next day at 10 in the morning.
Honestly, at this point I expected that they just wanted to explain in person why they couldn’t accept me and ask me not to annoy the other professors with my e-mails.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t in my right mind decline an offer like this, of course. I had worked so hard to have my voice be heard and now finally I had the chance to meet the person who was keeping my future in his hands.
You should know that, at this time, it was already February and the Korean semester starts in March. I should’ve already signed up for my classes by now, attended orientations etc, but I was still stuck in a limbo of not wanting to go to the Law Department and not being allowed to go to the TESOL Department. I was stressed out of my mind. I feel like I’ve aged at least 5 years during the past 3 weeks. I thought about nothing but how I could never fix this and this would mean the end of my time in Korea and how I would need to go back to the Netherlands, find a job I wouldn’t want and live a life I didn’t want to lead because I would not be able to stay here.
These thoughts crushed my soul like a boulder for so long that when the time came to go to bed on the night before I’d have to go to Seoul, the 3rd of February, I couldn’t sleep a wink. I had slept for maybe one or two hours when my alarm went off at 4:50 AM and I made my way to the train station to get to Seoul on time.
All that time I kept practising in my head what I would say, how I would say it, what the professor might ask, how I would respond. Both in Korean and English. But I just couldn’t prepare for anything. I had no idea why they had called me there. If they’d tell me there’s nothing I could do to change the situation, would I really be able to utter those words that I had practised so many times in the previous weeks and in the time on the train as well?
Honestly, I doubt it.
But..and here comes the part where my entire life simply unfucked itself in a matter of minutes..
I didn’t need to.
The interview with the professor was one of the most awkward situations I’d been in in my life, me being too nervous to utter a coherent sentence neither in Korean nor in English and the professor smiling and talking as if we were having a soiree.
In spite of my utter failure,
He was still smiling and talking as he signed my acceptance into the department.
I couldn’t believe it when my brain had finally figured out what was going on.
They had decided from my e-mail, or from what the T/A had told them, to give me a chance.
They had given me what I, 이 쌤, my grandma and many of my friends had been praying for for so long.
And all I could do was stare like a retard.
I couldn’t grasp the fact that this actually happened.
After all this time of worrying, feeling sick, tired and utterly destroyed, I had gotten what I needed. I had gotten the thing that meant the most to me in the world at that point in time.
When I stepped into the hallway, I broke down in tears in front of the T/A who was accompanying me.
But I didn’t care.
Compared to this, there is nothing more important.
I will be the one to decide where I belong.
On that same day, on the way back from Seoul, I heard that I had achieved TOPIK level 5 on the previous test, meaning I am now officially an ‘advanced speaker’ (the highest level is 6) and will be receiving an extra ₩100,000 every month as an encouragement from NIIED.
From what I heard during my time at the HUFS orientation later on that day and from what I’ve seen while looking for a room in Seoul online recently, I know that the coming weeks, months and years are not going to be easy. I’m going to have to work hard, expand my boundaries and do things I’ve never done before. I’m going to have to study harder than I’ve ever needed to and I will have to give up many things I love to bring this to a good conclusion.
But I don’t care.
If I could overcome this…this monstrous hurdle, this giant wall on my path to happiness…then I can overcome anything.
From now on I might complain, I might stress out and I might be drunk in front of my computer more than a couple of times but from now on I will know that I have overcome this and there is no trial or tribulation that could be more taxing, more stressful or more impossible than this.
From now on, it is a new beginning.