The past couple of weeks have passed me by in a blur – hence my absence from writing these blog posts! Our sixth week of classes brought with it the first somewhat serious part of the course: the mid-semester examinations! Our course’s assessment is almost entirely composed of two exam periods – the mid-semester exam and the final exam (which we sit after we finish the course). I wasn’t too concerned initially as I’ve done a lot of exams over my four years of university, but I became all too acutely aware of the nervousness beginning to build among my classmates (who have almost all completed the prior course and thus have done these exams before) as the exam period approached.
The exams were split over two days, and we completed four assessments, each focussed on an important skill. On the first day, we had two hours of class time, before diving into the reading, listening, and writing exams. On the second day, we again had two hours of class, before undergoing individual speaking interviews with the teacher, one-on-one.
For me, listening and speaking posed the greatest concerns, as I had distinctly noticed that listening exercises here operated at a far greater pace than the ones I was used to from UoA. Additionally, prior to our speaking assessments in Auckland, we were always given a relatively clear idea of what type of questions would be asked or the specific subjects we would be interviewed on. Here, everything was fair game – with the teacher interrogating us on something from our first five units and 100 hours of class. So, it was with great trepidation that I began preparing for these exams.
Luckily, I didn’t need to worry too much, as I was very pleased with my results! I mention this for a reason, too – for me, these results were very meaningful. I am all too aware that I would not have been able to do as well as I did when I first arrived in Seoul, and so for me these results showed me just how far I have come in terms of my linguistic ability and how much progress I’ve made in this incredibly immersive environment. It’s been a very rewarding experience to see this progress first-hand, and has given me renewed motivation to continue studying and applying my language knowledge to every opportunity that presents itself to me.
Anyway, with exams behind me, I’ve turned my attention to the second half of semester and getting out and about to see more of the city and its surroundings, especially as Lunar New Year is upon us.
Over the past month and a half, I’ve had ample time to get comfortable with my immediate vicinity and thus my goal has been to explore a little further afield. While I consider myself relatively proficient with the subway system and getting around Seoul itself, I’ve been realising just how useful it is to have local connections who can share a little more about this side of the world and show me places I otherwise would never have been able to see.
I’m very lucky to have a few existing connections in the Seoul area. Thanks to them, I’ve had some of the most memorable and special experiences of the trip – and they’ve often started as the most spontaneous and unforeseen meetings. One friend hired a car and took me and one of my other friends for a three-hour tour of Seoul one night, for instance. While the subway has a strangely disconcerting effect where you pop in at one station, stay underground for a while, and then pop out in a completely different part of the city, driving along the roads showed me just how everything connects together and gave me a much better idea of the city’s layout. Every time I thought he was taking me back home, he turned out to have another destination to visit on the way, concluding with a journey up a very large hill (mountain?) along some New-Zealandesque roads, culminating with 360 degree night views of Seoul and the surrounding regions.
Yesterday, to give another example, my Korea University-assigned buddy and his friend took me north, up towards the North-South Korea border. There, we not only saw the roadblock past which you cannot travel without special clearance, but also rode the Paju Imjingak Peace Gondola (파주임진각평화곤돌라) across the frozen Imjin River to a former US military base within the DMZ. It was surreal and quite sobering to visit a place so rife with history. Although the North-South division is something that has been repeatedly discussed in my classes at university, physically seeing this area myself really hit home a lot of the things I’ve learnt about and the gravity of the area was even more apparent. The exhibition within the military base and the hopeful undertones for reunification underlying much of what we saw was also incredibly moving.
It’s experiences like these which I will remember long after this trip ends. I’ve been so lucky to have met so many people willing to show me around their city and the wider region and personally share their wealth of information and local knowledge with me!