By: Jennifer Kim
Ever since I was young, I have lived in many foreign countries. When I was 10 months old, I moved from Korea to the Netherlands and lived there for 5 years. After that, I moved to England and lived there for 4 years. When I returned to Korea, I struggled to speak Korean, as English had overtaken it as my primary language. Because of this, school was difficult and I began to attend academies in order to catch up with my peers. But no matter how hard I tried, I failed to produce good test results.
Upon hearing that I had lived abroad, many of my Korean friends said that they envy me, but initially, it was hard to see their perspective. In the Netherlands and England, I spent a long time adjusting because of the stark differences in language and culture. Though I was only 10 months old when I moved, I had already developed an understanding of Korean culture and language, so I was required to relearn everything I’d ever known, not even knowing where to start. Back in Korea, where I had become disconnected from, I envied my friends who never lived abroad, who never struggled with language and identity in an unfamiliar place, never had to return home to find that they no longer belonged.
After several years, the day came that I would graduate from middle school and decide on where to go to high school. At first, I thought of attending a general high school, but ultimately decided to attend a foreign language school because my experiences outside of the country had sparked my interest in languages, motivating me to master both Korean and English.
After submitting my self introduction, my admissions interview date was set. I began to prepare for the interview, looking up possible questions, rehearsing with my friends and family. When the interview day came, I was very nervous. While I waited for my turn outside of the interview room, I continued to study, memorizing what I’d organized in my notebook. Finally, my name was called and I walked into the room, where three teachers sat neatly in a row. I introduced myself, and she continued with the first question: “Explain in detail how you might overcome unsatisfactory grades during your first semester.” I pondered her question, and organized my answer in my head: “Since this is a place where high achieving students gather from all over the country, I don’t think it will be easy for me to get excellent grades. So even if I take the first midterm exam and get a low score, I won’t be frustrated. A low score means that there is a lot of room for improvement, and this motivates me to study and learn from my previous mistakes. I will ask a lot of questions to both my teachers and peers and aim to perform better on the next test.” After a few more questions, the interview was over. I was relieved because I felt that I had done well in the interview. It didn’t take long to get my results and fortunately, I passed the exam.
At the foreign language school, many things were different from a regular high school. There were 9 English classes and 4 Japanese classes per week. The English classes were taught by a native English-speaker, so students had to speak English because he did not understand Korean very well. There were lots of English assessments. One of the assessments required speaking in the front of the class about a given subject. Points were given by the English teacher, where he evaluated for pronunciation, fluency, content and more. In one assessment, the subject was random acts of kindness. I talked about my experience giving up my seat to an elderly woman who had been standing on the bus. Afterwards, she thanked me so much that I could not feel my legs grow tired as I stood for an hour. After my presentation, the teacher gave me a lot of points because of my accurate pronunciation and fluency. It was easier to prepare for the assessments than other students because I had lived in English speaking countries for 9 years.
For a long time, I’d felt that living in a foreign country only made my life more difficult and complicated. But at my new school, I began to look forward to English classes with my teacher and preparing for speaking assignments. As I received positive feedback from my teachers and peers, I slowly gained confidence in myself. I began to explore my interests and started to do volunteer work as a commentator at the Gyeongbokgung Palace. For the first time in my life, I finally realized how beneficial it was to have lived abroad, exposed to different cultures and languages, which have quickly evolved into my real passions.
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