Speaking a second language has become the most basic skill in Korea. Of course at the front line there is ‘English’. I was studying it like everyone else did. However, during while studying one day, I threw out a simple question: ‘Why am I learning English’. That question made me think differently and led me to the most adventurous journey in my young life. As a result, I’m now living in the United Kingdom.
1. I want to learn REAL English
“Why are you studying English?” I asked this short question to my friends who are studying English. Over 90% of them answer that studying English helps them improve their English test scores, the highest possible of which they need they apply for a job. However, I personally hate the way that students learn English in Korea. We always focus on proving how fast we can cope with the test in a short, limited time. We have to memorize everything, like a mathematical formula, and we barely know fundamentals of English grammar or words. The worst part is that we can’t speak English in front of English speakers. Therefore, to me, who thinks language must be useful to communicate with somebody, learning English in Korea is kind of a waste of time. So, at that time, I thought if I have to learn English and have to take a test, then I want to go to another country, which is using English as their first language. Besides, when surrounded by native speakers I must use English and then I’ll improve. In other words, I made a decision to study English abroad in an English-speaking environment.
Even though I was determined to go abroad to study, I didn’t know where I should go, nor how much it would cost. Moreover, I wasn’t sure that I could learn English perfectly if I went there. Everything was yet to be known. My life would improve I became a stronger person. And as you know, trying wouldn’t do any harm. So, I fixed my mind to be a firm person. After this, I could overcome most problems. Meanwhile, I had to deal with a huge and hard issue, convincing my parents to allow me to go abroad. Honestly, to get permission from my parents to go abroad to study was almost impossible. Although, if I had a reasonable grounds and gave them an analyzed report, they might say yes. So, first of all, I collected considerable information about studying abroad through an agency, searching the internet, and from my friends who had already studied abroad. Secondly, based on the data I gathered, I presented my case to my parents: my present state of lack of motivation studying English in a non-English-speaking environment, the advantages and disadvantages of going to a foreign country versus staying in Korea, and my post- study abroad experience plan for the future. Additionally, I chose to go to the UK and found out how much the approximate cost would be. Unfortunately, initially, my parents worried about sending me alone to another country on the other side of the world. They also had to consider the enormous amount of money it would cost to send me. I showed them my will was as strong as iron. Finally, they said yes.
2. How I learn and study English
When everything was arranged and ready, I flew to the UK in early February, 2018 and I started to learn English at a private institute in Oxford. Each institute is different. Mine has three classes a day, each less is 90 minutes long. Usually, I learn grammar in my first class, useful vocabulary in my second class, and for the third class I could choose different options. Up till now, I have taken a discussion class and a test-preparation class.
Since I arrived here, I’ve found some very important but obvious things. My English skills and abilities will never be improved if I don’t study more or review what I learned. In fact, studying at school is just a guide. It’ll lead me to the proper way of speaking English. The most crucial part is, that I must follow it and not stay still where I was.
For this reason, I made my own study curriculum. In the first three months, I focused on speaking and listening. I thought those two areas were very essential in order to have conversations with native speakers, and would be helpful in everyday life, getting around Oxford. The next three months I’m concentrating on writing and reading because I want to raise the bar of my English level. Lastly, in the final months here, I’ll prepare for UK English exam and apply it.
In my opinion, I’ve done quite well at carrying out this simple plan. In the speaking part, making new, great friends was very helpful to improve myself. As I mentioned, to me, communication is the first priority and the most significant aspect of this experience. So, I just spoke in English every single day with my friends, who came from different countries like Japan, Taiwan and Brazil.
Of course in the beginning I wasn’t good at all. Actually, I kept stammering and sometimes I just gave up speaking because I was ashamed of myself; I couldn’t talk well. But I realized that I’m here in the UK, so I have to try everything that I could. After I changed my attitude, I always tried speaking with correct grammar and a variety of words. Besides, I have a friend who corrects me when I use the wrong grammar or my pronunciation is off. Thanks to her, I was able to make huge progress in a short period.
Also, obviously I have to listen to what is said during conversations. Even better, my friends and I have come from different countries. If I want to fully understand what my friends are saying, I need to increase my listening comprehension level. By interacting with my new foreign friends, I improved my listening skills. It’s simply catching two birds with one stone. Additionally, I started to write essays and also started going to the library to borrow books to raise my reading level a few weeks ago. I think practice is the only way to improve reading and writing, so I’m doing my best.
3. Good and bad always coexist
Among the great many pleasures in the UK, relaxation is the best one. I used to do something really fast because I was always extremely rushed and busy. I had to finish something quickly and get onto the next thing. Now, in this easy-going life, I can see how much I’ve had lush life without relax and have lived under pressure. Although now I’m totally fine with this peaceful life, at first I felt weird, it was really strange to me because I felt I had to do something all the time. But we often say that the human is the animal which can adapt to a new environment. Especially, when I lay down on the grass at the beautiful park, hearing birds and looking up at the clear blue sky, I feel like I’m in heaven. All public establishments like museums or galleries are free to enter, too. We can see famous art works and historical artifacts as often as we want.
On the other hand, I found several disadvantages with this kind of life. The weather is not as good as in Korea. Sometimes the grey sky, without any sunshine, lasts more than a week. Moreover, in winter I withstood the cold with one radiator, which easily made the air dry. Also, in summer there was no air conditioner.
Additionally, the UK is popular for tasteless or bland food. Actually, it’s half true and half false. This country has lots of food that comes from foreign countries like pizza, burgers, and even sushi. So you can eat depending on your preference. To me, normal foods are better than I expected. For instance, fish and chips in Brighton were really delicious.
The next drawback is the expensive cost of food. Most things have a high price, but not all things are pricey. Generally, something that involves human labour is expensive. The next demerit, is the racism in the UK. Frankly, living in the UK as an Asian woman isn’t easy. I was called ‘Hey, pretty’ in a coach, a bus, on a side trip. Many people whom I don’t know have said to me ‘Nihaoma,’assuming I was Chinese.
The most shocking case was when somebody threw something at me while I was walking on the street at high noon. I have high pride so, when I was got racism I was very angry and wanted to pay back. But revenge to those kinds of people can be dangerous. Therefore, instead of paying back, I had second thought that the racists are the one who couldn’t be educated well because of this I should feel pity for them. After I thought like this I can ignore them even better like the phrase that we have ‘The ground will become harder after rain.’ I became stronger person than before.
Finally, the most unbearable disadvantage is homesickness. Before I came to the UK, I met a teacher who came from the USA. She told me I would be homesick even if I didn’t want to be. Actually, at that time, I didn’t understand why she warned me so seriously. But now I understand, because since I’ve come here I have experienced homesickness once. It pulls you down really far. At that moment I watched films, cried all day long, phoned with my friends in Korea, ate ramen, looked at familiar photos, listened to K-pop, and more. I did what I wanted to do just like my teacher had advised me. After one crazy day, like a magic, I overcame my homesick feelings.
As you can see, living abroad is not all fun and games. There are many challenges I faced, more disadvantages than advantages. I discovered good solutions and virtues hidden within the negative experiences. The most important thing I have learned so far, is to have a positive attitude, which can quickly and easily turn a disadvantage into an advantage.
In Korea, I felt under pressure and was constantly worried about how I could improve my English. But living in the UK almost five months now, has taught me that English is just a way to communicate with other people. I don’t have to be perfect to communicate. So I am now studying English for practical reasons, not for a test. Furthermore, through hardship and suffering, I gained many valuable lessons. I have become more open-minded and able to handle myself better under difficult situations, such as being called racist names. My mind is much stronger than when I first arrived in the UK. I would not hesitate to tell any CBNU students or young Korean adults who were considering studying abroad, ‘just go and face it’. You will not regret the life lessons you will learn living and studying abroad.