This semester I thought I’d take advantage of having access to unlimited learning since I’m working at a university, so I decided to contact one of the teachers responsible for the compulsory course 읽기와 쓰기 (Reading and Writing) for all the freshmen at Sogang. I wrote an email to her asking if I could be permitted to audit her class. She quickly sent me a very encouraging reply welcoming me to her class. Hence, on the first day of class, I made my way to the linguistics building, found the classroom and took the back seat. I was not surprised to see one of my own students there, if anything, I was surprised to see only one. Then again, it’s a small class.

The first class was mostly orientation, so it was only from this week that the class really started. The first real lecture was about common mistakes made in written Korean, and how we should avoid these. Examples were writing in text message style such as 죠아여 instead of 좋아요 (I also strongly detest when my students do so in English) and common spelling mistakes like 엥간하다 instead of 엔간하다. Then we learned about some common idiomatic expressions like 배가 아프다, which literally means to have stomach aches but as an idiomatic expression means to be jealous of someone. Then she proceeded to review proverbs with us and started asking the students to explain some of them. I felt safe that I wouldn’t get picked since I was merely there to audit the class… oh, silly me. Just as I was deep in thought about something entirely different, the teacher called: “Sohee seonsaengnim!” (teacher Sofie) and asked me to explain the meaning of the proverb 떡 줄 사람은 생각도 안 하는데 김칫국부터 마신다 which is the Korean version of “don’t count your chickens before they are hatched” “or catch the bear before you sell his skin”. I totally knew the meaning because I read about it in my proverbs book and also learned it at my Sogang Korean classes but then and there my head just went 멍 (blank), and I hesitantly gave some incoherent explanation. I should probably learn from this and a) not daydream in class and b) come prepared. Well, room for improvement. In any case, it felt good to be back in school (yet again) and I’m learning a lot. After class, my teacher called me up to the front and gave me a stack of papers. She then told me to read this long essay, write a 2000 character paper and hand it in next week. In all fairness, this seemed like something she had planned and not related to my less than impressive performance with proverbs. She told me that it was a philosophical essay on inequality and injustice in modern society and that it was also relevant for an economist like me. Well, I love a challenge, and I’m happy that she’s really taking me to school with my written Korean (lame pun totally intended).

So far, I’ve read the essay twice and written about half of my paper. It’s challenging for sure, but I’m learning a lot. My ever expanding Korean vocabulary now also covers gems like 굴종 yield, 고안하다 devise, 타당성 validity, 부조리 irrationality, 요컨대 in summary, 섭리 providence, 아편 opium, 창조구 creator, and 정당화 justification.

Being the procrastinator I can sometimes be, I just spent 20 minutes writing this post instead of finishing my paper. So, now that I’m back in school, I guess it’s back to work.


  1. I’m not sure if I read about it here but – I was wondering about how often you run into the use of Chinese characters in your life in Korea, especially in your professional readings. From what I was reading (in preparation for actual language classes this summer), they seemed commonly used but in a more formal context?

    Thanks for including us in your educational adventures!

    Liked by 1 person

    • This actually does not happen that often – mostly when I read the newspaper at work. It’s more that there are so many specialized words in Korean originating from Chinese that even though they are written in Korean it helps to know the underlying Chinese character for understanding their meaning and remembering them. Thank you for reading along ^^

      Liked by 2 people

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