When You Fall in Love with a Language

“Do you plan to live in Korea?” It’s a question that I am asked by others and one that I often ask myself. If you asked me this question three years ago when I started studying Korean, I would most likely give you a confident, “yep, that’s the plan!” However, I’ve been reflecting on this question a lot lately, and, at least at this point in my life, I do not see myself living in Korea.

A friend once told me he believes love in the beginning of a relationship is different from when you’re old and wrinkled. Love evolves. It grows from infatuation to a wiser, more mature, steadfast love. Of course, every now and then you remember how it was in the beginning and reflect on the bliss that once consumed you. That’s basically how I would illustrate my relationship with Korean language and culture.

In the beginning, it was infatuation. I fell hard for Korean language and culture. In Fall 2012 I got into the Korean Language Flagship Center (KLFC), arguably the best program in the USA outside of the military to study Korean language and reach professional proficiency. I spent that same summer in Seoul, taking intensive language courses at Yonsei University on a scholarship. I came back to the US after that summer and it seemed like the hit single Gangnam Style followed me home. Korean culture was seemingly everywhere. Some of my closest friends were Korean American too. We watched Korean dramas, we listened to Korean music, and we spent our summers in Korea together. All the while, I was on my way to becoming a professional speaker of the language.

Year after year, I went back to Korea on scholarships during the summer to take language courses and immerse myself further into the culture. I had a lot of Korean friends, I knew the city pretty well, and, of course, I was able to communicate with ease in most daily situations. Ask me last summer if I planned to live in Korea and my answer probably still would have been “Yes!”

So, when did my mind change? What was the deciding factor? I can’t put my finger on a morning where I woke up and my mind had changed, but I think it’s safe to say that my love has evolved. I still love the language and culture, but I’ve sobered up a bit from the Keoni that came to Korea for the first time in 2012. When I think about Korea and my future, I think of the big picture. It’s a bit surreal to say this, but Korea isn’t the whole picture for me anymore.

I want to do an internship in Washington D.C next Fall, graduate with my BA in Korean Flagship and Communications, then continue working toward getting my MA degree in the U.S. Can I see myself settling into a career in Korea when I’m done with my MA degree? Perhaps, but I’m not planning my future around it. This pursuit of Korean language proficiency is a part of my life that I wouldn’t want to trade for the world. I learned so much while being mentored and pushed by some of the best Korean professors in the US. I learned how to study language efficiently thanks to the amazing Korean linguists I befriended along the way. Almost every summer for the past few years I lived on my own in Seoul and made international friendships that I treasure so much.

I realize that I have only a semester left, but I feel no bitterness. For now, I’ve experienced enough to satisfy my curiosities about the country, and when the moment comes, I believe I can let go and say, “It’s been great, Korea.” My time here has given me so many opportunities to learn more about myself, to grow as a person, and to make unforgettable memories with amazing people. While I’ve developed as a person, I’ve outgrown the infatuation I once had. The infatuation now develops into a steadfast love that I will always have for Korean language, culture, and people. Cheers to wherever life takes me.