the first week of school at GGU

On the first Monday of the school semester, while the Korean students are starting lessons, the Korean language students are starting the day late with an orientation at 11am.

We gathered at a classroom on the third floor where Ra SeonSaengNim and Kelly SeonSaengNim were waiting for us. But it turns out there wasn’t much of an orientation like when I was a freshman in a Singaporean university. It was over in barely an hour. They introduced themselves, we wrote down our contact numbers, and then Kelly SeonSaengNim took us on a brief walk from the Main Building (where we were) to the Library. And that was it. We were free to go for lunch at the cafeteria.

For a proper orientation of the school facilities, get a friendly senior student to guide you. They will teach you the intricacies of using the noraebang (500 won per 5 minutes) and one of the laundry machine costs just a third of the usual price. ;)

On Tuesday, we had our placement tests at 9am, which consists of two papers, comprehension and writing. We were split into two groups, intermediate and beginner tests. I took the beginner test and it was similar in standard with the beginner TOPIK papers. You can exempt yourself if you know you can’t read or write hangeul and want to be in beginner class.

We started our official lessons on Wednesday. The beginner class learnt the hangeul alphabets and pronunciation. Intermediate went straight into the Seoul University 3A textbook Chapter 1. But since the five students from previous semester beginner class used Sogang University textbooks, they wanted to continue with that. The teachers did argue that Seoul University texts are more updated with more vocabulary, and is the new standard for Korean language learning, but the five students have already bought some Sogang books so they insisted on it. Intermediate classes were taught in Korean, with a sprinkle of English for the difficult vocabulary and grammar meanings.

Anyhoos, lessons began proper. You would hear laughter from the beginner class, but almost never hear anything from the advanced class. My intermediate class is held between the other two classes and the amount of noise we make is also somewhere in between.

I heard from the previous semester students that they studied Sogang 1A to 3A in beginner class last semester. But looking at the current situation, it seems they would only be studying up till 2A at most. That’s because last semester only had 5 students, so the learning pace within the class is much faster. Everyone gets to make sentences and participate in a shorter amount of time.

Ra SeonSaengNim teaches all 4 lessons a week and she’s pretty up to date with festivals and kdramas and kpop. She also tries to make lessons fun by teaching stuff out of the textbook. I won’t say what in case she gets into trouble, but she’s more a friend/mother than a teacher most of the time.

For intermediate class, Park SeonSaengNim takes the Tues-Wed classes. She’s into kdramas and is pretty interactive when teaching. Kim SeonSaengNim who teaches the Thurs-Fri classes is older and more traditional, but is also more knowledgeable in TOPIK tests. She gives us one presentation or a dialogue with a partner to act out each week, and a written assignment every other week. They teach alternate chapters from the textbooks.

I haven’t heard much from the advanced class but the presentations they do are more business/university level, while the intermediate ones are more elementary/middle school level.

One problem that some students face is being at a standard between two classes, usually beginner and intermediate. You will either be too stressed or find things too easy; either ways, not learning optimally. So if you can, prepare yourself such that you’ll be at a more appropriate level. Beginners need no prior Korean knowledge; intermediate should be able to ace TOPIK I (aka TOPIK level 2–3) (look for their past papers and try if you do not want to take it); and advanced students should be at TOPIK level 4–5.

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