New Passions in a Big World

My “why Korean” story has never been the most straightforward narrative nor were my goals very specific when I first watched a YouTube video teaching me the basics Hangeul. I grew up listening to K-pop with my brother and would secretly watch Korean dramas in the back of my seventh grade classes when I was done with my assignments early. In high school I wrote research papers on East Asian economies and the Korean demographic situation, but I always made excuses for why I couldn’t pursue the Korean language and Korea and East Asian area studies seriously. 

It was too difficult to learn Korean, I would tell myself (even as I was learning Russian). I should focus on just one thing (even though studying the Russian-speaking world is filled with a breadth of diversity and it was too early in my academic career to even trick myself into thinking it was time to specialize). 

Nevertheless Korean was relegated to waiting in the wings, but it was always latently present. 

It wasn’t until a Russian professor my freshman year at Pitt encouraged me to learn a little bit of Korean so that we could practice together that I started considering even casual study. Then the pandemic hit and I was suddenly faced with a plethora of free time to think about life, my future, career, and what to fill my quarantine days with. 

The answer — start learning Korean. 

And so I started learning Korean in the summer of 2020 with very little idea of where it could take me. 

My Korean study ended up taking me to a fascinating convergence of Russian language, criminal justice, and Asian studies academic disciplines. An entirely new idea of what I could do with my new skills in my future career emerged as my Korean vocabulary grew and grew. 

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Now, as I am here in Seoul, South Korea I can see even more tangibly where my Korean language studies and time in Korea can take me. Academically, my goals are to further explore how Korean-speaking and Russian-speaking populations have interacted throughout history and how they continue to interact in today’s complicated and nuanced world. Professionally, I’d like to work on my Korean language skills towards the goal of one day being able to use Korean in a professional environment. That day is far away, but being in Korea continues to inspire me to keep up with my studies and improve steadily each day. Finally, my goals for personal development here in Korea is to push myself out of my comfort zone in building relationships and living in an environment so different from what I have ever experienced. I showed up to Korea knowing not a single person and feeling so much anxiety over simple tasks such as ordering a coffee. Even in a short amount of time I have gotten better at being brave, being patient, and being creative with ways that I can build bridges between people. 

I can only imagine where I will be in four months’ time. 

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