Samuel Oh, '18, Korea Institute Undergraduate Summer Language Study Grant to Ewha (Tuition Waiver), Summer 2017

September 1, 2017
Samuel Oh, 2nd from left
Samuel Oh, Second from left

The summer I spent at Ewha’s International Summer College was perhaps one of the most memorable and personal experiences I’ve ever had. Though I grew up in a Korean household, I’ve never had a solid opportunity to connect with and explore my parent’s culture and language until attending Harvard. Taking academic Korean over the past couple of years further sparked my interests in the country, so going to Korea to further improve my language abilities seemed like the natural next option. Though I visited the country when I was eight years old, the Ewha program was the first time I visited the country as an adult. Now that I finished my five week program at the International Summer College, I can confidently say that I got much more out of the experience than initially expected.

Having taken the equivalent of two years worth of Korean at Harvard, I took pre-advanced Korean as one of my two courses allotted to me. I was initially quite nervous when I entered the classroom - thoughts such as whether my accent sounded too “American” and if I was good enough to be in this class rushed through my head. However, I was surprised to see how welcoming the classroom environment was. Though my two instructors did not use any English in class, they were incredibly patient and ensured that every student understood the ins and outs of every lesson. I soon learned about all of the nuanced grammar and vocabulary that I wasn’t aware of before coming to the country and was overwhelmed by the information overload. However, practicing with fellow international students outside of the classroom helped me grasp each concept and further immersed me in the language. Though I ended the program knowing that there was far more to the learning the language than I originally expected, I look forward to continuing my Korean education at Harvard and beyond.

Outside of learning Korean language, I was fascinated by the political history of the peninsula and took a course on North Korean international relations in East Asia. This was especially relevant given the current-day tensions in the area. The class was incredibly enlightening on this matter as our professor was someone who directly worked for the Committee on Reunification and has been to North Korea more times than he could recall. I truly got a sense of how this country was formed out of changing international pressures, the theories on how to approach the current regime, and a more international perspective on the situation outside of the U.S. point of view.

I am incredibly thankful to the Harvard Korea Institute for providing the generous funding that made this experience possible. I formed some of my fondest memories this summer and made bonds with people from across the world that I am sure will last a lifetime. Though my time in Seoul was short, I hope to further expand my knowledge of Korean language and culture regardless of what path my life takes in the future.