There’s a saying in Korean, “고생 끝에 낙이 온다”, translated literally as, “delight comes at the end of difficulty”, or “no pain, no gain”.
Before I started learning Korean I had never really seen the beauty in the struggle. As a self-proclaimed perfectionist, I get frustrated with my own mistakes easily and have a tendency to be hard on myself when I don’t master something immediately. I had gotten into the mindset that it was useless to try if you were going to fail.
Despite studying Korean for about 2 and a half years before coming to Seoul this February, I still found myself lost in everyday situations. I was confronted by words I had never learned in my textbooks and stumbled over my answers to basic questions. I quickly became discouraged, self-conscious about my pronunciation, panicked about my imperfect grammar and distressed anytime I had to order a meal or participate in my Korean language class.
Tired of being paralyzed by the fear of imperfection, I eventually came to an important resolution: I was going to speak Korean whenever I could, and I was going to get better. Soon I began practicing Korean whenever I could. I participated more in class, ordered for my friends at restaurants, and pushed myself to only use Korean with locals. However, there were moments where I failed miserably. I got poor grades on my language class assessments despite studying hard, I forgot basic words in the middle of a conversation, and I felt like all of my efforts had been for nothing. With the support and encouragement of those around me, I soldiered on and kept studying. Insecurity and the possibility of failure will always linger, but now they can’t stop me from moving forward.
While there are still moments where I find myself lost trying to follow a conversation, or struggle to tell a story to friends, I am proud of how far I have come.
I encourage all of those who are considering coming to Korea to learn as much Korean as they can while they’re here. Take the language courses at Yonsei, order your coffee in Korean, and ask local friends to help you along the way. Make mistakes. Learn. Grow. The struggle may be bitter, but it makes the reward that much sweeter.