It’s incredible how time works. Sometimes a year can seem like the blink of an eye, and sometimes a year can seem like an absolute eternity. Most of the time it seems like a strange combination of both–an absolute eternity that somehow zooms past before you realize it.
Most of the summer I’ve spent apart from my friends, which has caused me to be in a weird nostalgic mood for several months. I keep thinking back to what my life was like before grad school started last August, and I honestly can’t imagine going back to that life. I’ve met so many people who have become so precious to me, and I can’t imagine returning to a time where I didn’t know them.
A year ago, I didn’t know anybody who was like me. I was the lone language lover in the midst of “regular people.” I had buddies in my college Chinese classes who were interested in learning languages, but it always seemed like more of a backseat hobby for those people than an actual lifelong passion. I didn’t have anybody I was close to who understood that passion and drive to learn about how different languages (or even English) work.
I don’t mean to sound like I was lonely or depressed or felt misunderstood by the world. I was a relatively normal college student, at least as normal as an introverted nerd can be. I went to class and studied hard. I occasionally swing danced with my friends on Friday nights. My best friend and I would stand in our doorways across from each other and laugh and talk for hours. I was happy, and life was good.
When I moved to Tuscaloosa to start grad school, I don’t know what I expected. Probably my one sure bet was that I was going to like my graduate classes way more than my undergraduate classes. I’m good at math and generally like it, but I never get excited about math the way that I get excited about the nitty gritty details about how languages work and how people learn them.
Due to my nature as an introvert, I was actually petrified about having to start over with friends, especially since I was living alone. (I had met almost all of my undergrad friends through my dorm.) This is hard to believe now, since in a year I have become close with way more friends than I had in all four years of my undergraduate studies. These friends generally fall into one of two groups: TESOL friends and Korean friends.
Group 1: TESOL Friends
The Applied Linguistics/TESOL program here is fairly small, which I love — it feels like a family. My cohort (the people who entered the program with me last year and who will graduate with me next May) consists of 8 people (including me), and we take almost all of our classes together. Since we are basically going through life together for two straight years, we have become super close. We text each other to complain about assignments, share memes or funny quotes about linguistics/language learning, and occasionally get together outside of class to just eat and do life together.
These people are more than just classmates, though. These people get me. While almost none of them know anything about K-pop, and none of them are passionate about Korean, they just get it. They understand the drive to learn another language, and a couple of them are already fluent in other languages. They want to know why languages work the way they do and what the best ways are to learn and teach them. Every single one of them has been abroad, and almost every single one of them has talked about how they can’t wait to go abroad again. They get the drive to understand different cultures and to be obsessed with a language. I didn’t realize how much I needed people like that in my life — people who understand my passion and drive for other languages and my desire to move to Korea.
While I am glad I have those people in my life now, I do feel the need to address the people who were already in my life before this program. (I’m looking at you, Mom.) Like I said, I don’t think that my family or many of my closest friends will ever truly understand what drives my passions to learn about languages and to move abroad. But that’s okay — not everyone needs to understand that. I know that they still love and support me, and I’ll continue to love them and try to support their passions that are just as foreign to me as mine are to them. People are different, and loving and learning about those different people with different interests, passions, and backgrounds is part of what makes life interesting.
Group 2: Korean friends
Earlier today I was reading through my (sadly infrequent) blog posts from the last year, which made me think once again about how my life has changed so much in the past 12 months. All throughout my four undergrad years, I didn’t have any Korean friends or even acquaintences.
There is a huge Korean community in Auburn, so not meeting Korean friends was 100% my fault for not being proactive. I knew that my lack of Korean friends was entirely my fault, so I was incredibly determined to make Korean friends during graduate school. Honestly, looking back now, it was a very impersonal, surface-level goal — I didn’t really care who it was as long as I could meet a Korean friend. I don’t even think I had true confidence that I would actually make a legitimate close Korean friend. I just thought I would meet someone that I could occasionally maybe eat lunch with and speak a little Korean with. After spending so long studying in isolation and never actually interacting with the Korean language in the real world, I wanted any kind of connection to a living, breathing Korean speaker I could get.
Regardless of whatever my original expectations were, that goal and determination changed my life. I found a Korean guy at my university through the app HelloTalk, reached out to him, and through that one action ended up become friends with an entire Korean community. That Korean community has become the group of people that I hang out with the most. After only a few months of knowing them, they have become my best friends, and I’ve created memories that will last a lifetime.
My Korean friends have introduced me to lots of friends from Japan as well, as well as another American girl who is eerily similar to myself. She is like my TESOL friends in that she understands my passion for learning languages, but she understands me on a much deeper level, since her passion also involves Korea and Korean. I’ve found someone with whom I can talk about K-pop, debate the nuances of a confusing grammar point, dream about our futures in Korea, and sit down to watch (and overanalyze) Running Man — often all in one night!
Overall, my life today would be pretty much unrecognizable to the person I was one year ago. If you had told me I would be surrounded by people with similar passions and dreams as mine, and that my introverted, homebody personality would be out studying or playing pool or foosball every night with friends, or that I would spend many summer nights out by the pool, grilling steak and 삼겹살 with a huge group of Koreans, some Japanese acquaintances, and even sometimes another American or two — I honestly wouldn’t have believed it to be possible.
School will start up again next week, and several of my friends will be returning from Korea, so hopefully within the next couple of weeks life will feel “normal” again. I can’t wait to see them again and to discover what exciting changes are in store for me during my next (and final) year of grad school!
For those of you who made it all the way through this long, nostalgic post — congratulations! I was glancing back at some old blog posts and thought it would be fun to write a quick post about how I’ve changed over the past year, but I didn’t know then it was going to turn into this lengthy (or sentimental) of a reflection. Stay tuned for updates about my TOPIK preparation — only 65 more days!