Starktalk: Learning Chinese Over the Summer for Free

I’ve used this blog (and will keep using this blog) to discuss NSLI-Y and opportunities for alumni (especially now that I am one). And recently, I have been granted an opportunity to continue my language learning journey; however, this time, it will be with Chinese! Startalk is another one of the projects under the National Security Initiative (Like NSLI-Y which literally stands for National Security Language Initiative for Youth) whose goal is to expand foreign language education for under-taught languages. Programs are set up at colleges all around the United States and are available for students K-16 (depending on the program). Startalk programs also offer a variety of languages: Urdu, Chinese, Arabic, Dari, Korean, Persian, Hindi, Russian, Portuguese, Swahili, and Turkish. The great thing is that Startalk provides programs for every single language that is also a part of NSLI-Y!


I would have loved to have been able to find a Startalk program near me offering Korean but the only available programs for me were for Arabic and Chinese. Still wanting to expand my language knowledge to one other language, I chose to study Chinese!

I will be studying at Lewis University from June 26th to July 21st, so 18 days (No classes on July 3rd & the 4th!) Though the duration of the program is not too long (in comparison to NSLI-Y), classes will be from 9 am to 2:30 pm Mondays through Thursday and 9 am to Noon on Fridays. Therefore, by the end of the program, I will have about 77.5 hours or a little less of Chinese language study under my belt. How exciting!


lewis university 2

Lewis University! It is a bit of a drive for me but worth it! (PC: Lewis University’s website)


lewis university

The Campus (PC: Lewis University’s Website)

We will also be able to participate in extracurricular activities like visiting China Town in Chicago, Tai Chi, cooking, and more. Most programs have two classes, one for beginners and one for intermediate speakers. Therefore, this would not only be a good program for alumni to immerse themselves back into their target language (or pick up another one) but also for NSLI-Y applicants. Doing a Startalk program for the language that one is applying to can showcase a true passion for the language and may make one look more competitive. There have been many cases where people were rejected the first time around, but then they got accepted after doing a Startalk program. Anyway, this program is simply a great way to learn another language over the summer!

All it takes is a quick Google search for Startalk programs in your area and all you can do is hope that the languages you are interested in are available locally. I believe that most programs are pretty competitive and require an application (mine did!), so I wish all applicants the best of luck!~

I can not wait to start learning Chinese this summer!~ If anyone reading this has any tips, suggestions, advice, or resources for me on learning Chinese, I would love to hear them! I have no idea where to start… XD 안녕 친구들! Will this goodbye soon be in Korean and Chinese? 😉

  • Emma (엠마)

What to pack for Seoul, South Korea (NSLIY // 6 week trip during the summer)

안녕 여러분!~ This blog post, as evident if you read the title, will be on the list of things I packed during my trip with NSLI-Y to Seoul, South Korea for 6 weeks during the summer. I will first be simply listing the things that I brought, and then, at the end of the post, I will write about the things I wish I had/hadn’t brought.

What I Wore on the Plane

  • Cardigan
  • Tshirt
  • Capri Jeans
  • Sneakers

Carry On

(Can be any weight but must fit in overhead compartment)

  • 7 shirts
  • 5 pairs of short
  • 2 skirts
  • A pair of walking sandals
  • A pair of dressy sandals
  • Undergarments
  • Laundry Bag
  • 2 pairs of pajamas

Checked Bag

(International Weight Limit: 50lbs)

  • 1 bottle of shampoo
  • 2 bottles of conditioner
  • Toothbrush & Toothpaste
  • Face wash
  • Deodorant
  • Bar of Soap
  • Razors
  • Feminine products
  • Sunscreen (Body & Face)
  • Bug spray
  • 2 knee braces
  • Ice pack
  • Slippers
  • Host family gifts

Personal Item (Backpack)

(No weight limit but must fit under plane seat)

– Electronics

  • Laptop (Charger and 3 Prong Adapter)
  • Phone (Charger & Adapter)
  • 3DS (Charger & Adapter)
  • Portable Phone Charger

– Other

  • Important Documents
  • Passport
  • Headphones
  • Snacks
  • Wallet
  • Journal
  • Pencils & Pencil Case


What I Wish I Didn’t Bring to Korea

  • I would say that I packed pretty lightly in comparison to some of the other students on my program (Mostly, I did not bring as many clothes and I did not bring any makeup). I remember comparing our suitcase weights at PDO and my checked bag only weighed 32 lbs while most of the other NSLIYians’ bags weighed close to 50 lbs and a few were actually overweight. But anyway, now I am going to get into what I wish I did not pack. (Disclaimer: Everyone’s experience is different! Other participants may tell you that they needed these things.)
    • Adapters – I paid sooooo much for the adapters I bought because I could not just find Asia-specific adapters and instead, had to buy a whole pack of adapters that would not all work in Korea. Also, I had ordered a special 3 prong adapter to be able to use my laptop charger without getting electrocuted; however, it did not work in Korea! It had the right shaped prongs but the shape of the actual adapter would not fit in Korean sockets. Therefore, I would recommend buying them in Korea; they are so much cheaper! Maybe just buy one or borrow some from friends at the hostel until you can go shopping on your own or with your host family. I bought a 3 prong adapter and a third two prong adapter (one of my adapters belonged to a friend of mine and so I would be giving it back to him when I returned) at the Sookmyung Women’s University (숙명여자대학교) Bookstore for around 2 dollars each.
    • Slippers – I personally believe that I should have just bought slippers in Korea. They would become a good memento and you might not even need any if your host family provides you with guest slippers (like mine did). The slippers I bought in the states were way more expensive than the ones in Korea. (And the ones in Korea were cuter too!)

What I Wish I Brought to Korea

  • I obviously survived without these things or I ended up succumbing to my comfort zone and bought them later during the program, but these definitely are not necessities – just my personal preferences. Once again, some people will have not needed these but I would have liked to have brought them with me.
    • Large-sized towel – I like being fully wrapped in a towel and because I have long hair, small towels get soaked too quickly. I did not bring any towels because I figured my host family would lend me some, and they did. However, the towels were only ever around double the size of a washcloth. Nothing that they had in the house was even close to a large-sized towel back in the states. And this was actually very common in many of the host family houses. After the first week, I went to Daiso with a few other girls to buy the largest towel we could find. I just wish I had brought one since it would have saved me a lot of time and soaked hand towels.
    • More conditioner – I have really long curly hair, so many people would probably not have a problem. In fact, bringing two bottles of conditioner might already be too much, but I needed another one. My tip would be to keep track of how much products you use in a 6-week time span before the program and buy what you need from there. (I wish I did that!)
    • Large-sized water bottle – Buying water bottles constantly can be expensive and most water bottles I saw in Korea were either not big enough or really expensive. I simply used a water bottle that was gifted to us from Better World but that was a bit too small for my liking. I wish I had brought one from the US so I could have all the water I wanted without breaking the bank.

And we have come to the end of this blog post!~ I hope this ends up being helpful to someone, that is all I really want from these posts! My finished packing list was definitely influenced by videos and other blogs on this topic.

*I can not believe that June has already arrived! The newest NSLIYians (NSLI-Y9) will be heading off to Korea at the end of this month and I could not be more excited (and jealous) for them! They seem great (from my time talking with them on the finalist call and skyping some of them) and I hope they will write blogs because I would enjoy that 🙂 (If you are a NSLI-Y finalist (and we are not already in contact) and have a blog please tell me!)

Also, Please follow my blog if you like these kinds of things! I will be posting soon!!!!~ I have a really fun and exciting announcement to share! 안녕 친구들~

  • 엠마 (Emma)

NSLI-Y Korean Culture Clubs: Cooking Club {니슬리 한국 문화 동아리들: 요리동아리}

One of the best parts of the NSLI-Y Korean Summer Program (I sure say this a lot XD) is culture clubs. Culture clubs are figured out during the in-country orientation. There are a wide variety of culture clubs to choose from: Cooking Club, Traditional Music Club, Traditional Fan Dancing, and Taekwondo. The spots in the cooking club are limited because the food costs are generally more expensive than the costs of the other clubs. During my program, we decided what culture clubs we would be in by writing down our top two picks on a small piece of paper. Our resident director counted to 3, and afterward, we all ran up and basically tackled him on the stage as we gave him all our slips of paper. Later during the evening, we were told what clubs we would be in.

Culture clubs are a great way for NSLIYians to be more hands on with the Korean Culture. By taking part in a culture’s traditional music, food, dancing, or martial art, NSLIY students are able to understand more about the Korean society besides the language. These culture clubs provide context behind the food that is eaten every day, Korea’s history, music, etc.

Now onto the main point of this blog post, Korean Cooking Club! Culture clubs are on Fridays for around 2 hours. Cooking club takes place at the Food & Culture Academy (푸드앤컬쳐 아카데미) which is a very famous tourist attraction. Also, many celebrities have been there. They have a whole wall dedicated to pictures of the head chef with K-pop idols, actors, comedians, and even the former Korean president 박근혜. At the cooking club, we usually learned a little bit about Korean food culture/manners and then the food we would be making before actually getting in the kitchen. In the kitchen, we each had our own personal set up: Portable Mini Stove (I am not sure what the official name of it would be) and all the ingredients that would be needed for each recipe. The cooking club also included a built-in language lesson as the head chef would always teach us the names of every ingredient we used (as well as the meaning behind the names of many of the meals). It was hard to pay attention to the language acquisition part of the class because of FOOD, but we all successfully learned the word for mushroom (amongst others) by the end of the program. (Mushroom seemed to be the word that everyone would forget by the start of every class. For anyone wondering, 버섯 is the Korean word for mushroom.)

Korean class had a lot of fun memories such as the time I waited, patiently, for my seafood & green onion pancake (해물파전) to cook while it looked like everyone and their mother was already plating their food. Turned out, my stove was out of fuel the entire time. We also had contests to see who could flip food the highest with the frying pan and have the most (successful) flips in a succession. There was also a lot of sassy remarks by both cooking club members and JT (our resident director).

We made a TON of food: 해물파전 (seafood & green onion pancake), 비빔밥 (mixed rice with vegetables & meat), 불고기 (grilled beef), 김치/김치전 (kimchi & kimchi pancake), and 잡채 (sweet potato noodles).

After we all got to be chefs and cook some Korean food, we always got to eat our food. The head chef’s mom would come around our table before we would start eating and pick one dish from a boy and a girl that she thought looked the best. Let us just say that I never won anything! XD Most of us would not eat lunch before coming, so the food was usually devoured in minutes! At the end of each club meeting, one member volunteered to write a reflection on the meal that was made that day. Therefore, we had a total of 5 reflections by the end of the program. (I wrote the one for the 불고기 class!)

Here are some pictures!



Seafood & Green Onion Pancake (해물파전) – mine was a little bit burnt …




At the end of the program, we were given recipes for everything that we made during the duration of the classes. We also received certificates of completion and a measuring spoon that we actually used when cooking at the academy.


And that is all I have to say regarding 요리동아리! I hope this blog post was informational and maybe encouraged some future NSLIYians to want to partake in Korean cooking club. I will be posting future blog posts about the other three culture clubs. Obviously, I did not participate in them, but I will have other alumni from my program write up posts about their experiences with the clubs. Stay tuned for those!   안녕 친구들!~

  • 엠마 (Emma)