First Day of Korean High School {10/01/18} NSLI-Y Korea AY


Having butterflies in my stomach the night before my first day of Korean high school would be a full-on understatement. I tried going to bed early {by like 11 pm} but I was so nervous and excited that I kept tossing and turning. I woke up around 5 am and then again at 5:30 and one last time when my alarm woke me up at 6 am.

I didn’t feel any tiredness at that time in the morning because I was trying to comprehend the myriad of emotions I was feeling: fear, nervousness, worry, excite, hopefulness, etc. I was experiencing a whole slew of emotions.

I got changed into my uniform, packed my backpack, and fixed up my room in about 30 minutes.

My host mom usually wakes up at around 7:30 to start preparing breakfast for her children but she got up around 6:15 just to give me breakfast. I felt so bad that she would now be losing sleep because of me… though I was very grateful that she was so kind to do that for me. I could so easily pick up something from the 편의점 (convenience store) or even just get myself rice and 반찬 (side dishes) in the morning. Breakfast was very rushed so I didn’t speak to my host mom except for the conversation about my uniform. She said it was very pretty and then asked if it was uncomfortable or if I would be cold.

first day 2

On the Bus~ ❤ With Katie

When I climbed up the steps toward the exits of the subway station, I almost screamed and cried at the same time when I saw Katie. I ran and hugged her and we both started rambling on about how nervous we were as we went outside to find the bus station. We successfully made it to school almost 30 minutes early. We spent that time awkwardly standing on the third floor in front of the teachers’ lounge {if you will} waiting for our coordinating teacher. When we saw students approaching our direction, we freaked out and tried to hide.

first day 6

View from our Bus Stop!

Eventually, it was 7:50 and 하나고 민정쌤 was no were to be found. This really nice teacher showed Katie and me to the vice principal’s office where we then quietly, anxiously waited. But then, that same teacher came to find Katie and took her to her homeroom— leaving me by myself. I began freaking out {as any rational person would} and as the time approached 8 am I thought that I was going to be late for my first day of school!

first day 3

The room I awkwardly sat in while waiting for some teacher to save me!

At 7:59 my prayers were answered, 민정쌤 showed up to take me to my homeroom class. As we walked there, many students were staring at me while the others waved and said “hi!” I couldn’t stop smiling but I was also super embarrassed.

When I got into the classroom, everyone’s head immediately turned to look at me. There was a school news video playing and so I quickly said hello in Korean {to which they all clapped and shouted} and then 민정쌤 pointed to where I should sit. The news thing was impossible to understand. I know it was about the negative results of using your smartphone too much— that’s all I got. After the news finished, I got to go up in front of the class and introduce myself. It was pretty embarrassing and exactly like all those movies you see. I quickly said a greeting that introduced my name, where I’m from and the fact that I can’t speak Korean well {yet}. Then, one of the girls in the class came over to me and handed me this large paper with notes that all my classmates wrote! I couldn’t believe that they all gave me such a cute, meaningful gift! At that moment, I wanted to cry! I was so thankful~

first day 7

Once homeroom was over, the teacher asked if anyone could take me to my next class. No one, at first raised their hands. Until finally a girl named 지현 offered to take me to my class. I walked with her to the class and talked to her for a bit. While we were walking in the hallway and everyone was staring and saying hi to me, we couldn’t help but laugh together at how awkward it was. I turned to her and said “창피한 것 같아요.” And she was like oh, you are so good at Korean and I was like nooo I wish. Not yet at least.

My first class of the day was 영미문학 or British & American Literature. I was excited for this class because at least I would be able to understand the class material. I walked into the class and everyone turned to me and said hi. I asked this one girl where I should sit and she told me they don’t have seating charts so I could sit anywhere. This didn’t help my situation because I didn’t want to sit in someone’s usual seat or in a seat someone was saving for a friend. So I waited until I met my teacher: Andrew. He motioned for me to sit in this certain seat and then we talked for a bit. I learned that he was from Illinois too (but from a small town more in the south) and I was really glad to have met a teacher as nice as him. {Especially for my first class~ It made me feel more reassured.}

The class itself was very fun! Mostly because everyone spoke in English and so I could understand the jokes said in class. For this day, instead of a lecture type class by Andrew, we had presentations which were hilarious! I’ve never seen students put that much effort into a project before, honestly.

The first presentation was by this group that had us play an interactive game to illustrate the time period leading up to the French Revolution. There were three groups: the religious leaders or clergy, the aristocrats, and then the peasants. We were all given a certain amount of money and things we could do to get money. For the first two estates, that included collecting money from the peasants so no matter how hard the peasants tried to get money, they would have a majority of it taken away from them by the other two estates. And eventually, in real life, that led to a revolt— the French Revolution.

The next group presented about the psychology behind the French Revolution specifically on deindividualization. It was really interesting and I enjoyed having my own knowledge of psych become applicable. Also during these presentations, I realized how FIRE these kid’s English skills are. Their ability to converse and their vocab knowledge is amazing. Like they are reading The tale of two cities! That’s such an advanced book! I haven’t even read it! {Well, I could have in AP Lit but we focused on other books.}

The third presentation was done in the format of a news broadcast. The group prepared a news intro and they even had an actual microphone for the field reporter! It was very cool. Their program was called Enlightenment Now. They passed out slips of paper to students and had them answer questions as if they were characters in the story. Their answers were really in character and funny. My favorite was a female student 지원 who played the wife of a really important character. She was asked about women’s role in the Revolution and she said something along the lines of, “We women can get just a high of a body count as these men. We want blood!” Ahhh I haven’t laughed that much in a long time. I have missed English class~ I was reminded of the great times I had with my friends in AP Lit.

The last presentation of the day was quite meaningful to me. The project was about fear and how that played a role in the book. However, in the end, the speaker got really “motivational speaker about it” and was like Fear is inherent in our soul but with our own willpower, we can overcome it. And honestly, I immediately thought of my time in Korea thus far and how I have been scared of so many things but pushing myself is the only way for me to grow and prosper here so I continue to do that. Also, their group constructed a guillotine made out of poster boards and named it Gillette {Razor Brand} which was the best thing ever— definitely. They also had a demonstration of cutting the king’s head off with the guillotine which was hilarious. 10/10 would see again!

first day 4

The rest of the class was spent discussing the projects and tying them into the book, and I was so amazed! Their English is amazing. I know all these students are such hard workers and test takers but learning a second language is so difficult and I commend them for acing it. Hopefully, I can one day get to that level with my Korean? Well, we will see.

My next class was AP Stats and I didn’t ask any of my classmates were it was cause I was a nervous mess so I waited till I got lost in the hallways before asking these girls coming back from PE. I asked in Korean but they answered in English but were really unsure of where the location was. I followed their directions and got lost again but luckily I found a teacher and she showed me where the room was. I found out that this one guy from my Literature class was also in my Statistics so he waved at me when I first came in. I found the only 4 girls in the class and asked one of them where I should sit and she was the sweetest thing! She said I could sit next to her and her friend and I was so happy. She talked to me for a bit asking me some questions and showed me that the textbook was in English {Thank the 하나고 Gods for that!}

When the teacher came into the class, the girl I was talking to told him that we had a new friend and he looked over to me. He made me come up to the front of the class and introduce myself— with a microphone! I quickly did an introduction and proceeded to sit down. As soon as I did, my teacher told me that the students were really curious about me and that I should come to the front and answer questions. So… that brought me back to the front of the class, holding a microphone, answering questions. Questions like, What is your favorite Korean food, sport, what are your hobbies, where do you live, are you going to college after this, do you have a boyfriend and more. I literally stood up there for 20 minutes answering questions like those.

The rest of the class was spent going through a section in their textbook about hypothesis tests {which is actually my favorite lesson of AP Stats; though, I don’t remember much!} Because the textbook was in English, I was able to follow along even though the teacher made no sense to me. 

During our 10 minute break between the two AP Stats periods, my new friend took me out in the hallway to meet her friends. They had been in music class, so we just chilled and talked for a bit— using no English whatsoever. I definitely missed some things but I understood a joke here or there and answered most of their questions. I was just really grateful that she didn’t let me sit in the classroom by myself in a state of isolation and boredom.

Once Statistics was over, it was time to eat lunch. Katie and I, stupidly, didn’t plan a place to meet so I just walked around the hallway till I ran into the teacher from this morning. She told me that it was time to eat lunch and that I should go to the cafeteria. She started walking me there until another teacher passed us and told me that Katie was waiting for me in the cafeteria. I thanked him and the other teacher and scurried over to the cafeteria. Katie was waiting by the entrance and I ran to hug her so fast that I almost knocked her over. I was so happy to see her. We stood by the entrance like complete fools as we noticed everyone had their eyes on us {No one was trying to hide their stares for real!}

I noticed that no one was wearing their backpack and I was like this is an issue where do we put our stuff??? I just took all the courage I had in me to ask this random girl and she told us to put them on these shelves by the wall; we hadn’t even noticed them. And I know, you needed courage to ask a simple question such as that? Yes, yes I did. I am quite anxious in unfamiliar, new situations. 

When Katie and I were going through the lunch line, we watched the girls in front of us like hawks making sure to follow their exact moves.

Once we got our trays full of food, we stood in front of all the seating freaking out, wondering where to sit. It felt like high school all over again… because it was, except I didn’t know anyone and couldn’t speak Korean asdfghjkl

Finally, these third years looked at us and motioned us to come over and sit with them. We were relieved. We set our trays down on the table and talked to them for a little bit. They were like “How old are you guys? We are 19, so old.” Katie and I looked at each other and giggled. Katie replied with “We are 20.” They left shortly after that cause they were done eating while we sat by ourselves for a bit.

We left lunch not knowing how much time was actually left during lunch period {still not sure about that… we won’t have a full day— without leaving school early till Friday because Wednesday is a holiday} We checked in with our coordinating teacher 민정쌤 and showcased our excitement rather than our exhaustion and worries.

first day 5

Katie and I took the bus back to the station and then rode the subway back to 홍대 for our Korean Classes. We were able to make it on time! Today’s Korean class was actually really good!! I had less random words written in my notebook that I didn’t know and I talked to my teacher a lot about how my first day was— I was surprised to see how much I could articulate in Korean. After class, Katie and I tried to find this famous Japanese cheesecake place she went to last summer but it seems {just like a lot of things in 서울} it got up and disappeared. Her friend also tried giving us directions and made us leave the station from exit 5 and let me tell you, I have never exited from there… we had no idea where we were. We decided to head back through the subway station, waste 70 cents, and try our luck at a random cafe. But even though things didn’t seem to be working out, right near our usual subway exit, I saw a sign for a cheesecake cafe! The odds were in our favor!

I ordered one {expensive} mixed berry cheesecake slice for $8.80 for my host dad. {Did I mention this was a birthday present for him? I asked my host mom what his favorite dessert was and he apparently told her this.} The cafe was adorable though, very aesthetically pleasing. You could take many cute pictures in there! They even had a fake roller coaster inside. Katie and I promised to come back and study and share a slice of cheesecake there

When I got back home, I came into my room and literally sprawled out on the floor. I was so exhausted from a day of school and Korean classes. It was my host dad’s birthday so we ate really well. All throughout dinner, we talked about our days and I was able to share all about my first day of Korean school. Everyone was really excited to hear what I had to share. After dinner, I stayed at the kitchen table talking with my host mom and sisters for almost two hours. We also took out a cake from Tours Les Jours and sang to my host dad. {So much singing and cake lately!}

first day 8

My host sister also did my hair up into two pigtails and tied a bow around my head. I literally looked ridiculous. That “cute look” is obviously not for me…

first day 9

The rest of the night was spent studying as usual. {I’ll be saying that sentence a lot I assume} Even though I have now started school, I must keep up with the studying grind!

Thanks for reading!

  • Emma 엠마


2 thoughts on “First Day of Korean High School {10/01/18} NSLI-Y Korea AY

  1. deborah says:

    I am so glad I found this, My name is Debz I am currently writing a script and my main character is moved to korea and now i am trying do so much research on korean schools and everything, I hope you dont mind me reading your experiences for research purposes as well haha.
    I love your blog, I am currently learning korean at home, I had a friend though who stayed in korea for two years. now I wish i went in my younger days too haha.


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