Jessey, from Knoxville, Tennessee, is an alumna of the 2020 Korean Virtual Summer Intensive program and the 2023 Alumni Travel Program. She is now a student at the University of Pennsylvania.
My experience participating in NSLI-Y was one I never expected to have. I started my journey online but recently got to experience learning in Korea by participating in the Alumni Travel Program. During both very different but equally important times, I was able to learn so much about the world, a new culture, and especially myself.
When the pandemic first began in 2020 and NSLI-Y notified applicants that there would only be a virtual program offered for the summer, I was still excited to learn a new language but disappointed that I would not get to experience cultural immersion first hand. I had so much fun learning Korean over Zoom and getting to meet other people excited about discovering a new culture, but I thought that my NSLI-Y experience would end there as I was entering into my first year of college.
However, last year in 2022 I was notified that Alumni Travel Programs were opening up and I decided to apply in hopes of finally getting to experience the culture of the language I had been learning. I was accepted and traveled to Korea just this past January in 2023. It was such an amazing time to meet other people who had been so excited to learn and share the culture while being in the country itself. I learned so much during my time there and having to speak Korean on my own significantly improved my skills and confidence.
Other than making friends with the other people in my cohort, my favorite experience in Korea were staying with a host family and experiencing the Temple Stay program. By having a host family and going to class every day on my own, I was encouraged to speak Korean more and was able to feel like I was truly living daily life in Seoul. It was exciting to have a host sister and brother too because I don't have any younger siblings. Staying with them and being welcomed into the family inspired me to continue learning Korean more because of my desire to achieve even greater communication with the people I meet. The temple stay was also such a unique experience to eat the food prepared by Jeong Kwan, a buddhist nun who was on Chef's Table, and waking up to do the morning chants with the monks. On a morning walk, I was reminded to enjoy the simple aspects of daily life and to think intentionally. I loved being able to feel like part of different people's daily lives, and it made me more cognizant of how I carried myself through every day.
Combining the foundation I received learning Korean virtually with the in person experience I was lucky to have in Korea, I will forever cherish my NSLI-Y experience for igniting my Korean and then fostering it further. I have gained so much in being able to communicate with more people and see the world in a different perspective, and I hope so many other people can be encouraged to take that first leap of faith–whether it's over Zoom or not. :)