Back to School: The First Weeks

By: Jenny O'Grady
Oct 5, 2017

(Person with backpack takes a selfie)
Required first day of school selfie.

We attend school for different reasons — or, more likely, a combination of reasons. When we go “back to school” later, those reasons often multiply or change.

This fall, I did the latter. After years of considering it, I finally decided to sign up as a non-degree-seeking student at UMBC. My goal: to take Introduction to Korean. My reasons: Many. (More on that later.)

Now, a few weeks into it, I am proud of what I’ve learned. Here’s the gist so far:

  • I have learned an entirely new alphabet, with new shapes and sounds unlike my own. (There are multiple marks for the “kuh” sound! I love it!)
  • I have readjusted my expectations for how much work I’ll need to do to keep up. (News alert: it’s waaaay more than I thought.)
  • I have gained a huge respect for my fellow classmates. (UMBC students are smart, kind, and friendly…who’da thunk?)
  • I have an entirely new-found respect for working students. (Honestly, how do you do it? No, really.)

My first weeks in class were devoted to learning Hangul, an objectively beautiful alphabet. Not since my original stint in college have I forced myself to memorize new sounds and concepts in such a way…and this was just the beginning! Thankfully, my teacher is funny, kind, and perceptive. As I mentioned in my Letter From the Editor in the fall issue, she told us from the start this wouldn’t be easy, but that we would all learn from the mistakes we made along the way. How can you not love that?

Early Hangul homework, plus a few simple vocab words.

With the alphabet firmly in my brain, I am now able to pronounce words by sight, and even use a dictionary. And we’re moving into learning simple conversation. Which brings me to that original question of WHY we go back to school in the first place.

I have always been wild about school. Growing up on a remote farm, I craved the community of my classroom. In college, and later grad school, I loved meeting people from different parts of the world, with different ideas from mine, and honing the skills that would help me land my first job at a community newspaper.

Today, I go to school to find those same wonderful things — but there’s one much more personal reason. I go because my sons are Korean-born, and I want to help them learn the beginnings of the language. When we go visit Seoul together, I want to be able to find my way around the city a bit, and use the dictionary properly, and be able to say more than a simple “hello” and “thank you.” (Though, those get you pretty darned far.)

To be able to do that here, at UMBC, a place I love so dearly, is simply priceless. Stay tuned as a wander through the rest of the semester…

— Jenny O’Grady
Editor, UMBC Magazine

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