As I sat there, the red-headed beacon in the sea of monochrome hair that was the TOPIK ( Test of proficiency in Korean)exam hall, I asked myself if it was all really worth it. The weeks of stress, the nights of Korean vocabulary filled dreams, the nightmares of not having filled the self-imposed daily study quota, was I sure I wanted to be part of this?
In my four years living here, nobody has ever stopped me up on the street and asked me what my TOPIK level is. In fact, most people I know don’t even know what TOPIK is. If I burst out a simple Korean phrase in my everyday life, sometimes as simple as hello, Koreans fall over themselves telling me how amazing I am. Great. Fantastic,so smart! What was that grammar point for disputing a statement? Oh ya,(ㄹ)…하기는요. I remember because it’s the only one I get to use on a regular basis. So why do it? Work,study at work, home, dinner, study, bed as a routine for months and months makes me question myself. During those months, I wake up in the middle of the night to check a certain word, is it 행동하다 or 동행하다 and if the one I didn’t need is actually a real word what does it mean? This is how it goes for months.I revise and practice previous questions with my teacher where I learn the most useless vocabulary. Why does anyone need to know the Korean word for the soon to be married couple?Why? Why I ask you? Can I slip this into everyday conversation? I think not.
As I look around, I’m desperate to see someone who looks like they might be in the same boat as me. But in that room of 40 hopefuls, there are no other native English speakers. In fact, every other person in the room is from Asia, the realisation of which causes an appearance of the awkward turtle.Sitting away in the corner, Paddy Irishman. As soon as I arrived at the centre, the whole thing took a turn for the worst. I sat alone in my car doing some last-minute revision when a coach load of candidates pulls up and they all enter, not a book or notebook in sight, looking as if they were doing the test for the good of their health. Maybe they were. Maybe that’s why some people do the TOPIK. My friends, who are Ph.d students in a university in Seoul, do the exams because they have to. They must pass a certain level in order to receive their degrees. They take classes in Korean and receive very generous scholarships so that’s a pretty great motivation to get their TOPIK. For me though, honestly, it’s so I have something to aim for. I won’t study properly if I’m not working my way toward a goal. For all the stress and randomness, TOPIK is that goal so that’s ultimately why I sit the test. Well, that and the whole thing will give me something to talk about with my friends.
Sitting there wondering if I look Korean enough to blend in, I can’t help but laugh as my thoughts roam to the person who’s going to be unfortunate enough to be correcting my test. I can read Korean as fast as a 4-year-old can so by the time I’ve read and answered questions 31-45, I have about 20 minutes to questions 45-60. So it’s a case of looking for some words whose meaning I don’t know, looking at the answer, finding a few of the same words and guessing the answer. When did I think it was a good idea to sit this level and is there a limit on the amount of times you can sit this test? This is pretty much how I look during the exam…….
On the bright side, there are some super interesting characters in this room. The people who don’t understand what “don’t open the test paper yet” means, the yawners, the gum chewers, the clickers and the guy behind you who keeps passing gas, it all adds up to the silver lining.
So that’s me and my TOPIK thoughts for now. Ironically, my next blog is going to be the 10 most useful Korean phrases! As ever, leave your comments below ( preferably in Korean, we all know I could do with the practice!)