Why, How, and Then What: Applying for English as an International Student

Thursday 19 December 2019, International students

by Coral Kim

Why, How, and Then What: Applying for English as an International Student

Coral Kim

Before I begin, here’s a bit about me: I’m an incoming fresher with a confirmed place to study English at a British uni. I love Shakespeare, Thomas Hardy, and Kazuo Ishiguro. Oh — I’m also from Korea. South.

1. The Big Question: Why?!

It’s a question everyone seems to ask me—and one I’ve asked myself so many times. Yes, I’m American through dual citizenship. But let’s be honest: I’m not a native English speaker and probably never will be, no matter how much I try. Then why English? Why not Korean?

Let’s go back a few years, when I was a new kid in an international school in France. I didn’t speak a word of French, and for obvious reasons nobody knew Korean. But we all knew at least abit of English — and speaking in English helped me ease myself in. Make friends. Keep up in class.

So I clung to it—started loving the way its words sounded and its grammar worked. English classes, in which we read Michael Morpurgo and recited silly poems, were my time to shine, have fun, and be myself. Thus here I am: while I may not be its best speaker, I do see myself as one of English’s biggest admirers.

And that’s the answer (I think), after hours of contemplation, I can give for this question.

2. The Question You Want to Ask: How?

I’m going to be blunt—being accepted for English as a non-native international kid seemed impossible. Both my parents and school counselor advised me to think of a second-choice

course. A more plausible course. And they had good reason, because…well, my school’s English curriculum, even though nominally being AP-based (note: AP is an American equivalent to A Levels), just wasn’t enough. It was more ESL than English language or literature. During my three years of high school, I wasn’t exposed at all to: Shakespeare, Dickens, the Brontes, Chaucer, Wilde, Milton…You get my point.

So…I decided to be my own teacher. I made a list of all the literary classics I needed to cover, and started reading them one by one. The short, academic introductions featured at the beginning of each book were my “lectures”; I shamelessly referred to online homework help websites. One of my biggest saviors was Professor Emma Smith, whose free online podcasts taught me how to take an analytical approach to Shakespeare.

I guess the bottom line is: the resources were there, thanks to libraries, bookstores, and my beloved internet. I just had to use them.

3. The Question I Should Be Asking: Then What?

Yes…then what? What does a Korean do with a degree in English?

Let me just say this: I don’t really have grand dreams to “bring Shakespeare to Korea” (why would Korea need Shakespeare anyway?) or “bridge cultural gaps through the power of literature.” At least not yet.

For now, the plan is to just indulge myself, really. I want to enjoy and wallow in my favorite books and plays—read them, watch them, talk about them, and study them. I could do that all my life.

Go to graduate school, hopefully get a PhD, then be a professor in Shakespeare studies: that’s my “then what,” and it all begins this October!

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