Hey guys! It’s been a hot minute since I’ve posted something here, so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Last week just ended midterms here at Yonsei, so I’ve got just a short three weeks left here in Seoul. Although there is still some time between me and my departure, I’m already feeling sad and definitely not looking forward to leave. I finally made it here and checked a box off my bucket list, but I’m certainly going to have to find a way back!

In the time I’ve spent between my last post and today, I’ve not only studied a lot, but I’ve also met a bunch of new friends and explored new places! One day I decided to go to a Gwanghwamun – the gate that acts as the entrance to the palace situated in the heart of Seoul, Gyeongbokgung Palace. By the time I made it to the palace, it was too late for me to go in and really take my time to look around, but even the outside of it left me awestruck. Photos simply couldn’t do it justice, but here’s a few just to give you an idea of the beauty.


In front of Gwanghwamun was also a beauty plaza/greenway with a statue honoring the great King Sejong, who began his reign during the Joseon Dynasty in 1418. As one of the greatest rulers during the dynastic Korea, he is known for having personally created the modern day alphabet of Hangul that Korea uses to write as well as advocating for stronger advances in science, technology, and agriculture. And as a little fun fact, the area in front of the statute is where the K-Pop group EXO shot their variety show, EXO Showtime!


king sejong.jpg

This wasn’t the only place that I visited; I also had the great joy to watch a musical performed at the Seoul Arts Center Opera House! The musical, 웃는남자 or The Man Who Laughs, was based off the book of the same name by Victor Hugo. Theatrical, thrilling, and comedic at times, this musical was amazing! I only understood a good 25% of it, but the actors and actresses never ceased to amaze me with both their abilities to act and sing beautifully. This is what the set looked like before the show started!


여러분, 카톡 아세요? Everyone, do you know what KakaoTalk is? KakaoTalk, very commonly abbreviated to KaTalk among the younger generations, is a messaging and calling service in the form of an app on your phone. Through this app you can message, group chat, voice call, and video call people from anywhere around the world as long as they also have a KakaoTalk account. It seems to be the leading messaging service in Korea; if you don’t have KaTalk here, then you’re a minority! With KaTalk comes the Kakao Friends – a set of characters that are built in stickers in the app as well as personalities that are seen throughout the application. They’re also not the only stickers you can send – if you’re feeling like spicing it up, you can download stickers from your favorite K-Pop groups as well!

Personally, I have a fondness for the character named Ryan. He’s a lion without a mane, although at first glance he looks like a bear. He’s known for being expressionless, but still has emotions and a warm heart. I’ve visited two Kakao Friends stores, and had a chance to meet Ryan in the flesh!

I could go on and on about all the fun and exciting adventures I’m going on, but I’d say that’s enough for now. To cap off this post, I’ll share a couple more interesting facts about South Korea before signing off!

A very common and well-known method of riding the public transportation here is by using T-Money or Cashbee cards. These are cards that are reloadable and shaped just like credit cards or debit cards. You simply “charge” them at either subway charging stations or convenience stores with money and then tap the indicated sensor at subways or in buses to ride. I’ve gotten on probably a total of 50 different buses and rode the metro at least 20 times and have yet to see someone who wasn’t using a T-Money or Cashbee card to pay for it. While you can use actual money to pay, it is much less efficient and quick and will leave others behind you annoyed!

Another thing I’ve noticed here is the weather. Although I’m on the other side of the world, the weather feels exactly as if I were home in Alabama! On average we have been having high temperatures of about 92-97 and the humidity is high enough to create that uncomfortable sauna-like atmosphere. I’ve received alerts on my phone issued by the government warning to not do heavy labor outside and to drink plenty of water. Seems as though South Korea is experiencing quite a heat wave, but thankfully I’ve been seasoned to this harsh climate already! 😉

Last fact – this one is about the Korean language! I recently learned this through my Korean language class, and it’s definitely something I’m glad I tackled through a formal class and not on my own. Indirect speech, or retelling a quote or recounting something, seems to be quite complicated here. In English, it’s simple to say “she said ____” or “they told us ____”,  but in Korean the way you express that depends on what kind of sentence was spoken in the first place. Whether it was declarative, suggestive, questioning, argumentative, future, past, present – these all change the grammar needed to reinterpret the original sentence said. It can be quite confusing and frustrating, but slowly I think I’m getting used to it. 🙂

Alright! That’s it for this blog post. I’ll catch you guys up later when I’ve found more interesting facts and seen many new places! 내일 봐용!


はい、いや、 ja: the juggling of words

You might have noticed that my latest post (here) doesn’t feature much German. In fact, it’s more about Japanese. What’s up with that? After coming all this way to Germany to learn German, why do I find myself talking Japanese so often?

That’s a question I’ve been asking myself lately. I’ve been going out with Japanese classmates and chatting with them in Japanese. Last Saturday, the highlight of my day was finding a pair of Japanese books. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with these things, but shouldn’t I be absorbing as much German as possible while I have the opportunity?

I was feeling guilty about this last week.

Then I realized something. A big part of the reason I’ve attained some level of proficiency in Japanese is the fact that I incorporated the language into my daily life. Even when I’m not actively studying it, I still use it when I read novels or listen to music in my free time. So it’s natural that I’m continuing to use the language. And why would I regret making friends with classmates from Japan? Connecting with people from around the world is one of my greatest motivations for learning languages. The opportunity to use both German and Japanese to do so is a bonus, not a drawback.

After thinking about it some more, I also realized that I do use a fair amount of German in my daily routine. I use much of my time outside of class exploring the city, which includes the occasional interaction with strangers on the bus or in the park. I’ve been reading a German graphic novel and watching German television in my down time. And I’ve been attending meetings for German speaking practice multiple times per week. Perhaps I don’t need to be so hard on myself.

On Friday, I was given another reminder that time spent on one language need not exclude my interest in the other. I went to a Japanese-German Stammtisch, or common table, at a cat cafe just a few blocks away from my residence. I had a pleasant conversation – all in German – with a Japanese expat and an older German gentleman who used to live in Japan. We spoke about language learning, Japanese novels, and compared notes on our perceived difficulty levels of English, German, and Japanese. It was especially enjoyable because I wasn’t speaking German just for the sake of practicing. I was having a conversation with people who shared similar interests, and the communication just happened to be in German.

The Halfway Mark

It’s been four weeks in Germany, which means I’m halfway through my stay! I think now is a good time to assess my progress and write down some new goals.

Things I can do that I couldn’t four weeks ago:

  • produce the different declensions of articles and adjectives almost automatically
  • converse more smoothly in German using conversational filler words
  • understand the meaning of certain new-to-me words by understanding their parts
  • read and understand a German graphic novel without a dictionary
  • watch German television and understand a significant amount without a dictionary
  • bag my groceries at Aldi within seconds before the very efficient cashier starts glaring at me
  • use the tram/u-bahn maps and schedules
  • know which side of the road has the correct bus stop
  • transition quickly from speaking German to Japanese and vice versa
  • think/talk to myself spontaneously in German (sometimes)

Goals for the time remaining:

  • read at least half an hour per day in German outside of class
  • 3 or more spontaneous interactions/mini conversations per day in German

Tomorrow I begin my second four-week course at the language school and my last four weeks of summer in Düsseldorf. Here’s to more adventures and language progress!



Deutsch in Düsseldorf: Week One


I’ve made it one full week in Düsseldorf! It’s definitely been an adventure.

Monday: Grocery shopping and the first day of classes

I only had travel-sized containers of shampoo and other necessities, so I decided to go to the store to pick up more. I glanced at my city map, then headed out in the general direction of the nearest Aldi. Once I sensed I was getting close, I asked a passerby for directions in German.

“Straight that way, and then right, and then…” I didn’t understand the rest, but the stranger had already moved on. Oh, well. If I needed to, I could always ask someone else and get more practice in. I started walking in the direction she’d indicated, and soon found the Aldi.

Inside, I quickly located everything I’d needed except a razor. Another opportunity for speaking practice! “Entschuldigung, ich brauche ein Rasiermesser. Wo kann man das finden?” I inquired of a lady nearby. “Ganz hinter,” she replied, indicating the very back of the store. I found the razors and headed to the checkout. Only then did I remember that I was supposed to bring a bag to carry my purchases home in. My purse wasn’t big enough to carry everything, so I walked home carrying the shampoo under my arm.

In the afternoon I had my first German class at the IIK. When everyone introduced themselves, I found that the ten people in my class all come from ten different countries. I don’t remember all of them, but they include Switzerland, Italy, Uzbekistan, China, India, and South Korea. One of the cool things about everyone coming from different lands is the fact that it makes German the language we all have in common, although of course most of us also have some command of English.

The class itself was completely conducted in German, including explanations of grammar and vocabulary. The teacher was very skilled at getting ideas across using a combination of simple German and the occasional pantomime. It was encouraging to find that I could understand everything, but by the end of the four-hour lesson I was exhausted. It didn’t help that I still wasn’t used to the time zone. I walked back to my accommodation and quickly fell asleep.

Tuesday: Getting a German phone number


On Tuesday I got lost a few times trying to find a cell phone store, but I found a cool park and took some pictures. Eventually I found the store and successfully got myself on a phone plan, using only German!

Wednesday: Fails at Immermannstraße

On Wednesday, I went down to Immermannstraße to look for bilingual reading materials at the Japanese bookstore. I didn’t see any bilingual books, but I did find a Japanese grammar book that I’d been wanting, so I went up to the counter to buy it. The cashier had been speaking with her coworker in Japanese, so I automatically addressed her in the same language.

「これお願いします。」(This, please.)

「はい、22€ になります。ありがとうございます。」(That will be 22 Euros. Thank you very much.)

She replied in Japanese. Then, perhaps noticing that the book was for non-native language learners, she suddenly switched to fluent German, asking something about a points card.

I was speechless for a moment, trying to choose (a) which language I wanted her to repeat herself in, and (b) which language I should pose my request in. Seeing my confusion, the cashier repeated herself in Japanese before I could say anything. ポイントカード (point card). I declined and made my exit.

Hmm… Here was another problem with my German and Japanese, one that I’d often noticed when going straight from Japanese class to German club this spring semester. Since the sentence structures of the two languages are almost opposite, it’s difficult for me to switch rapidly from one language to the other. New goal: become more comfortable with switching between the two languages. I have plenty of places to practice on Immermannstraße.


I could have walked back in about forty minutes or so, but instead I spent up the rest of my free time taking the wrong trolley, getting off, taking the right trolley and mistakenly getting off too early, then finally taking the right bus all the way back just in time for German class. Fail. But hey, it taught me how to use the trolley maps.

Thursday: New classmates

On Thursday our class size almost doubled when we had seven or eight students arrive from Japan, all from the same university. I was happy to meet them, but I didn’t quite know what to think of this from the perspective of my language goals. Was this going to make my language interference problems better or worse?

Friday: Reflections

After Friday’s class ended, I walked back to my accommodation as usual and turned on some German television. As I watched the German-dubbed version of Poirot, I realized something. German doesn’t sound so foreign anymore. Even when I hear German that’s fast or more difficult to understand, my brain doesn’t immediately tune it out as unintelligible noise. When listening to dialogue on TV, I often understand enough that I can follow along while looking up a few words per line. And I’ve even caught myself spontaneously thinking in German.

It was gratifying to realize I’ve made progress in so short a time. I think it’s due to the amount of German I’ve had to produce in class. We don’t spend much class time passively listening to lectures. Instead, we are constantly writing personal reactions, creating spontaneous dialogues, and conveying all communications in German. Just one week of practicing this has already brought big returns.

Saturday: A day out with Yuri


On Saturday afternoon I spent the day with my classmate Yuri from Japan. We tried some German street food, visited two funky museums, walked through an outdoor book fair, and chatted over cold drinks at a local cafe.

Most of the day, we chatted and reacted to the art we saw in Japanese. Since Yuri is Japanese and I am much more fluent in Japanese than German, it was easier for both of us to communicate fully and spontaneously that way. It also felt uncomfortable to speak in German with museum staff always hovering behind us.

At first, this felt a bit like cheating to me, but having to frequently switch between speaking Japanese with Yuri and speaking German with museum staff was actually very good practice. Overall, it was a fun and productive day out.


Goals Achieved/Accomplishments:

  • rode both the bus and the U-Bahn several times
  • asked for directions in German
  • used German to ask for a cell phone plan
  • had spontaneous thoughts in German
  • practiced switching between German and Japanese
  • became able to use the correct forms of definite articles and adjectives almost automatically

What I learned:

  • bring bags to Aldi
  • how to read a trolley map

New goal:

  • find more opportunities for extended conversation in German with native speakers

Day One in Düsseldorf

Morning at the Apartment

Day one in Düsseldorf! I woke up at about 4 AM this morning, feeling very alert. Sometimes it seems like the amount of sleep I get is inversely proportional to how awake I feel in the morning. I lay in bed for a while, knocking out my virtual pile of flashcards for both German and Japanese on my phone.

By the time I’d finished, light was starting to peek through the window. I got up, made the bed, and decided to study some more German.

FullSizeRender.jpgMy second language is Japanese, which may have something to do with the fact that whenever I try to think in German, my brain comes up with Japanese instead. To combat this, I wrote down German equivalents to some common Japanese phrases useful for everyday conversation. I also wrote down some words I learned yesterday from reading signs at the airport and speaking with my host lady.

Since it was now a decent hour, I went into the kitchen to make coffee. There is a station nearby, so I could hear the sound of trains passing. My brain automatically narrated in Japanese. 電車の音が聞こえる。(The sound of trains is audible.) Thanks, brain. Now do it in German. I looked up the words I needed, and had to laugh. Die Züge können von hier aus gehört werden. (Trains can be heard from here.) Although the literal meanings of both sentences are almost exactly equivalent, the feeling is entirely different. The German sounds incredibly matter-of-fact, while the Japanese sounds a little bit dramatic, like narration from a novel. However, since I am not a native speaker of either language, perhaps this seeming difference is merely due to my incomplete perceptions.

Breakfast consisted of a dark hearty bread called Vollkornbrot, along with cheese, various spreads, and vegetables such as cucumber and red pepper. I ate with Ruth, my host lady, and her friend, who explained to me that Sunday is taken seriously as a day of rest in Germany. In other words, most shops and businesses are closed on Sundays. Nevertheless, I decided to take the day to explore the city.

Wandering the City

IMG_6380.JPGAfter studying a city map for a few minutes, I went outside to explore, resolving to refer to the map as seldom as possible. “If I get lost, I’ll ask someone the way and get in some speaking practice,” I thought. I found the German school at which I will be studying without any trouble. Then I turned south, enjoying the view of the road. The tall colorful wall of multistory buildings on my right was pleasantly juxtaposed with the median on the other side of the road, which was filled with bright green trees and bushes.

I stopped at an intersection, waiting for the signal to change to the little green walking man signifying it was safe to cross. “Drücken, drücken,” a friendly voice called out behind me. I turned to see a white-haired gentleman on a bicycle approaching. Thinking I was in his way, I moved over to give him room. “Drücken,” he repeated with a gesture. Seeing the blank look on my face, he pressed the bottom of a little box on the light post which I had not noticed. “You have to press it, otherwise the light doesn’t change,” he said, switching to English. I thanked him. Later, I looked up the word drücken. It means to push or press. Word of the day, I guess. It has a personal story behind it now, so I won’t be likely to forget it. That’s what immersion is for, right?

IMG_6386.JPGI continued wandering south until I hit Immermannstraße, a street known for having many Japanese shops and restaurants. Spotting a bookshop, I made a mental note to visit it sometime and look for German/Japanese dictionaries or bilingual reading materials. The many differences between the two cultures makes translations interesting from a linguistic point of view, and reading parallel materials would also help with my language interference problems.

As I walked, I heard both German and Japanese being spoken by passersby. As I pondered this, I heard a sudden 你好 (nĭ hăo, a Mandarin greeting meaning hello) addressed in my direction. By the time I realized it was directed at me, I’d already passed, but the two syllables had disrupted the struggle between German and Japanese in my brain. I directed my focus solely on the street in front of me for a few minutes to regain my mental bearings.

I started making my way back north, taking different streets than the ones I’d come by. I found an Aldi along the way. Good, now I know where I can shop later. I found the street of my accommodation fairly easily, and congratulated myself. Keeping my bearings is not one of my strong points. But I wasn’t satisfied yet. After all, I’d hardly spoken German all day. I was warm from walking, so when I spotted a frozen yogurt shop, I decided my last mission for the day was to order something there in German.

I went in and successfully ordered einen Mango Lassi. I didn’t actually know what a mango lassi was, but I’m not picky. Trying new food is part of the adventure, right? The man who had taken my order went to the back of the shop to make it. Not seeing this, the other staff member approached me.

“Have you been served already?” he asked in German.

「はい!」 Without thinking, I affirmed in Japanese. Oops.


My accomplishments for the day:

  • Learning the German equivalents of useful Japanese phrases to help with language interference
  • Finding my way without a map
  • Ordering food in German for the first time

What I learned:

  • most businesses are closed on Sundays
  • Vollkornbrot is delicious
  • drücken means to push or press
  • the little boxes on the traffic light posts need to be pressed from the bottom
  • mango lassi is a yogurt-based smoothie

Goals for the future:

  • continue to work on language interference issues
  • use my city pass to take a bus or train
  • ask someone directions in German

Tomorrow is the first day of formal German language instruction at the IIK. Let’s see how it goes! I’m excited to meet my classmates.


Deutsch in Düsseldorf: Introduction

IMG_6339Hello! My name is Keilah Fok and I’m from San Diego, California. I’m seventeen years old and this fall I’ll be a sophomore in mechanical engineering at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

The classic brief self introduction, one of the first things taught to learners of a new language, seems like an appropriate beginning to my SAGA blog, since its purpose is to record my eight-week trip to learn German in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Spending four hours a day, five days a week in an unfamiliar country learning a foreign language probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But to me, it sounds like a fantastic way to spend a summer.

I’ve long been fascinated with unfamiliar worlds.

Ever since I learned to read, my favorite books have all been character-driven stories that introduced me to different worlds: some fantastical, some historical. In the second grade, the Little House on the Prairie series brought me glimpses into the life of an American pioneer family. In high school, The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino offered insight into the societal status of women in Japan and Japanese views on the definition of love. To me, the greatest appeal of reading is being able to temporarily take on the perspectives of characters with different backgrounds and views on life.

By going to Germany, I’ll be able to do in person what books allowed me to do by proxy. I’m excited to personally immerse myself in the German culture and make connections with people there while learning the language.

I’m also excited to share my journey through the UAH SAGA blog! I’ll be updating at least weekly for the next eight weeks with descriptions of my language progress, failures, and other adventures. In particular, I will try to post mini language goals along with progress from previous weeks to track my improvement and keep myself accountable.

See you next time!