One possible obstacle of interning anywhere abroad is the potential for there to be a language barrier. One of my initial struggles that I have encountered in the workplace is that some of the staff members cannot speak English. Prior to my first day, I recall receiving a Kakaotalk message (a popular messaging application that Koreans use) that was written in complex Korean vocabulary that I did not know. Although I initially panicked, I knew I could use other references like google translate.
In person I cannot not use any of that, so I had fears of miscommunication or even worse, less communication, because of my lack of Korean abilities. However, at the same time, I was also excited to use the language skills that I have acquired so far in University. Luckily, prior to this internship, in order to strengthen my speaking abilities, I took four semesters of Korean language classes through U-M LSA Asian Languages and Cultures department. I am now very grateful that I did so, because without a doubt, they have helped me significantly thus far.
This international internship in one way is like an extension of my courses that I took back at the University of Michigan. Then, I had many opportunities to practice Korean with my former classmates and professor, but they could always help me while speaking in English. This summer though, with some of the people I work with, I cannot not just slip in English words whenever I please or even communicate in English. I have to take what I learned in the classroom and carefully articulate appropriate sentences. I have to think about all of the grammar points that I’ve learned and correctly use them.
Overall, it has not been easy, and I reflect that to fully master a language, taking four classes is not enough. However, these days, I believe that my Korean language skills are really improving now that I am frequently communicating with locals and am forced to be in uneasy situations where I have to speak only in Korean.
To conclude, I have learned to accept this challenge and really look forward to being able to speak more fluently by the end of this internship!