There is no greater spark for self-improvement than challenge, and there is no challenge quite like hiking one of South Korea’s many impressive and jagged mountain ranges. Hiking is a physically and mentally demanding activity that rewards both body and mind. It is also a great trial that tests you to push your limits. Upon taking your first step towards the summit, you not only challenge the mountain: you challenge yourself to become a better version of you.
Of course, not all challenges require a pair of hiking boots, and here at Kyungnam University there is already an exceptional challenge waiting for you. The challenge I refer to is that of learning a new language. Similar with making an arduous trek up a steep mountainside, English study is a difficult undertaking. Nevertheless, I believe that the principles required for accomplishing the former can be applied to the latter, and in this article, I’d like to share those principles with you.
Let me begin by giving some context. A few years ago, I was in a mental and physical slump. I decided that, in order to re-invigorate myself, I needed to find a new challenge. On a whim, I packed a lunch and hiked up Muhaksan, the beautiful mountain located directly behind Kyungnam University. Although the going was tough, I immediately felt the benefits of the hike. My body was refreshed, my mind became clearer, and I gained a new upwelling of energy. Since then, I’ve made hiking a part of my regular routine.
Hiking requires many of the same attributes necessary to be a successful language learner. You need steely determination, a strong sense of commitment, and the ability to pick yourself up when you stumble. Neither task is easy, but the challenge will transform you. To help you on your journey, here are some guiding principles that I picked up from my hikes.
First, embrace the challenge. Don’t fear difficulty. The summit may seem far away, but it’s closer than you realize. The trick is to always keep moving forward. Start by focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. Set little goals for yourself, like learning a new vocabulary word every day, regularly attending English class, and doing your homework. You’ll be amazed at how quickly the steps add up. Once you’re comfortable, challenge yourself to take on higher peaks. Try watching your favorite English movies or TV shows without subtitles. Read books or comics written in English. Change the language setting of your computer games to English and play on international servers. The more you are exposed to English, the more natural it will become!
Second, accept that you will trip and fall. While hiking I’ve sprained my ankles, gotten countless blisters, and pushed my body to the point where I couldn’t get out of bed the next day. However, I persevere, because the results are always worth it. The same goes for learning English. You are going to make mistakes. You will likely get frustrated at the pace of your progress. There may come a time when you know what you want to say but you don’t know how to say it, and you will feel embarrassed. That’s okay! These stumbles are part of the process. Nobody is judging you. It takes great courage to even attempt to learn a new language, and by studying English you are exhibiting stunning bravery.
Finally, realize that you are not alone in your journey. Hiking is more enjoyable when you do it with others. Although ultimately only you can carry yourself to the top of the mountain, Kyungnam University has a number of fantastic resources that can help on your way. Your English professors are trained professionals, and they are all more than happy to aid you. Seek them out, tell them what you want to achieve, and ask them how you can reach your goals. The English Tutoring Center, located in the International Language Building, is a great tool for getting one-on-one or group mentoring. You can schedule an appointment with any of the English professors and get as much assistance as you need, at no cost to you. Lastly, the Global Café is a wonderful spot where you can mingle with the English professors and your fellow students. Many international students spend time in the Global Café, making it a prime location to make friends from other countries and get a hefty dose of real conversational English practice. The Global Café also hosts fun activities and cultural events throughout the semester, making it an exciting and dynamic place to be. I encourage you to visit often.
Hiking is a stimulating, meditative, and challenging activity. It strengthens your sense of will, your sense of self, and your sense of purpose. By studying another language, you can obtain these same benefits. My wish is that you take advantage of your time here at Kyungnam University and tackle the challenge of learning English with the vigor of an experienced hiker. Harden yourself for the trek ahead and take the first step. With enough dedication, you will reach the peak of the mountain that lies before you, and you will be amazed by how much you have grown along the way.