Korean Studies, Japanese Studies Personal Statement
Submitted by Polly
Becoming fluent in a second language is one of my greatest aspirations in life, and when picking which language to pursue, I knew an established deep interest in the language and country from which it comes is vital. So when deciding on my choice of degree, I settled on either of two languages which throughout my life have intrigued me tremendously: Japanese and Korean.
My deep interest in Korean has continued to grow ever since I first began to teach myself the language last year. Initially, I started off with some basic vocab and grammar, but then realised, in conjunction with this, I was desperate to learn Korean in practice, and in a more natural way. Therefore, after finding some penpal sites, I quickly made friends with Korean people online, with whom I continue to communicate daily in Korean. I feel this has given me invaluable knowledge of colloquial Korean, idioms, and cultural aspects of the language. Improving my knowledge whilst simultaneously forming bonds with people thousands of miles away is one of the most rewarding aspects of my self-taught Korean. I am also fascinated by the grammatical dissimilarity between Korean and English as this can give us an insight into how and why the countries’ societal hierarchies are structured so differently.
The Hangul alphabet also interested me immensely; its intriguing efficiency and simplicity, and entirely different structure to other scripts, led me to research it further and to discover the history of its unique formation. This summer I worked on an Extended Project Question entitled: “Why was an entirely new Korean writing system invented in 1443 as an alternative to using Chinese Characters?”. For my research, I signed up to the Korean Cultural Centre Library in London, and here I found an English translation of the original manuscript of Hunminjeongeum Haerye. Reading the words of King Sejong himself and the scholars of the Jiphyeonjeon felt like an incredible insight into the rich history of this writing system.
My interest in Japanese stems from an early age. When I was young, my father would often visit Japan for work reasons, and brought me back films and various quirky little toys from the country. I grew up on the mainstream Japanese media of Studio Ghibli, with the films’ non-Hollywood narrative trajectory, strong female protagonists and the everyday aspects of Japanese life intertwined with Japanese folklore making an intoxicating mix for the enraptured child.
In more recent years, I have enjoyed other elements of Japanese media; the work of author Banana Yoshimoto is an example. It was whilst reading her novel Kitchen that I came to a realisation I wanted to understand her writing on a deeper level, one not entirely conveyed through translation. Where Yoshimoto’s character Eriko writes that “just this once [she] wanted to try using men’s language”, I was made aware of almost a cultural gap: it is a confusing sentence in English, but one making perfect sense and conveying the struggle with gender that Eriko goes through in Japanese. I have enjoyed films such as Seven Samurai and Tampopo, which, whilst vastly contrasting in terms of tone and storyline, show insights into the Japanese psyche and humour of different eras. I also found Tokyo Story moving and poignant in the way it portrays the generational gap and struggles of a family living in postwar Japan.
My experience of formal language lessons from French A-Level, and ability to commit to learning a language and native script so thoroughly different to my own, I hope means I would be suited to a degree in either of these languages, and the challenges they provide. My strong interest and love for language learning, combined with my genuine and broad interest in the culture of both countries means I would treat the course with enthusiasm and dedication.