CHL Student Buzz: Meet Vienna Harkness

1st July 2021

Student, Bachelor of Languages, Major in Korean language

CHL’s Korean-language student Vienna Harkness recounts the memorable experience of her Korean-language learning journey. What started off with a K-Pop video on YouTube, and then some online study of Korean, ultimately led Vienna to the ANU CHL Korean language program, which has been an eye opener and game changer for her.

"When I was first learning Korean vocabulary online, the first word I learnt that meant 'fish' was saengseon (생선). I thought it would be cute to use it to name my pet betta fish, and it wasn’t until my first year at ANU that I learnt that saengseon is specific to fish that you eat, and that mulgoki (물고기) is used for pets. So, I had basically been calling my pet ‘dinner’ for about a year or so!"

1. Tell us a bit about yourself—what you do currently and what you studied.

I grew up in St Arnaud, a small country town in regional Victoria. I first started studying Korean online in my gap years while I was helping my father run a small coffee shop. There was nobody in my hometown who could speak Korean, and Zoom wasn’t operational at the time, so Melbourne was my only option. I used to have to make a 6-hour round trip to Melbourne on my one day off a week so I could meet a Korean tutor in person. I originally got into a Bachelor of Creative Writing at Deakin University, but during my second gap year, I applied to ANU so I could continue studying Korean. I am currently undertaking my fourth year of the Bachelor of Languages, with a Major in the Korean language and minors in Japanese and international communication.

2. What drew you to Korean?

During my gap years, I wanted to find a hobby that would keep me in the habit of studying so university would be less of a shock to me later! I remember my older sister and I were messing around on YouTube when we stumbled across a video called Top 10 K-Pop songs of 2014 and we really liked a song called Growl by EXO. I was curious as to what they were actually singing about and found a really good site for learning Korean. Hangul, the Korean alphabet, was surprisingly really easy to learn and there are so many great resources for beginner learners of Korean online. Korean sentence structure and grammar is completely different to English, so I found the language as fascinating as it was challenging. I started learning Korean because of K-Pop, but I continued because of the language itself.

3. What were your top 3 favourite things about your language program?

My top 3 favourite things about Korean programs at ANU is their interactive nature, the dedication and approachability of the lecturers and tutors, and the passion of fellow students.

Language programs at ANU, in general, are highly dynamic and interactive. Even during lectures, students are able to participate in a way that is completely different from other disciplines. We don’t just listen and ask questions, we apply new grammar, expressions and words so we get to have a conversation with our lecturer rather than just sit and take notes. Our assignments are quite diverse compared to other programs as well. The average university program is quite essay-intensive, whereas in Korean programs we get to be a little more creative. In the past few years I’ve had to create podcasts and videos, as well as write articles, speeches, mock and real interviews, poetry and short stories...a level of variety that isn’t available in most programs.

Our lecturers and tutors are some of the most friendly and hardworking people I have ever met. For them, no question is too silly or insignificant. They will help us with our own personal study projects and patiently correct us when we make the same mistakes over and over again. The amount of times our lecturers get swamped by students eager for a translation of their favourite song lyric, or a grammatical explanation of a random piece of archaic grammar they found while reading a poetry book, is incredible. They will take the time to answer every single question without any fuss or complaint.

Korean students are unparalleled in their enthusiasm and dedication. In Korean-language programs, every single student is there because they genuinely want to be. They are the students who will spend their holidays trying to read Korean novels, watch Korean dramas and reality shows and listen to Korean music, so they can constantly be immersed in the language. However, despite their studious nature, they are a friendly cohort, and you can always find someone you have plenty in common with.

4. Can you name 3 reasons for people to study Korean?

Not many people are aware, but Korea is actually Australia’s fourth-largest trading partner. If you have any ambitions for working in business in the future, learning Korean is a must. There is also a lack of mutual understanding between Australian and Korean business that desperately needs to be improved. Most Korean businesses don’t understand that Australia has its own unique culture and lifestyle that is completely different from other western countries, such as the US and the UK. And most Australian businesses don’t realise that Korea is also a country that is vastly different and unique from other eastern countries such as China and Japan. More needs to be done to promote and facilitate conversation and cultural understanding between Australia and Korea, which is why we need more people to study Korean.

Korea has developed from a war-ravaged, poor nation into an economic powerhouse in less than half a century. It has one of the highest levels of literacy and education in general in the world, and its competitive culture is legendary. Korea is the place to look to for the future, and studying Korean will give you access to a rich world full of excitement and possibility.

Korean culture is rich and constantly evolving. The food is to die for. Korean TV drama series and the film industry are iconic. The fashion and beauty industry, while at times a little problematic, are sleek and exciting. The music industry is booming, from ‘boppy’ K-Pop idols to sultry R&B. The language is poetic, diverse and ever adapting. Korea as a country and Korean as a language have a lot to offer if only you are willing to open you mind and learn.

5. How does it help /has it helped you in your profession or in life?

I think that learning Korean, as well as about Korean history and culture, has really broadened my perspectives of the world in general. It has made me more aware of issues regarding racial representation in Western media, our own colonialist past and lack of resolution, and the need for more multilingualism within a multicultural country like Australia. Learning Korean has made me more curious of the world outside our nation’s borders and more conscious of my own impact upon it.

6. Can you share one fascinating/fun fact about Korean/something you find particularly incredible about the language?

Hangul (the Korean writing system) is one of the most systematic writing systems in the world, and the only one to have been created by a single person, King Sejong. Hangul was designed to echo the mouth positions you use when you pronounce each letter and was created to be learnt quickly and easily. Preceding Hangul was Hanja, which is a writing system based upon very detailed and complex Chinese characters. Hangul was introduced so that poorer levels of society, that didn’t have much access to education, could learn to read and write quickly and effectively. It is one of the few writing systems that can transcribe words from foreign languages with ease and is completely phonetic. Once you learn how to read Hangul and learn its sound change rules, you can read anything in Korean, even if you can’t understand what it means.

7. What are your future plans with respect to Korean or any other language?

After I have spent some time working in Korea, most likely as an English teacher, I plan on returning to Australia to pursue a degree in interpretation and translation. I’m a bit of a bookworm, so my dream would be to specialise and work in the translation of Korean literature into English.

8. Anything else you’d like to share? An interesting anecdote about your study of the language perhaps?

When I was first learning Korean vocabulary online, the first word I learnt that meant 'fish' was saengseon (생선). I thought it would be cute to use it to name my pet betta fish, and it wasn’t until my first year at ANU that I learnt that saengseon is specific to fish that you eat and that mulgoki (물고기) is used for pets. So, I had basically been calling my pet ‘dinner’ for about a year or so!

Are you interested in learning Korean and experiencing some of the magic that Vienna has? Enquire now!

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