Kennedy is from Annandale, Virginia and is a 2023 Korean Summer Alum. She is currently a first-year student at Princeton University, planning to major in Public and International Affairs. She has continued learning Korean since the completion of her NSLI-Y program, as well as starting a new language, Persian (Farsi).

안녕하세요? Hello everyone! My name is Kennedy, and I am a 2023 Korean Summer NSLI-Y alumni. As 2023 came to a close, I often found myself lying in my bed late at night, reflecting upon my NSLI-Y journey. And what a journey it was! NSLI-Y has taught me so many things beyond the Korean language, including independence/self-development, intercultural skills, and connection-building. However, I think the most important lesson NSLI-Y taught me was that there is truly a right time for everything. And as I navigate my post-NSLI-Y life throughout university, I am realizing how important it is to have patience and faith that everything will work out in the best way.

My journey with NSLI-Y started in 2022, my junior year of high school. At that time, I was very involved in Korean culture. I am from a small town in Virginia called Annandale, which has a large Korean population. So, in addition to consuming Korean media, which consisted of K-pop, K-dramas, and Webtoons, I was also exposed to Korean goods such as food, stationery, fashion, and skincare. This exposure led me to fall in love with the Korean language and culture and, as a result, I was up day and night researching ways I could improve my Korean by studying abroad in Korea.

That is when I stumbled upon NSLI-Y.

Back then, I believed that NSLI-Y was the perfect program for me, and I still believe that NSLI-Y was something I needed to experience. Its focus on language acquisition through immersion was everything that I wanted, but what I came to learn (which I will discuss later) was that NSLI-Y was so much more than just a language acquisition program. Nevertheless, I applied, but then I was rejected. It absolutely pained me to know that I was not going to be able to go to Korea in the summer of 2022. I was hurt, sad, and angry, constantly questioning why I was not able to get in even though I spent so much time on my application, crafting perfect responses to ensure my acceptance (which was mistake number one as nothing is ever guaranteed in life). However, my rejection from NSLI-Y was nothing less than a blessing in disguise as I was able to spend the summer of 2022 deepening my love for language learning and experiencing different cultures. Not only did I use that time to continue my interests in Korean, but I also delved into new interests, one being Persian, which was introduced to me by a program at West Point. It was actually through learning Persian that I realized that there was much more to a language than just vocab, grammar, and syntax, as there is actually a whole new way of life that a language contains. That is why some people say that learning a second language is like gaining a second soul, as languages allow you to perceive the world through different lenses and gain more information about a culture.

With that realization, I bring us back to my statement that NSLI-Y is not just a language acquisition program. It is a program that forces you to leave your comfort zone, break down known conventions, and rebuild them with the social norms and values of the culture you are immersing yourself in. By this reconstruction of the way you think, you are then developing intercultural competence, which is one of the main goals of NSLI-Y. That said, I do not think I would have wanted to go into NSLI-Y without knowing how much my views on the world would be challenged and contested by doing the program. So, I am very grateful that I was rejected in 2022 and later accepted in 2023 with a mindset that embraced the challenges that come with learning a new language and culture.

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When it comes to NSLI-Y, I would not change any part of my journey. In fact, I cannot imagine doing the program at any other point in time other than when I did it. Along with developments in the way I think about the world, through NSLI-Y, I made amazing connections and friendships that I would not trade for anything. So, if you are applying to NSLI-Y and don’t get it on your first try, don’t be discouraged because, like I said in the beginning, there is a right time for everything, and eventually you will get everything you want at the time you need it. And if you applied to NSLI-Y and got accepted, get ready for the experience of a lifetime!