Friday, September 19, 2008

Food for Thought: Korean Emoticons

Koreans, like most East Asians, use very different emoticons from the ones Americans use. In the US, we're familiar with the horizontal emoticons:


With these emoticons, emotion is expressed mostly with the mouth, though there are a few exceptions, like >:-).

Korean emoticons are vertical:

^_^ happy
\_/ angry/evil
-_- sighing
^_^" nervous (that's a sweat drop)
<_> sad
=^_^= blushing

Also, as you may have noticed, the mouth doesn't really change--instead, emotion is expressed with the eyes or with other features.

Now, none of this is really news to the East Asiaphiles of the world. However, just the other day, I saw a really interesting usage that set my amateur linguist brain aflame. At the end of a very happy/thankful e-mail, an acquaintance wrote:


Upon further inquiry I learned that, in some circles, the length of the mouth can be used to indicate the strength of the emotion being conveyed (not, mind you, the fatness of the face conveying it). I guess the idea is that, the more characters you type, the more time/effort you spend? Any thoughts, intarwebs? (By which I probably mean Leslie.)

Paul Hussey: Once a hero, always a hero

Last year, just about anything we ever successfully accomplished in Korea was due to the stalwart (and bilingual) assistance of Paul Hussey, administrative assistant and god among men. Paul parted company with APIS last year to lead the Itaewon/Hannam Global Village Center, an initiative by the Seoul Metropolitan Government to provide help for foreigners living in Korea. (And let me tell you, foreigners living in Korea need all the help we can get).

As we prepared for the GRE this week, we had some serious linguistic roadblocks with the Fulbright center, where the GRE was staged. Somehow we got incorrect directions on our dry run and ended up hiking around downtown for an hour (if anybody ended up here with a "Korean GRE" google search, the current directions page is quite good). Justin also spent three hours on the phone last weekend trying to hammer out details like scheduling and billing - three hours being about thirty minutes of conversation and about two and a half hours being transferred between test center, Fulbright staff, and test center again in pursuit of somebody who spoke English.

Then, on the morning of the test, we double-check the GRE web site and are told we need an admission ticket. We have no admission ticket. We don't even know what an admission ticket looks like. We don't have three hours to spend on hold.

Enter Paul Hussey.

I whip out my phone and call up the Global Village Center (at 02-796-2459) and ask for Paul. I tell him our panic-ridden tale. He jots it down and says he'll call me back.

One more phone call, to exchange some reservation numbers, and we have a verdict: no ticket necessary, but bring a passport and a printout of the confirmation e-mail. We go downtown that afternoon and lo and behold, it is as Paul said it would be. We actually get there an hour and a half early (I am my mother's daughter) but since computers are available, they let us start, and we get out a few hours later, a bit shell-shocked but halfway through with our Korean GRE.

So let's hear it for the Global Village Center, and let's hear it again for hero Paul, who towers above mere mortals like the Calgary Tower over his beloved home city. Long may he flex his linguistic might!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Taking the GRE in Korea

As you may have gathered, Nana and I are in the process of applying to grad school this fall. Considering that some people, especially those applying to top programs in their fields, take an entire year off to prepare for the GRE General Test (and, if necessary, one of the Subject Tests) and apply to grad school, the fact that Nana and I are trying to do the same while teaching more than full-time certainly isn't making our lives easy these days. Add in all the extra frustrations of trying to file paper applications from a foreign country (more on that later, probably), and you've got yourself one heck of a fall semester. So far, we're surviving, though, and the practice tests we've taken give us reason to hope all will be well.

Anyway: the GRE in Korea. In China, Korea, and Taiwan, the GRE General Test is not offered in its usual, computer-based format, but in a "split-administration" format. In this format, you take a computer-based version of the Analytical Writing section, then several weeks later, a paper-based version of the Verbal and Quantitative sections. (If it helps, you can think of the GRE as the SAT for grad students.)

This format has several advantages: First and foremost, you get to take a paper-based version of the test. This is an enormous advantage because it allows you to skip questions you're unsure of and come back to them later, time permitting. In the computer-based version of the test, you can't skip questions. What's worse, on the computer-based test, any skipped or wrong question in the early portion of the test has a disproportionate effect on your score, because any time you fail to get the right answer, you're bumped down and given easier questions (which are worse fewer points). This hugely increases the penalty for leaving questions blank: whereas on the paper-based test, a non-response simply gives you no credit for the question (and an incorrect response gives you no credit plus a .25-point penalty), on the computer-based test, a non-response early in the test can lower your overall score drastically. This means that, on average, savvy test-takers should score a few points higher on the paper-based test.

The second advantage to taking the GRE in Korea is that you get to take the test on two separate days. One of the most difficult things about the GRE is keeping focus through the whole enormous test. By taking the Analytical Writing portion early (this week, for us) and the rest of the test a few weeks later, you effectively halve the length of any one testing session.

However, there are also some disadvantages: When you take the split-administration version of the GRE, your scores aren't available until mid-December at the earliest, which is after the application deadline for most liberal-arts programs at most schools. Many schools are flexible about receiving GRE scores by the deadline, as long as the rest of the application is done, Some schools, however, make a huge number of their admissions decisions in the first two weeks of December, and for other schools, late receipt of GRE scores puts your application at the back of the line. In other words, for those schools, even though you're technically allowed to submit GRE after the application deadline, most of the admission letters have already been written by the time your application is considered. I personally have cut 3-4 US schools from my list for application this year simply because my late GRE scores will push my odds of acceptance from astronomically low to astronomically lower. (On the plus side, these GRE scores will still be current for next year's applications.)

A second disadvantage of taking the test in Korea is the fact that testing centers are few and far between. In any sizeable city or university town in the US, the nearest test center is rarely more than 15-20 minutes away. From our home in Nowon, the most densely populated district of one of the most densely populated cities in the world, the nearest test center is more than one hour away, in downtown Seoul. Of course, the longer the ride to the test center, the greater the potential for diaster . . . and you only get one shot at the test in Korea, or else you have to wait six months for the next test date.

All told, though, I'm glad we're taking the test here--for me, the advantage of taking the paper-based test far outweighs the disadvantages.

I'm not happy, though, about trying to send applications to the other side of the world . . . or about having to take the infamously brutal Subject Test in English Literature. 170 minutes of minutiae, no breaks, questions on just about any moderately important book ever written in English, ever. Ick.