Done with KIIP

1.5 years later, I’ve completed the program! For some reason, I kept thinking that I had started the program in 2015, but I actually started in April 2016, and have now completed it in December 2017. I guess it just felt so long; I was convinced that surely it must have been over 2 years now. It really is quite the ordeal, spending 8 hours in class on a Sunday or Saturday … and back in Level 2, on some weekends, I did 8 hours each on Saturday AND Sunday! I’m so happy to have my 2-day weekends back.

I have two certificates: KIIP (Korea Immigration and Integration Program), and KIPRAT (Korea Immigration Permanent Residency Ability??Acceptance??Aptitude??idk Test). They were both issued automatically through the website, after I passed my Level 5 (50 hours) exam. The dates on the certificates are different, because the dates will be whatever date I clicked on it print from the Socinet website.

Feels great!

It is a massive time commitment, but it is worth it. I did it because it was the only language class I could take in my area. Almost everything I know in Korean, is from being taught it directly in KIIP classes, or from picking it up through casual conversations with the teachers or classmates. I’m far from fluent, and I make plenty of mistakes … but I get by just fine.

Here’s how my schedule was, from Level 2 to Level 5:


Placement test: 2016.04.30

Level 2


Level 3


Level 4


Intermediate exam:  2017.08.19


Level 5


Final exam: 2017.12.16


Again: massive time commitment. Not everyone is up to it. But worth it.

KIIP Level 5 exam

I had to take the Level 5 exam twice, unfortunately. The first time, I received 59 points, which was just short of the 60 point passing score. Fuck, right? I was only slightly upset because it was kind of hilarious.

The writing questions on both tries of Level 5 were very similar. The first time I tried, I had to write a 200-character length or so essay, introducing a hometown food item to Koreans, and explain how it’s made, how it tastes, etc. The second was similar: introduce a well-known hometown location to Koreans and explain why you’re fond of that location. Easy. I couldn’t think of locations in my podunk hometown that would interest the examiner. Gotta milk those points, you know? So, I pretended to be more exciting than I actually was. I pretended I was a New Yorker introducing thin crust pizza (sorry), and for the second exam, I wrote about Hollywood and all the MOVIES! STARS! RANDOM SIGHTINGS OF CELEBRITIES!! (insert jaded eyeroll here)

The speaking test was hard, in my opinion. There was a piece of paper taped to the desk that I sat at, and it was a couple of paragraphs about job interview etiquette. I was asked to explain the passage, then give my opinion on what kind of person should be hired by the company, and what other additions I had to the suggestions of appropriate job interview etiquette. Second round was about Korean family units – compare and contrast, then and now. The answer is extended families vs nuclear families, single households, etc etc. The last round of questions was a bit wild: give a brief breakdown of the Korean War, and explain what problems might occur after reunification. What the hell, I didn’t even know how to explain that in English. Anyway, 59/60 it was. My Korean co-workers were shocked when they found out about the third set of questions, saying that surely immigration shouldn’t expect foreigners to answer that sort of thing? But then again, I think if they’re applying for permanent residency, maybe they should? I don’t know. It’s a sensitive issue and I had actively avoided forming any sort of opinion on it AT ALL … and then there it was.

At my second try at the Level 5 exam the following month, it was much easier. The questions were about the Korean education system – give a quick summary of it, contrast it to your home country’s education system, and explain the problems that occur from the high level of Korean enthusiasm for education. The second round of questions was about the internet. I had to explain what it’s useful for, what Korean websites I usually visit and why, and also explain the problems that arise from internet usage. I was surprised that there wasn’t a third round of questions, because there has always been three rounds of questions for my placement exam, Level 2, Level 3, Level 4, and the previous Level 5 … I suspect it was because my testing partner and I had taken up too much time talking during the first two rounds. I later found out from another tester that the third round of questions was about urbanization.

My complaint about KIIP exams is that cheating is rampant. There’s zero cheating during the objective and written portions, because it’s really strict. But, it’s a free-for-all during the speaking test. During my first go at the speaking test, after the first round of people got out, they were mobbed by other test takers, asking about the questions. While I was in the waiting room, people were openly on their phones and textbooks, even though the rules said we couldn’t have our phones or textbooks. Our invigilator would occasionally scold them but never really did anything about it. During the second speaking test, the phone rules were stricter … but! While the invigilator was out, walking the current round of test takers to their test rooms, someone came in to pick up his bag after his test … and whispered the questions to his friends, who then told everyone else. And when the waiting room had dwindled to the last 25% or so, the invigilator straight up told us all the questions on the speaking test, and held an open discussion of possible answers.

Super motivated

January being January, I am so motivated to make this MY YEAR with learning Korean. Me and everyone else, right? Anyway.

If I could do it over – I’d be less lazy.

If I could do it over – I’d take paid 1-on-1 lessons, from the very beginning. It’s great for supplementing my KIIP classes.

KIIP Level 3, Day 1

Today was the first day of Level 3, aka Intermediate 1. The textbook is 7,000 won, just like before – but structured quite differently. The class is quite different too. Previously, my class was small enough that everyone could do dialogue practice, and speak their own attempts at making sentences. This class, not so much. The occasional volunteer (forced or not).

Getting to class was much easier. Previously, I had to take a hourlong bus ride to the middle of nowhere.  Now, I take the subway from the station next to my apartment, switch over at the big station to Seoul Line 1, and get out a few stations later.

I really, really prefer the subway. Also, some expats apparently nicknamed the Seoul Line 1 as ‘Slumpiercer’? I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry.

KIIP Level 3

Registration opened at midnight on the 16th, and the KIIP website immediately slowed to a crawl. I saw that people were registering slightly before midnight, but I thought I’d wait until after, just to be sure. Occasionally, you see notes on classroom listings that threaten to kick out people who register too early. You’d think they’d build it into the system.

But anyway. I’ve registered! I’m going once a week for 8 hours, every Sunday, from September 04 to December 04. Three months! But it’s only once a week, which should be a cakewalk compared to last semester’s Sat/Sun, 8 hours a day classes.

KIIP Level 2 pass


Look at that! I passed Level 2.

The exam was out of 100 points, with 70 points for the written test (20 questions x 3.5 points), and 30 for the speaking test. The entire class was a bit stunned after the written test, because it was much, much harder than any of the practice tests we had taken. I came out of the test worried that it could easily go either way by a margin of a few points. I had even gotten to the point of randomly choosing between two possible answers on several questions. I remember one of them: I knew options 3 and 4 were wrong, but I didn’t even know the meaning of options 1 and 2.

I bombed my initial question on the speaking test – I was asked to provide instructions on how to make 떡볶이. Wut? We had totally studied it but my brain completely short-circuited. I muddled my way through it, horribly.

One of the two speaking test examiners was my course instructor, and they looped back to me after the others in the test, and asked a different question: what’s your hobby? Maybe because my course instructor knew I could do better? I don’t know. Anyway, it all worked out and I now have a very satisfying 94/100 points.


The entire course was 100 hours, with 8 or so hours of class per day, from 9 am to 5 pm. It was 5 Saturdays and 8 Sundays over the span of 7 weeks. After a while, I got really annoyed at never having a single day off, and less than my usual amount of sleep. It wasn’t that bad, it’s just 7 days a week of sitting at desks … it’s not like it’s manual labor. Regardless. I’ll have to think long and hard before I ever sign up for 9-5 job and classes, every day of the week.

Was it worth it? Yes, completely. Will I do the fast-track course again? Probably not.

Anyway, onwards and upwards.

KIIP 2단계, Day 5

Here’s the thing. I cannot believe how immature some of my fellow classmates are. One of the girls is constantly hissing under her breath (but loud enough for everyone), “Break. Break. Break.” As in, 10-minute study break. This, to me, is rude as fuck and I am certain that she thinks the teacher doesn’t understand her. I don’t even know why some of the people in class even bother coming, if they don’t want to learn. It’s a different story if they were placed in the wrong level and are madly distracted, but I know they’re not scoring as high on dictation and are constantly making mistakes in reading, making sentences, etc. I don’t “need” this class unlike most of my classmates (I’m not married to a Korean, no concrete ties to the country), and yes the class is free, but I am making all this effort to wake up early and spend all this time in class, so you better believe I’m going to fucking ace this class.

KIIP 2단계, Day 1

I take back everything I said about wishing I was in 3단계. 2단계 is the right level for me. It’s just enough that I understand what’s going on, and has enough hard stuff to keep me very, very busy.

My class is the only accelerated class in the schedule. It goes from May 15 to July 03. Other classes started today or will start next week, and end in mid-August.

There are 12 people in my class. Nationalities are Vietnam, Mongolia, Ukraine, Russia, Bangladesh, Syria, Kyrgyzstan, China, and America.

The Ukrainian and Russian women are both married to Koreans. One of the students from Bangladesh was so amused at how my parents are of different Asian races, and that I’m classified as American on the class paperwork.

Everyone can speak better than I can, but I think (lol) I can read the best. Not that reading-out-loud skills matters, because I’m not going into academia or public speaking. I would rather have better conversational skills.

It rained when we got out of class, and we also had a problem unlocking the doors to get out of the place. Syria figured out how to unlock the back door (quite simple really… just reach up really high and flip the deadbolts, except everyone else was too short). Russia and I found out that we take the same bus back home, and we ran for it. We got drenched anyway.

I was shivering miserably in the cold at the longest street light ever, to cross the road over to my officetel. It’s 17 C right now which is really nothing, but it felt much colder with the wind and rain.

Hints: Bring 7,000 won in exact change for the book. Nearly everyone seemed to have 10,000 won bills, and the teacher wasn’t able to give change to three people. She will bring change next week. I brought mine in 7 x 1,000 won, and didn’t have to fuss with getting change. Use the change machines in the subway stations!

Naver Dictionary appears to be the best online dictionary available. There’s free unsecured wifi for each floor, so the signal’s pretty strong. Sometimes, several floors will share one wifi point, and of course there’s going to be dead spots … none of that problem here!

How I got here

The five words I knew, going into Korea, in terms of familiarity. I only knew them orally – had no idea how to read or write Korean.

Typical stuff that you, too, might know:

  • 안녕하세요 – Hello.
  • 김치 – Kimchi… duh.
  • 불고기 – Bulgogi. I always forgot this word.

And the other two, from my university days in SoCal:

  • 야해 – Erotic/racy/vulgar.
  • 기린 – Giraffe. A tall friend’s nickname.


First step was to actually learn how to read Hangul. On the plane to Korea, I referred to the famous “learn to read Korean in 15 minutes” comic.

The first in-the-wild thing I read on my own was a sign I kept seeing on lots of windows in town: 임대  (for rent). In retrospect, it’s kind of funny.

On my phone, this is the only app that ever really helped me with Hangul, and I tried loads of them:

  • PopPopping Korean (Android only. There used to be an iPhone version, but it’s nowhere to be seen now)

When I had my computer all set up, this pronunciation chart helped me actually pronounce instead of just think out the sounds:

  •’s Korean alphabet app (dead link)

Edit: That website seems to be dead now. It was an interactive chart where you could click on things like 아 or 어 or 오 or 우 and hear an audio recording of it.


As for books, I went to Kyobo Bookstore and spent about an hour or so browsing through their learn-Korean-through-English books, trying to find the best match for my self-studying style. I thought I’d start with Sogang University and Ewha University’s books, because their Korean classes are so well-known. I quickly came to the conclusion that their books were a supplement to the teacher – you NEEDED a teacher, and self-studying would be tricky. I also looked at Hello Korean (with an idol narrating!), and passed over it – it was written in a good way for self-studying, but only went up to Book 2. I would need to find something after that.

The only university textbook series that suited my ‘style’ (if you can call it that) was Seoul National University’s books. Each level has a textbook and also a student workbook, and the workbook is totally worth it for the practice. I used to be the student that would zone out in class and then learn everything from the book (probably still am), and this one was the series for me.