I found out about the Korea Immigration and Integration Program 사회통합프로그램 (KIIP) even before I moved to Korea. It sounded like an awesome thing; free Korean language and culture classes for those who plan on staying in Korea long-term. The program benefits individuals and families by making it easier to obtain a resident visa or Korean citizenship through naturalization.
Foreigners who marry native Koreans have a huge advantage, as, they are some of the only (as I understand it) people who are allowed to obtain Korean citizenship while maintaining the citizenship of their home country. This means that eventually, I can be a dual citizen, which will offer me and my family a lot of benefits when traveling between Korea and America.
When we applied for my spousal visa, I had to prove that we could communicate. My husband has never formally studied English (since high school) and has never taken any of the internationally recognized English proficiency tests. Thankfully, I had taken the TOPIK a few months before, and my score was high enough to prove proficiency in everyday conversations.
However, many who apply for resident visas in Korea also need to prove their Korean language ability, so the KIIP is there to provide free classes and proficiency tests to those who need them. The program also provides classes in Korean on culture, history, food, etc. This is to prepare those who are applying for naturalization take an equivalent of the citizenship test.
Whoever completes the classes in the program and passes the final exam will be exempt from taking the citizenship test when they apply. They can simply show a certificate and turn in their paperwork, rather than go in for an interview and sit the written test.
Before students of the program are able to take classes, however, they must be placed into a level based on their Korean ability. In order to do this, students either choose to start at Level 0 (absolute beginner) or take the pre-test at a nearby testing location. I signed up for the pre-test and took it on a Saturday, at Mokwon University.
It wasn’t very far, but I had to take two different buses to get there. Once I did, I realized how early I was, so I found the building (which was already filled with other test-takers) and found a quiet place to sit down. There was no need to study for the test, as they want to know your ability as accurately as possible.
After a while, I decided to look on the list of names outside the room I was assigned. I noticed that we had all been sorted by date of birth. Everyone in my room was around my age. Most were Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Chinese, but I saw a few Russians and two other American women, like myself. The three of us were seated close to one another in the back.
Eventually, it was time to go in the room and prepare for the test. I sat down in the back, at the desk with my name on it, and soon, the other two American girls came in and sat down, as well. The three of us started talking about what level we thought we’d be placed in, and of course we talked about our jobs. They were surprised when I told them that I was married, but many of the other test-takers in the room were also married, some with children.
The first part of the test was a written exam with 48 multiple choice questions and two written questions. I had read that it was better not to guess on anything; that leaving things blank would help my score better reflect my actual level. There were no listening questions, so we got started. I noticed that the test was similar to the TOPIK. The questions start out easy and get harder as they go, so I assumed that somewhere down the line, I’d have to stop answering them.
I got through the first 20 questions with no problem, and around question 26, I had to start leaving some blank. The last few questions were about Korean culture, and the written questions confused me, and I had no idea how to answer them, so I left those blank. I finished with about ten minutes to spare, but I had read all the questions, so I think for the advanced students, it would have been ample time to complete everything.
Next, we waited until we were called by groups of five to enter another room, where we would have a speaking test. Three Korean women graded each of us on our pronunciation, easy of conversation, vocabulary, ability to read aloud, and ability to answer questions when asked. I was in the middle of my group, level-wise. They stopped asking me questions after a while and focused on the two advanced speakers. However, I could understand most everything that they said. My listening is definitely better than my speaking, but I didn’t take it to heart, because I’m signing up for KIIP classes in order to improve.
Once we were done, we were free to go. I checked online about a week later, and found out that I had been placed into Level 3 (intermediate), so I was pleased. I still have to wait until I can sign up for classes, but I’m eager to get started and meet more people like me.