So I’ve been looking through the application guidelines for KGSP 2017. One thing that I noticed is that they eliminated this sentence that was in the 2014 guidelines (my year):
“Scholars who do not pass at least TOPIK Level 3 after one year of Korean language course must complete an additional six-month coursework in the Korean language.”
The current language in both the guidelines and the FAQ make it sound like this six-month extension will not be granted and you must pass TOPIK 3 in just one year. Now, in 2015, they didn’t mention the part about people being able to move on to graduate studies if they pass TOPIK levels 5 or 6 in the first six months, but that was still a policy. So, it may be that they just left it out of the guidelines. If this is the case, then there will likely be information about this in the information given to students who are finally selected in June.
But, it is also possible that they decided to limit the language training to just one year.
Each year, between 10 and 20% of language trainees do not pass TOPIK 3 and are required to take another six months of Korean language training. There are probably a variety of reasons for this. Some may just not take the training all that seriously. They know they have an extra six months if they need it. Some may be worried about their Korean abilities and doing graduate studies in Korean and throw the test on purpose. And some people might simply find the Korean language and Korean experience more difficult than they expected. If, indeed, they have eliminated the possibility of studying for an extra six months then you want to make sure you are not in any of these categories.
If you are serious about studying in Korea, I would recommend taking some time to familiarize yourself with the Korean language before you end up on a plane to spend 3-4 years of your life here. Hangul (the Korean writing system) may look difficult, but it is actually one of the easiest writing systems to learn, so with some help you should be able to learn it on your own.
Beyond the writing system, Korean is pretty much in a language family by itself. Some linguists have said that it belongs in a family with Turkish and Japanese, but many disagree. If you speak either Chinese or Japanese, you will find many cognates (words with similar sounds and roots). There is also some English influence, in terms of vocabulary, because English is such a widely used language. Otherwise, the grammar and vocabulary are likely to be completely different from whatever language it is you speak natively. This naturally makes Korean more difficult to learn, but it is certainly not impossible.
By doing some prep work before you leave, you can eliminate most of the possibility of failure. A leg up will mean that you are less likely to fail because you were unable to learn enough, and you will learn everything better once you arrive. Then you just need to remember that while Korean may not be what you came to Korea to do, it is not just an obstacle on the way to your real goal. It will be a means to achieve your real goal and you should give it as much attention as you do computer science or bio tech or psychology or history or art.
Fortunately, there are many online resources for starting to learn Korean:
The Study in Korea people, the ones who bring you the KGSP scholarship, even have their own list of online courses here.
Whether you start now, or after you reach a certain stage in the application process, is up to you. It is not even 100% necessary to do that much before you leave. One year should be enough to learn Korean to TOPIK 3, if that is your goal, and you put in the work, but I would recommend just looking through some lessons to figure out what it is you are getting yourself into and whether Korean really is for you. You don’t want to do all of this work applying, only to be sent home after a year because you were unable to pass a Korean test.