For two years, I taught English as a Fulbright Scholar in Yesou, South Korea. I spent the second half of University independently studying Korean and continued studying in Korea. I think learning Korean has so many benefits. Here are a few:
1) The Friendships
I've traveled extensively all over the world and learned a handful of languages, but of all the languages I've learned, my (poor) Korean had the most magnetic draw on strangers. I forged some of my closest friendships with Koreans. To this day, I still keep in regular contact with many of these friends, my lovely Korean host family, and even a handful of my former students.
2) The Travel Opportunities Are Boundless
A vast majority of people who learn Korean end up living in and working there for a time. Korea is a wonderful country to explore, and I highly recommend venturing beyond Seoul. The country is full of regionally-specific dishes, local festivals, rocky mountains, jagged coastlines, and...interesting museums dedicated to human anatomy. Plus its public transportation runs like clockwork and is very easy to navigate for foreigners.
Once you've gained even a basic understanding of Korean, a college degree in an English-speaking country will easily get you a job with flexible hours and enough vacation time to tour all of Asia. After every school holiday, my ex-pat friends and I would compare notes of which Asian countries we visited. I was able to spend significant time exploring Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, China, and Mongolia - all because I had studied Korean!
3) Koreans Are Unusually Forgiving Of Mistakes
Koreans are almost universally overjoyed when foreigners make an effort, however poor. This is, in part, due to the difficulty of Korean grammar and the vast pronunciation differences from English. Though my Korean is not amazing by any stretch, I found Korea a wonderful environment to practice my language skills. Just giving my taxi drivers directions in semi-passable Korean was enough to spark conversations that normally resulted in my vocabulary growing by a handful of words each time.
4) (K)Pop Culture
Korean entertainment is ascendant, and it doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon. BTS is appearing on every late-night show of note, and Parasite is winning every major film award available. If you want to engage with the behemoth that is Koran pop culture, learn Korean. Subtle socio-economic differences in how the characters of Parasite address one another, for instance, make the story so much richer, and subtitles simply can't capture these nuances. Plus, nothing beats being able to go to a noraebang (Korean singing room) and belt out the chorus to the latest hit ballad - most of my friendships were cemented with the surprised faces of my new acquaintances realizing I knew the words and the chorus of their voices joining mine.
5) Politics and World News
I decided I wanted to live in Korea for a variety of reasons, but one of the largest factors was to better understand the complex political relationship between North and South Korea. With rumors of Kim Jong-un's death running wild, I am so happy that I can go to the source by watching the latest North Korean reports, reading the latest South Korean commentary, and discussing the facts with my friends - all in Korean! In fact, I would say I'm aware of the latest developments before most American news outlets have been able to translate them into English purely due to my broken Korean.
If you're looking for a challenge (and it is a challenge), learning Korean is absolutely worth the effort!
Nathan Sieminski, Account Executive for a marketing and PR firm in NYC