smile Welcome to the sport!
You will never regret learning to boat. Do whatever you have to (within reason) to learn. You should consider doing a 4 day course at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. They have excellent instructors. And if you don't have money to take the class then go spend a summer being one of their raft guides or working somewhere else on the campus. That's how I did it. You'll meet tons of people and have lots if opportunities to boat. There are sooo many beginner rivers near the NOC main campus. They even have cheap staff housing and a meal plan. You may not make a ton of money that summer but the experience will last you a lifetime. Well worth it! Good luck to you! Hope to see you on the river!