After a week of day long orientation I’ve concluded two things:
1. I suck at Korean.
2. There’s never going to be enough time to do what I want.
On my Korean language abilities:
I’ve studied Korean formally for about 2 years but somehow I’m still not able to speak well. I haven’t taken a Korean language class in about a year now so I don’t have a firm grasp on grammar or vocabulary anymore. I’ve forgotten almost everything I’ve learned! In turn, I find myself being hesitant to speak in Korean whenever an opportunity arises. The most frustrating part is that I can understand what people say to me but I can’t formulate a coherent sentence quick enough to answer.
I know that I’ll have many more chances to practice (I’m also taking an intensive Korean language course) but I want to speak it well now. I want to be able to speak comfortably to my former homestay family—I previously studied abroad in South Korea 4 years ago—but there’s still the annoying language barrier that I swore I’d overcome by the time I returned.
It’s hard not to feel embarrassed that I’ve made little progress but life has had its challenges for me in the past 2 years so I’m going to stop being hard on myself. From now on I want to be less afraid to make mistakes and study hard so I can regain my Korean language ability by the end of my 4 month stay.
Moving on to the issue of time:
I’ve done so much that summarizing it all would be an injustice to all the great people I’ve met and all the beautiful places I’ve gone. However, if I write out every single thing I’ve done, this would be a book rather than a blog post!
I’ll recap my favorite moments.
One day of orientation we were sent on a scavenger hunt and my group was lucky enough that one of our members had a working phone (no one else had a SIM card at this point) and they could also speak Korean pretty well. A kind local helped us find one of our scavenger hunt items which was the Statue of Peace in front of the Japanese embassy. He walked us (almost) all the way there even though it was out of his way and we were so grateful.
Additionally, on the day of our scavenger hunt there was a lot of 시위 (si-wi) or demonstrations in the Gwanghwamun Plaza area which is apparently a very popular place for Koreans to protest. Foreigners aren’t allowed to protest in South Korea so my group and I kept our distance although it was difficult when there was so many demonstrations going on at the same time.
Some other highlights are that I’ve watched a lot of busking groups in my local area of Sinchon and the neighboring area of Hongdae. Some of the busking groups give great fan service and blow kisses and may even approach you to dance in front of your phone camera. It’s very fun but expect to lose your voice from screaming and chanting along to kpop hits. My favorite busking performance so far was by 임병두 (Im Byeong-du). I even got a selfie with him!
Finally, on Wednesday and Thursday I went on a trip to the southern part of South Korea to visit the Namwon (known as the “city of lovers”), the 화엄사 (Hwa-eom-sa) temple on Mt. Jirisan, and Jeonju.
In Namwon I learned about the love story of 춘향 (Chun-hyang). It’s the classic clash of classes love story and I’ll leave it up to you to look it up. Or better yet: come to Namwon and learn about it here!
At 화엄사 (Hwa-eom-sa) I was able to get away from the 빨리빨리 (ppali-ppali) or “hurry hurry” culture. It was a nice way to unwind after my first couple of days in Seoul.
I finished off the 2-day trip in Jeonju where I learned about traditional mask dance amongst other things.
I would like to go on but I’ll save some of the exciting bits for future blog posts. I’ll say this much…no matter how many times I’ve come to Seoul, each time is different and this city never fails to surprise me.
(And now I sign off to get ready to go to an Astro fanmeeting.)