CLOSER TO KOREAN

Notes from Korean classes at the YMCA in Cheongju, South Korea.

Badminton sessions are in full swing (pun intended). I’m somewhat getting the hang of it, but still have a lot to learn.

I’ve joined a local gym to take yoga and a K-Pop aerobics class. I’m really looking forward to mastering some K-Pop moves for future reference.

Taekwondo lessons have started. I’ve spent the past few days extremely sore from squatting, punching and kicking more than I ever have in my life.

This morning I joined Korean classes at the YMCA in Cheongju. Although I feel one step closer to becoming Korean, today's experience was somewhat traumatizing. I got caught in a mess of miscommunication right from the start.

After registering, I was separated from my friends and escorted to a room with unfamiliar Guest English Teachers. It became clear I was placed in the high-level class when I wasn't even able to introduce myself in Korean. How embarrassing! I wanted out immediately.

One of the Korean teachers had me follow her. She told me she was upset because she wanted “the handsome” one in her class (which made me even more uncomfortable). I was brought to another class. The teacher welcomed me with a pile of worksheets to complete.

I just stared at them for a moment. Seeing everyone else fill them out with ease confirmed I was still in the wrong class. I stood up and announced to everyone that I was a beginner and needed to be in a beginner class. Another student sarcastically responded, “We’re all beginners!” Everyone laughed.

I wanted to use my new Taekwondo moves on his face, but didn’t want to cause a scene (or pull a muscle) So, I politely said, “I know, but I need to be in the lowest level class."

I snuck into another class already in session. Finally, familiar faces! It seemed like a better fit. Everyone giggled a bit after I shared what had happened earlier. But, I immediately felt lost again when class resumed. How was I supposed to combine vowels and consonants to form a word, when I didn’t even know the Korean alphabet?

I looked at my friend and told her I needed to learn how to read and write Hangul (the Korean alphabet) first. Everyone chuckled some more, and I was taken back to the teacher who escorted me to the high-level class in the first place.

After some Korean was exchanged between the two teachers, they told me they thought I said I could read and write in Korean. What? How! I didn’t even know how to introduce myself in Korean! Finally, the miscommunication had been cleared, and I was placed in the proper class.

Even though my start to Korean classes at the YMCA in Cheongju was quite traumatizing, I feel like I learned a lot today. So much more already makes sense, and I can hardly wait for next week’s session. I’m beginning to see English as just a bunch of lines and shapes, which is how I used to view Korean.

It feels good to be one step closer to becoming Korean. Plus, I now realize how terrifying it is to be a student learning another language. I more fully understand what my students must feel like in my classes. And I finally recognize why many Koreans pronounce certain English words the way they do. What an enlightening adventure!

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