I’m back, and brace yourselves for a long update. I haven’t been active on the blog for the past couple of weeks due to, well, the title of this post should be self-explanatory. It may seem like three random concepts without any rhyme or reason, but put toghether they pretty much summarize what has been going on in my life since my last update.
With my husband well out of the Yonsei Hospital following his appendectomy, we were finally allowed to go on our scheduled trip to Denmark on January 19th. For me there was just one more hurdle to overcome: My Sogang Korean midterm interview test. I didn’t have any time to study at all because of my husband’s hospitalization, and the topics were pretty advanced, so I was quite nervous about this test. The previous week, I had taken three written midterms, which I had a good feeling about, but the interview scared me. Luckily, it went really well (partly, if not entirely, due to me being 100% lucky in my draw of topics), and my sweet teacher praised my efforts. She told me that she was thankful to have such a zealous student in her class and that I should be proud of my accomplishments. I left the test room feeling happy and relieved and ready to do some last minute shopping before leaving for Denmark the next day.
After spending a good 12 hours combined in two different airplanes, we finally touched Danish ground for the first time in six months. It felt completely surreal to be back, and I was overcome with joy when my parents opened the door to welcome me. My busy sister had even taken a day off work to come all the way from Copenhagen to greet me. It was a lovely family reunion with my mom’s homecooked food and lots and lots of talking.
I then spent the weekend with my two favorite girls in a beach house by the west coast of Denmark taking long walks, sipping coffee, tea, and cocktails in random order and talking about life, careers, boys, dreams, hopes, and shared memories. The whole weekend was in my newly acquired Konglish “healing”, which is a word Koreans use for experiences that soothe and recharge your soul.
Then followed a visit to my husband’s family where his two nieces aged 2 and 4 were gifted with Korean hanboks. They absolutely loved dressing up as Korean princesses and didn’t want to take the dresses off the entire day. I enjoyed seeing how happy it made my husband to play with the girls and just being in his right element. While he enjoys life in Korea, being the family guy he is, it also sometimes makes him feel like a fish out of water.
I also had a couple of work obligations during the week, including two full days at my home university. It was great to sit at my old desk and talk to all of my lovely colleagues. I guess I didn’t really realize how much I had missed them while I had been away. Being in my old office, with my officemate and going to the cafeteria, where I used to buy my lunch, it felt as if I had just been away for a short vacation.
With almost no time to rest, I was off to a business meeting in Copenhagen on Friday to meet with other country specialists freelancing for a cultural consulting bureau. It was great fun to share my Korean experiences and hear about the others’ experience from various countries and cultures. We had a great time networking and getting to know each other while feasting on delicious Chinese food.
After a family dinner with my grandfather on Saturday evening, I had to pack on Sunday, since I was to fly back to Korea on Monday. I couldn’t believe how fast time had gone buy, but I felt that I managed to do most of what I had planned, including studying Korean whenever possible, so I wouldn’t get too far behind in my class.
I landed in Incheon on Tuesday morning and headed straight to school in order not to miss a single class. Sogang is super strict about attendence and failing to attend at least 80% of the classes will automatically fail you. Needless to say, I’ve maxed out my allowance with my Denmark trip so from now on, there’s no skipping classes or even being late. My first days back in Seoul consisted only of sleeping, studying and eating. On top of my jetlag I was fighting a cold, so dragging myself to class at 9am everyday was challenging but I managed. I was even happy to feel that my Korean was still fluent despite not having been used for several days. My teachers praised me, and I felt confident and eager to learn more.
Yesterday was Friday, and I had arranged with my Korean best friend, whom I hadn’t seen in over a month that we should meet and hang out. He recently moved away from Seoul for work, so he had invited me to Ansan, so I could see his new neighborhood. For those unfamiliar with Korean geography, Ansan is a small city located in the middle of nowhere southwest of Seoul. It took me about 1.5 hours to go there by train, and since I went during the rush hour I had to stand up the entire time. He was waiting for me at the central station, and guided me to a nice restaurant which served various dishes from around the world. He suggested that we ordered two kinds and shared them, so I picked a Japanese dish with fried rice and shrimp, while he went for a Thai stew with baby octopus. Needless to say, we didn’t share both dishes evenly. While catching up, we accidentally got into our first big fight (for our first small fight, read here). It started like this:
Him: Do you feel that your Korean has improved over the six months you’ve been living here?
Me: Definitely! I feel more confident and I understand most things. I feel much more fluent.
Me: What’s that supposed to mean? You don’t think so?!
Him: Well…, I actually had expected your Korean to be much more fluent by now. But I guess my expectations were just too high…
Me: *Silence* (Inside my heart froze to ice and shattered in thousand pieces)
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and he didn’t make things better when he went on to comparing my level to all the foreign celebrities on TV here in Korea who all speak like natives. May I just add that these people have lived here for decades and are in many cases married to a Korean! No wonder their Korean is flawless! After a few minutes of silence and, admittedly, fighting to keep my tears back, I went into complete defense mode. “Do you have any idea how hard I’ve worked for this? How many hours I’ve spent every single day? How I struggle to go to class even though I’m sick and jetlagged? How far I’ve come in only 2.5 years? Not to mention without taking any formal classes until recently? What the H… do you want from me? This is THE most hurtful thing you’ve ever said to me!” I spewed all of this at him in English since he had just ripped my Korean confidence to pieces. Slowly realizing that he had actually hurt me, he started comforting me by repeating that he had just had too high expectations. He also claimed that he had only said so to push me to study harder. I sarcastically apologized (in the most formal form of Korean) for being such a disappointment to him. Our heated argument went on for another halfhour (probably leading the other guests to think that we were a couple on the verge of a breakup) eventually resulting in him being on the receiving end of my “silent treatment” for several minutes, before we finally got up and went outside promising each other to not revisit the topic that evening. Out of sheer spite I refused to say another word in Korean that evening, sticking only to English. We eventually did end up having a fun evening together, drinking beer and talking and laughing. And I know I’ll get over my hurt pride, but it may take a few days before my Korean confidence is restored.
Thinking about the situation today, I think the reason that his words hurt so badly was because they came from my Korean “language parent”. (In language learning terminology, especially in the cases of self-study, a language parent is the one person who guides your language learning journey, knows your level, kindly corrects your mistakes, and encourages you in your learning – just like a parent guides a child learning its mother tongue.) Since he’s been my Korean language parent for 1.5 years, more so than from anyone else, I seek his approval. And not getting it yesterday really hurt my feelings.
Another encounter with the BRUTAL Korean honesty, ladies and gentlemen! Happy Saturday! I should probably spend this weekend studying.