Since I’m no longer in school in the morning I now have plenty of time to update my blog. So everyone, brace yourselves for yet another Korea rant! There’s no doubt that I absolutely love living in Korea, and that this country will always feel like a second home to me. That said, after having lived here for 10 months now, (and just having successfully extended my contract by another year, yay!) there are just some things that strike me as so incredibly wrong that I thought I’d vent a bit by sharing some of my frustrations with you guys here. Don’t worry, I’m not angry, sad, or even moody, I’m just slightly frustrated with the way this week has turned out. As usual, I’ll vent my frustrations with a dash of humor and irony, so please read this post as it is intended. Simply as a way for me to let off some steam. Anyway, let’s start from the beginning.

Korea is usually known around the world for being a country where everything goes really fast. It’s often dubbed a bballi bballii (meaning quickly quickly) culture, and while this certainly impressed me in the beginning, I’ve slowly come to realize that there’s a good reason for everything having to go so fast all the time. That reason is simply that everything constantly happens at the last minute. This realization suddenly makes it a lot less impressive. At work, people are being given important tasks with a strict deadline 30 minutes before they were supposed to go home. Plans that have been made long in advance, are subject to change until an hour after they should have happened. And no one seems to take offense or become irritated. This seems to be a highly inefficient way of living, where no one ever knows anything for certain, and appointments are never truly fixed. A promise is never really a promise, but merely a token of good intent, and prior engagements mean next to nothing if a person’s senior (a boss, a parent, or an older friend) decides to overrule said engagement.

As you may know, I had my graduation ceremony at Sogang this Tuesday. My graduation day turned out to be a textbook example in last minute chaos. Some of the students (definitely not me) were to perform at the graduation, and guess what: The rehearsal took place on stage as the audience gathered, so essentially we all just got to witness the same performances twice. Meh.

The teacher, who was in charge of announcing the program, the speakers, and calling the graduates onto the stage, seemed terribly unprepared, which was probably because she had just been briefed about the program 10 minutes prior to the actual ceremony. She mispronounced half of the graduates’ names when calling them on stage, and in my case she didn’t even make an effort, but just gave up after a half-assed attempt at the first syllable, even though I had clearly spelled it out phonetically in Korean letters more than a week in advance. Wow, being called to the stage as “Br… eh? … Sopi…” certainly made me feel extra special on my graduation day. After having received my diploma, I sat down and opened the navy blue folder to have a look at it. Halfway expecting my name to be misspelled too, I was pleased to see that they at least had gotten that part right. Then I realized that instead of saying “certificate of graduation” it said “certificate of completion”. Talking to one of my classmates I realized that Sogang only considers students to be “real graduates” if they have completed at least three levels of Korean at Sogang. Never mind that my Korean skills were so advanced that I enrolled straight into level 5, effectively leaving me with only two levels to complete. My punishment for being so good at Korean before even starting at Sogang was to not be considered a real graduate upon completing five intense months of studying. Ironic!

While whisperingly bitching to one of my classmates who was in the same situation, another classmate handed me three cards and a pen and told me to write a thank you message to our three teachers. Sure, let’s do this now. Certainly not yesterday when we had all the time in the world. Last minute is always better! With the cards in my lap, I scrambled to jot down a few words of thanks to each of my teachers before passing on the cards to the student next to me. Luckily I had already seen all the performances while they were rehearsing, so it’s not like I missed out on anything while hastily penning down a few words of thanks.

When we then wanted to present our teachers with said cards and flowers after the ceremony, we only managed to track down one of them. The two others had other engagements and had left early. Sure! That seems fair. It’s still beyond me that they after several years of teaching did not think to stick around in their office just five minutes after graduation just in case some of the graduates (or, in my case, graduate wannabes) had a token of thank you for them. But I guess that’s another part of the last minute culture. Something more important probably came up. Knowing that I’ll likely never see them again, I had wanted to thank the teachers personally, and finding out that this day was indeed just another day at the office for them left me with a strangely empty feeling. But apparently it wasn’t a real graduation, so who cares?

Lastly, I’ve said this many times but Korea is so excessively obsessed with appearance that it’s sickening. At the graduation ceremony the name-mispronouncing announcer called our catholic priest/dean on stage for his speech and then asked the audience “isn’t he just handsome, everybody?” Uhm… I’m thinking “…no!”. He’s a 60-something balding Korean catholic priest. Unless they look like Richard Chamberlain in “The Thornbirds”, I generally find that catholic priests are rarely handsome. No one in the audience said anything, and an awkward silence followed. It was just a very uncalled-for comment that seemed to make everyone quite uncomfortable. Later, the one teacher that actually we managed to track down to give her the thank you card, lamented to me that she didn’t get to meet my husband, who she was sure was “extremely handsome”. Oh my god! What difference does that make?!

One of the expressions that I’ve learned while studying Korean at Sogang University is “김 샜어” , which is an idiomatic expression literally meaning “the steam has leaked from the rice cooker”. I can’t think of an English counterpart to this expression but in my native Danish we say “the air has left the balloon”. In any case, you use this expression when you had high expectations for something but then end up being disappointed because things didn’t go the way you hoped. I found myself using this expression quite a few times this week.

For more details on how and when to use this expressions you can watch the hosts from Arirang Radio’s catch the wave program explain the expression in English here:

6 Comments »

  1. Wow… looks like it’s been a tough week! Congrats on the graduation though or completion as they not-so-subtly put it. -__- I think the closest expression to 김새다 that I can think of in English is just “feeling deflated”.

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  2. “I can’t think of an English counterpart to this expression but in my native Danish we say “the air has left the balloon”

    — to burst someone’s bubble, e.g. “I hate to burst your bubble but you’re not a real graduate.”

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  3. “Lastly, I’ve said this many times but Korea is so excessively obsessed with appearance that it’s sickening…”
    That’s probably a fair generalization, but Koreans also like to pay compliments a lot as a way to ease social relations and it might look like flattery, it might sound awkward, it might be inappropriate, etc. etc but I think they prefer it to not saying anything.

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  4. I ‘m not sure that this is an instance of their 빨리 빨리 character. I think you are being too understanding. I don’t think Koreans save everything to the last minute or hurry through things in general. I think they were not respectful to the students in planning the event so there wouldn’t be the problems you pointed out. I can’t imagine them doing this planning an international summit.

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