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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Reflections: Month 7

Happy Sunday Y'all! 

It's pretty unusual for me to post on Sunday, but I really wanted to get this post out there. 
Although my 7th month anniversary of being in Korea was over a week ago, I still wanted to write a reflection. I really like these monthly reflections because they help me see where I am at, what I have learned, and it's a great way to track the time. 

As of March 10th, I have been in Korea for 7 months. The time has really flown by. There are times that I have been really frustrated with Korea. There have been times that I feel so sad that I am not back in Georgia spending time with my family. But for the most part, I am so happy I am here. This was just a dream Matt and I planned, and for some reason, it came true. In the next couple of years, Matt and I will hopefully be adding to our family. We will be starting graduate programs and truly entering the adult world (does anyone else feel like they are still kids? Or is it just me?). If we hadn't taken this jump to Korea- I don't know if we ever would have this opportunity. 

For this reflection, I wanted to join Molly's monthly debate on learning the lingo. This month, the topic question was: If you travel or move abroad, should you learn the language? 

Before moving to Korea my answer was yes. Of course, you should learn the language. How easy it will be once you are living in the country and really immersing yourself in the culture. No hesitation- yes. And when I knew we were moving to Korea- I still thought my answer was yes. 

Fast forward to living in Korea- and ummmm- Korean is flipping hard. And really immersing yourself as an expat is hard. At least for me. I have always struggled with my relationship between my co-workers. Matt and I have like two Korean friends, and their wives are Japanese, so the common language is English. When we do our shopping or eat out, people usually flip to English, or gesture enough that we can get around. 

Which brings me to my next point- learning Korean is not necessary for where we live. Signs are in English. Most people speak enough English. And when Koreans look at me, they do  not expect me to speak the language. For me, it was like the best excuse- I don't need to know this language! I'm saved. 

But I don't want to be saved. I want to challenge myself. I want to learn Korean. My thought is this- if you are living in a country with a foreign language- at least try. Hey, you might not get it. You may leave the country with only basic phrases, but at least you tried. 

In the last month, I have been studying Korean pretty hard. I have learned the alphabet and am getting pretty good at reading the language. (I have no clue what it means, but I can read it!) 


I try to study from  my Rosetta Stone program a couple times a week, and this week my goal is to study an hour a day. I also ask my co-workers a lot of questions. This helps strengthen our relationship, and they really enjoy sharing their language with me. I have a notebook full of my notes, and I try to look over those on a daily basis. I also watch a few Korean dramas, which actually really help. Right now, I am at the start of my language studies, but I can see myself improving. 

When my students say, 선생 I know they are saying teacher and I look over. When I see the word
 모텔on a building I know it means 'Motel'. (PS this literally is just the letters Motel- just written in Hanguel. Motel is motel in Korean.) I can write my name in Hanguel - 알렉스  호 (Alex Ho- which is spelled Allegsu Ho in Romanized Korean.) 

These small steps make me so happy, and they encourage me to keep learning. 

Molly posted a quote from Flora Lewis that says, "Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things." 

I completely agree with this quote. Yes, I know the word for apple, or egg, or girl, or boy, etc. but I also am learning more about Koreans and their language. When I really started studying, I started to understand and respect the people I was surrounded my. They became people that were having conversations with one another, not just people I tuned out because it sounded like noise. (Korean sounds very different than English.) When I first moved here, I hated the way the language sounded. It literally gave me a headache. I thought the women always sounded like they were yelling at each other, but from studying I've learned so much. I love the way the language sounds, and I think that makes me love Korea a little more. Plus, there's no greater feeling than understanding a word that someone said in a foreign language! 

My hope is to be some what conversational before leaving here, but I know I will have to study a whole lot before leaving. I don't think learning another language is for everyone, but at least learn a few phrases when you get to the new country. And I think if you don't learn the language- it doesn't mean you aren't trying to fit in. While language is an important part of the culture, it's not the only way to immerse yourself. 

And that's where I sit on the language issue right now. This last month has really been a month that I've taken the time to study, and I am really enjoying it.

If you want to join Molly's debate over at The Move to America- make sure to #jointhedebate 

So what do y'all think? 

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- Alex