Sunday, November 2, 2008

Let's Speak Together

It never ceases to amaze me how God provides you with exactly what you are looking for.

I have been a little glum lately because it's been really hard to make Korean friends here. I spend all of my time at work with other foreigners speaking English, doing Western things, and eating Western food. In some ways, I am very grateful for this, because a Western work environment allows me to grow and expand, whereas I know first-hand how frustrating, inefficient, and even destructive Korean work environments can be. But in others, I sort of feel as though I'm drowning of thirst in the middle of the ocean. Sometimes I don't even feel like I live in Korea. I'm in a bubble, watching Korea from a distance, but never joining in. It's unsettling. I feel a bit sorry for my coworkers who are here for the first time, because I don't think they're really getting a sense of what Korea is actually like.

On Friday night I discussed this fact with a coworker who feels the same way as me. We asked each other how we could make Korean friends, and concluded that it was probably going to be difficult, if not impossible, and left our conversation on that somewhat pessimistic note.

So imagine my delight today when my neighbour, whom I've said hello to a few times, knocked on my door to bring me a bag of puffed rice. It's very common in Korea for people to give small gifts like this, even though they're usually things that Westerners would consider really random (like puffed rice, or, as another example, Spam). She speaks almost no English, so we had to communicate in my choppy, faltering Korean. She asked me to tutor her daughter. I told her that my visa prevents me from doing so, but I would be happy to do a language exchange instead. She then asked me over for tea and apples, and we spent an hour and a half chatting with each other. If it's one thing that my time in Korea has taught me, it's that a Korean-English dictionary and a whole lot of determination can take you surprisingly far. Our conversation was quite comprehensive.

She had a little notebook with some English expressions in it. I asked her if she was studying English as a hobby.

"No," she told me in Korean. "I am learning English so I could talk to you." Then she flipped to a page in her notebook and pointed to the word "Lonely." "I thought you might be sad by yourself," she said.

The warmth and generousity of Koreans still take me by surprise every time, even as long as I've been here. She was trying to learn English just so I would have somebody to talk to! I nearly cried. We then made plans to go out to supper together with her husband and daughter next weekend, and parted on the promise that they would learn a lot of English from me and I would learn a lot of Korean from them. I am looking forward to spending more time with them and getting to know them better!

1 comment:

Sarah said...

What a beautiful story, Laura. I'm happy things are working out and that life won't be as lonely for you. You're a strong person who continues to embark on adventures that will enrich your life. I'm proud of you!

Sarah Horrocks (Carpenter)