Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ignore my crappy Hangukmal, but not my privilege.

I'm working hard at being a better Korean speaker and reader. I'm trying to learn. I'm in my fourth year here and I've lived in the same neighborhood for three years. I feel at home here.

I'm trying to learn. I'm in my fourth year. I've lived in my neighborhood for three years. It's very hard to go from knowing beginning Korean to knowing complex Korean--what we call intermediate Korean here. So difficult. Especially out of school. The learning curve for beginning Korean is not too high. If you speak Korean as often as possible and practice with friends, you can do well because Korean has strict rules that once learned and understood help instruct more than confuse. And the longer you live here, you learn to mask your foreign accent and sound a little more Korean. But once you've mastered small talk in Hangukmal, the learning curve becomes difficult.

I'm excited, though. Next year, I'll be in school full-time, five days a week at Sungkyunkwan University. I get a family discount on tuition--thanks wife!--and am going to take advantage of it while I'm unemployed. Goal is to be at a good level of spoken Korean next Summer. I want to be able to use Korean and resort to English. That's not as easy as it sounds.

It's hard because I feel super-guilty the longer I stay. I want to talk to my friends with more than small talk. It's my responsibility. I feel obligated. This obligation-feeling, the impulse to be obligated, is very Korean. It's not something we learn in the US. I feel obligated to the folks in my neighborhood to learn Korean. I could reject the obligation, as most of the foreigners who live here do. To be fair, most do try to learn survival Korean and some learn the next level, small-talk Korean. And many succeed. But it takes dedication to be good (intermediate,) even a little schooling. So, it takes investment and dedication.

I just went for a drink to the corner store and the clerk wanted to know why it's been a while since he saw me. I told him I've been studying. He asked where. I told him, no I'm writing at home. He then asked me what exactly I was doing. He didn't understand because I confused him. Studying at home? For what? Well, that's hard to explain because it's technical. And I can do it with Korean and English, which he can't understand because he can't use English. Now, I feel obligated to learn so I can tell him.

I'd never have felt this way in the US, for example, felt obligated to learn Spanish to speak with my neighbors in West Denver. I had twenty years to do that and not once did I say it with a sense of obligation, I should learn Spanish. And not one native English speaker would ever feel obligated. It's a choice. I wanted to learn Spanish, but I studied Latin. (Why the fuck did I study Latin. What a dork.)

That I still have the option to invest and dedicate myself to learning Korean language while living and working in Korea while my Korean neighbors are obligated to learn English is a sign of my privilege. And this is something many foreigners simply don't care to understand.

No comments: