Wednesday, April 13, 2011

You know you're in Korea when...

…you own a shirt that says “I MARRIED am communist,” and socks that say “I am a cow and a orange.” buy a pair of fake glasses, not for a costume party.

…an hour-long ride on the subway doesn’t seem that long.

…you call ramen “rameon” and go to restaurants to eat it. can get through an entire chili and kimchi-laden meal without even breaking a sweat.

…you can translate Konglish.

…you use Konglish to order food (“I’ll have a baniLLa cone-uh please.”)

…you add “-uh” to the end of words without thinking about it. ("Nice-uh.")

…you know when to add “-uh” to make yourself understandable (i.e. "emart-uh"). can't keep your tenses, articles, or pronouns straight. know the dance moves to a K-pop song.

...the 1000₩ jewelry store has nothing else to offer you. own nail polish in every color (easy to do when it's 1000₩ a bottle!) see heels in every weather. start to think that getting a perm would be a good idea. start to think bangs would be a good idea.

...your wardrobe is influenced by the concerns of 6 year-old girls. make your arms into a giant "x" every time you say "no." have to tell everyone your Korean age (which is 2 years older than your actual age). have a vacation consisting of Thursday off, Friday morning at work, Friday afternoon off, Monday at work, Tuesday off.

...most males are wearing pants tighter than your own. have to push your way through a crowd of soju-soaked ajusshis at 8:00pm on a Tuesday night to get to your apartment. see a purse you like in the subway and then realize it belongs to a guy. feel cheated if your meal doesn't come with a side of kimchi (even if you don't like kimchi). start "yogiyo-ing" your friends (in other words summoning them with the Korean "Here!" phrase used in restaurants). are careful not to write anyone's name is red

...a doctor's visit, complete with x-rays and prescription meds, costs less than $9.

...your paycheck is in the millions.

...sweet potatoes are a common ingredient in pizza and desserts.

...mayonnaise is considered a good salad dressing. can pay less than $20 for a cab ride all the way across the city. automatically say "annyeong" when you're leaving somewhere...annyeong!

Nearly lost in translation

Now that you’ve heard all about my kids’ language faux pas, it’s probably about time you’ve heard about mine. As is to be expected, living in a different country is not without its challenges. Language barriers in particular can be rather tricky, and Korea is no exception to this rule. Luckily, I’m more than adept at using body language to get a point across, and have no problem turning any conversation into a game of charades when necessary. But, this can only help so much. I often make a fool of myself gesticulating wildly to someone who wants no part in my corporeal convo and who won’t even give a helpful wave as they rattle off sentences that I clearly don’t understand. Indeed, the blame for this rests solely on me - I never made it around to enrolling in Korean classes – but it remains frustrating, nonetheless.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say I haven’t made an effort to pick up some Korean along the way (which, by the way, is much easier said than done.) After giving up on finding a Korean class that fit my budget, schedule, and general convenience I settled for teaching myself. By now I’ve acquired enough to direct a taxi, order a meal, ask for or decline various things in grocery store check out lines, and other language necessities like greetings, thank yous and no thank yous, and the counting systems for money and objects (yes, systems, plural). And when I got fed up with pointing and mumbling all the time I taught myself the Korean alphabet during my long subway rides by deciphering station names. Now I can sound everything out, making it much easier to can struggle my way through menus and maps, but don’t expect me to do much more.

Then there's all the unhelpful Korean I've picked up through my daily activities. After seven months of yoga four times a week, I'm pretty proficient in Korean yoga terms - things like bend, straighten, together, squeeze, point, lift, breathe-in, get the gist - and can now take a class without needing any English. (Although, I have yet to find a use for this vocabulary anywhere else.) I’ve also, unfortunately, picked up a handful of curse words and other inappropriate terms from my classes of 13-year-olds who like to find English words that sound similar to bad Korean words and then try to surreptitiously slip them into class conversations. Let's just say they were not amused when I figured out what they were doing (which, needless to say, didn't take very long) and put an end to their little game.

There has also been the challenge of incorporating Korean gestures into my body language vocabulary. As I said, I’ve come to accept that charades is a necessary game to play when abroad, but even with body language there is a learning curve. For example, never will you see a Korean motion someone to them with an upturned palm, a gesture strictly reserved for calling to animals. Instead, Koreans turn their palm down. This has proven to be a rather hard habit to form (even now, 8 months in), usually resulting in an awkward sideways sweeping arm movement. There is also the preferred method of giving and receiving cash and important documents by touching the left hand to the forearm of the extended right arm, slightly less difficult to master.

Nevertheless, regardless of my meager attempts at learning enough pocket-Korean to get by, it’s been rough goings at times. Korean has so many sounds that we don’t have in English that serious mispronunciation is inevitable; putting the wrong emphasis on the combined k/g, b/p, l/r, and j/ch sounds, or the hard dd and tt sounds can render a word incomprehensible, and don’t even get me started on the vowels! Thus, half my attempts at communicating in Korean are for naught, making even the most mundane daily interactions more complicated than they need to be. A trip to the post office can result in an hour of waiting in the wrong lines and multiple drafts of a simple mailing form if the English-speaking employee is off duty. A meal can turn into a guessing game of sorts, leaving me hoping that the outcomes of any misunderstandings won’t be too disastrous. And a taxi ride can become a wild goose chase costing 20,000w more than it should because of a mispronounced syllable. (Somehow, my subway stop “Gang dong-gu Cheong yuk” is often mistaken for “Gangnam-gu Cheong yuk,” which is in a completely different part of town.) But luckily, Korean has also adopted many English words so that the problem is just translating the word into Konglish, (i.e. while you'll often get blank stares from ordering a "vanilla cone," substituting a b for the v and adding an “-uh” at the end and ordering a “banilla cone-uh” instead can get you exactly what you want.)

I pride myself in being an American who doesn't expect everyone to speak English. But I must say, I'm relieved when I find someone who does because most of the time I'm just lost in translation.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Kids say the darndest things

…oh indeed they do, especially when they’re Korean kids blundering through the English language. So, since my students’ bloopers give me plenty of laughter nearly every day, I figured I'd share a compilation of some of the best ones with you. Enjoy!

Me: “What kind of animal has feathers?”
Me: “Do mammals have feathers? Do bears or people have feathers?”
Class: “No! Birds!”
Albert: “Teacher yeeesss! My dad many many feathers on arms! Black, long feathers…like this!”
Class: “Aaaaahh! Yes!”
Alex: “Teacher, yes! My too! My grandmother is big feathers on her face!”
Translation: “My dad has black hair on his arms.” “My grandmother also has some long hairs on her face.”

Me: “So, what can we learn from the Ugly Duckling? “
Lily, very seriously: “Teacher, I think North Korea is Ugly Duckling.”
Me: “I see. And why is that Lily?”
Lily, with a big smile on her face: “North Korea no is pretty. But if we no are mean, maybe it is a swan sometime!”

Jay: “Teacher, no are five senses! Two eyes, two ears, two nose holes, two hands, one mouth. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight…NINE SENSES!”
Me: “Well Jay, your eyes both see, and seeing is the sense, so that is only one sense. So let’s count again…”
Tony, pointing to his crotch: “Teacher! Sense?!?”

Me: “Ok, don’t forget your essays! See you Friday!”
Max, pointing at my arm “Shelby Teacher, why your fur is gold?!”
Translation: “Why is your arm hair blonde?”

Me: “What kinds of animals did we learn about in science on Tuesday?”
Class: “Mam..manimals?..Marmals?”
Andy: “Mammaries!!!”
Translation: “Mammals!”

Tom: “Teacher, diet is English speaking?”
Me: “Yes, you mean diet like getting skinny? More small?”
Jay: “Teacher, yes! My mom, she is baby in stomach. Then hospital go, baby PONG!, rope cut, mom baby no…diet YES!”
Translation: “My mom had a baby so now she is not as big. Is this a diet?”

David: “Teacher, goodbye! See you in gradulations!”
Andy: “Yes teacher, goodbye! See you in 900 200 100!”
Translation: “We’ll be gone for a really long time while we brush our teeth.”

Danny: “Oh teacher! Trick! You are mischief!”
Translation: “Teacher, you’re being silly.”

Sam: "Done! Ho!"
Me: “Is everyone finished with this page? Can we go on?”
Andrew: “Yes teacher! Ho!”
Translation: "Done!" "Yes teacher! Let's move ahead!" **We read a story set in the old west, and not long thereafter my class was using "ho!" wherever and whenever they could. It took me awhile to break them of that habit.

Alice, whenever she gets a bad score on her vocab test: “Oh my gas rangey!”
Translation: “Oh my gosh!”

Flora: “Teacher, you are perm-ah?”
Noella: “Yes, perm-ah I think. But teacher, why your hair is long? You are La-pun-jell?!”
Translation: “Your hair is wavy today, did you get a perm?” “Yes, I think she got a perm. But why is your hair so long, are you Rapunzel?”

Paul, in his essay: “Pompeii was a obliteration town!!!”
Translation: “Pompeii was destroyed!”

Me: “So you can see, it was a normal day in Pompeii, but then what happened?”
Emily: “Volcano bump!”
Kai: “Volcano was an erection!”
Translation: “The volcano erupted.”(And the worst part about these situations is I just have to let it slide. If I draw my 12-year-olds' attention to an inappropriate word, I'll never hear the end of it.)

Well, that's all I have for now. But I hope you had a chuckle or two!

Monday, April 4, 2011

And the adventure continues...

With only four months left to go, my Korea-experience is beginning to wind down. But, while I was previously without a clue as to what I would be doing next, things finally fell into place in March. I was offered an internship position with DIS, the study abroad program I did two years ago, and accepted the offer without hesitation. Thus, I will be returning to Copenhagen at the end of July to take up my role as "Study Tours Intern" until September 2012.

Basically, I will be one of two interns organizing the study and adventure trips offered to DIS students. According to my job description, I'll be doing everything from marketing and website maintenance, to researching and leading the trips. If you know me at all, then you can imagine how perfect this position is for me - a good mix of work and pleasure from the looks of it! And on top of all that, the internship itself offers numerous opportunities for personal and professional development. So put simply, I'll be getting paid to challenge myself and have a grand adventure, all while living and working in a place that I love. Not too shabby, eh?

Of course, there are still plenty of kinks to work out: getting my visa (through the Swedish Embassy nonetheless), sorting out my contract here, and finding an apartment, but hey, that's all part of the adventure. And you know me, that's something I can't get enough of!