Korean Friends and Family
A language barrier definitely has an effect on your social life in a different country. Of course, everything is difficult at the beginning. As a couple teaching in Korea, it seems like we have each other all of the time, which is true. But as a couple who is trying to immerse ourselves in the Korean culture, we strive to find friends outside of the foreign community. Making Korean friends through school was the first step. Then as we became more comfortable communicating with the language barrier, we became more comfortable to befriend Koreans. Although it might seem easy to make Korean friends at our schools, it’s not always that simple. Usually, just the English Korean teachers, speak English. And many teachers are married and have a family. But the teachers, who are single, don’t go out like we do and most still live with their parents. Also, 90 percent of the teachers are female, who don’t drink socially. But, I feel that I am a lucky foreign teacher who has made a great friendship with another English teacher. Of course, my school consists of many young teachers because for most of them, it’s their first time teaching. Alex, or Hyeon Jihye (현지혜), was the first person who was very open to me and my culture. Despite all of her other foreign friends from church, we shared things about each other that friends share. Although she no longer teaches at my school, she is seeking the travel bug in her, which is unlike many Koreans. Alex is one of a few 27-year-old (western age) Korean women who have a different mindset than every other Korean woman. She wonders if there is something else besides settling down and getting married. She wants to travel the world. And she strives to make a difference in people’s lives.
Another great friend we’ve made is a 29-year-old man who is somewhat fluent in French and English and whom Randy met while at school. He doesn’t work for the school, but he works as an inspector of all of the schools in Ulsan. Kim Youngsik (김영식) has introduced us to the Korean culture like nobody else has. At first we would have dinner once a week so that he can practice his English and we can learn a little more Korean. But it became a social gathering for us to have another Korean friend and a chance for him to speak English. Then, we met his mother. What an amazing women! I don’t know her name, but we just call her omani (어머니), mother in Korean. She’s funny, caring and a great cook! She has owned her own restaurant and has her own garden, with kimchi, persimmon trees and I’m sure much more. She has even killed a snake with her bare hands and it is now fermenting into vodka or some kind of liquor that won’t be ready for another 20 years! Youngsik’s friendship has not only been fun, but also rewarding and comforting to feel like we have a new family, well Korean family.
Alex and Youngsik are two Korean friends who have made my time here more gratifying. Although their English is on different levels, their friendship is on the same level. And despite the still existing language barrier on some occasions, the cultural gap becomes less and less. I now have a best Korean friend, Alex, and we have a new Korean family with Youngsik.