Week 8: Learning to read all over again

Gwangju Travel Blog

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Hangul, the Korean Alphabet

This week our Korean lessons began at the Gwangju International Center.  For 60,000 Won  ($70) we get a membership to the GIC and 7 weeks of lessons, two times a week for two hours each day.  Our recruiter in Canada paid for our lessons so that was a bonus.  We just had to shell out 8,000 Won ($9) for our workbooks.

I can't express how eager I was to begin taking Korean lessons.  When we arrived in Gwangju in July we had just missed the start of the new session of Korean lessons so we had to wait until September to begin.  Before coming to Korea I was very optimistic that I would learn the language quickly and that we wouldn't have too many problems overcoming the language barrier since the majority of Koreans learn English as their second language.

All of the consonants.
  However, I did not take into account the fact that while many Koreans do know how to speak at least a little English, many of them are afraid of making mistakes while speaking with native English speakers so they often don't even try.   This has been a little frustrating.  I do have to say that Koreans are some of the most generous, helpful people I have ever met.  More than once I was wandering the streets of Gwangju completely lost when a sympathetic Korean approached me and asked me if he could help. Once I was offered help  by two men.  They called the building I was trying to get to and asked for directions for me.  The only problem was they didn't know how to give the directions in English so they drew me a map and told me what to do in Korean.
All of the vowels.
  One of the men realized I did not understand a single word coming out of his mouth so he shouted the directions at me just in case I did in fact understand Korean but was very deaf :)

Despite the frustrations I've experienced so far I look at this experience as a valuable learning opportunity.  I can now identify with many of my clients whom I met while I was working at the Health Department last year.  It is very intimidating being in a strange new place not being able to read or speak the language.  I feel very dependent on my Korean friends for just about everything.  Language barriers are exactly that, barriers that have a way of isolating you from everyone around you even when you're standing in a crowded room. 

I hope that over the next few months the feelings of isolation and utter dependency will fade and I will be able to embrace my knowledge (even if it's somewhat limited) of the Korean language.  I do hope that our lessons will pick up the pace though or else 3 months from now I still be practicing making the vowel sounds, some of which sound exactly the same but our teacher swears that there is a difference, even if most Koreans cannot identify it.  The nice part about taking Korean lessons at the GIC is that Justin and I have now met 12 other foreigners living in Gwangju.  Before attending Korean lessons we met 2 other foreigners.  It's so nice to be able to speak English with people that actually understand you.  I have high hopes for our next 6 weeks of class; I'm determined to be able to have a basic conversation in Korean and I hope that we'll make some interesting new friends to  laugh about our experiences with.

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Hangul, the Korean Alphabet
Hangul, the Korean Alphabet
All of the consonants.
All of the consonants.
All of the vowels.
All of the vowels.
Gwangju
photo by: jegs76