Sunday, April 15, 2012

Ah, This Feeling

I'm finally feeling a bit of loneliness. I'm not sure if it's been there all along in the background and just now surfacing, or if it's a genuinely new feeling.

You know that lonely feeling where you're surrounded by lots of people but still feel as if you're the only one there? It feels like that. ... I hope it's not too serious.

There's a reason I'm unsure if this feeling was in the background or newly surfacing. During orientation, I was overwhelmed with all the new friends I was encouraged to meet. 200-something other TaLK scholars from all around the world, and we were all encouraged to make connections and become close-knit with as many people as possible. There was a valid reason for this: those three-four weeks would be the only time we could see this new "family" every day of the week. Afterwards, we'd be split up and sent in all directions across the country. Of course, some people do live in the same town as other TaLK scholars, but others are the only ones in their towns. Many people made friends who got stationed in the opposite areas of the country. They are separated by more than a taxi ride.I managed to make lots of friends at the orientation, and some live in my town while others live several hours away by train or bus. The friends I became closest to are at least two hours away. I'm thankful for the TaLK scholars in my town, because we were still able to become friends long after the orientation.

I have a bit of a problem making friends. During my last high school years (and into college), it sometimes took an entire year to become really good friends with people. This felt really strange to me because my past required me to make friends quickly. (Being a military brat and moving around a lot meant that good friends would come and go in as little a space as one week). Perhaps, I didn't learn how to make long-term friendships. Hmm...

Anyways, this is probably why I feel lonely even though I've made friends here. I don't quite feel close to them, even though we hang out.

There are other things that have brought out feelings of loneliness though. Last week, my mentor teacher invited me to have a casual dinner with her and some of the other ladies working at the school. She made it clear that there was no pressure in coming, and that I was more than welcome to join. When we met up with the other ladies at a restaurant, they greeted me kindly and seemed more than ok that I'd joined them. ...But when we'd ordered our food, they got heavily into their own conversations. I know very little Korean when it comes to carrying on a conversation. I've learned enough random words to guess at some conversations, but I can't yet hope to speak to people comfortably in Korean. So when the other ladies stopped talking to me and gossiped about who knows what for the next two hours, I had no idea what to do except sit there, try to listen and attempt to be engaged. Two hours is a bit taxing.... It's easy enough to look preoccupied while food is in front of you, but once the food is gone, how do you appear to look like you're enjoying yourself?

As much as I want to become friends with Korean people, the language barrier is still too high. It's even more difficult when their English is extremely limited or nonexistent. This was the case at that dinner. Well, I think two of them know more English than they let on; they just feel nervous or lack the confidence to speak it. How do they think I feel? Do they think I'd make fun of them while they're trying to talk to me? No, I wouldn't. (There's also the problem of forgetting words when you try to speak another language. Conversing becomes painful when you're trying to complete a sentence and thinking of the right word to use.) I should mention that my mentor teacher did realize the big error after dinner and apologize to me many times. ...But what could I tell her (besides, "Ok I understand. It's ok.")? I felt really bad afterwards and the loneliness intensified.

I frequently run into Korean people who have kindly said hello to me or bow back when I say hello to them in Korean. There are so many people still who (are probably super nervous... I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt) don't like to make eye contact (but will stare if I'm not looking) or say hello in return. On the small chance that I run into people who live in my building, many of them don't seem to want to talk to me. Some rush off into rooms, but there have been two who have said hi to me. I feel just as nervous about talking to these people (my Korean is not up to par), but I'd still like to greet people and get to know them on a regular basis.

Time to study more Korean. Hopefully that will solve the problem.

'Til next time,

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