Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Monday Night Dinner (and other thoughts)

There's something to be said about making Korean friends (in Korea). On the bright side, there's a much easier cultural exchange. Actually, there are a lot of good reasons. I really just want to mention the bad side.
Even though I've been actively studying the Korean language since I got here (some months not as dilligently as others), to this day, I still can not understand most of what is said in a random conversation between two people speaking Korean.

I told you about my occasional outings with some of the teachers at my school, right? Just when I start to think it's been a super long time since I last had dinner with the teachers, I get a text message.
<unknown number> where are you?? we want to have dinner today.
<me> Who is this?
<un> im teacher of 4-1^^*

Oooh. I was wondering when I'd get her number again. When my last phone broke, I told the others that I 'd gotten a new phone and didn't have their numbers. Since they hint at things, I thought it'd be ok to do so, too. Stupid me, though. They didn't give me their numbers. I was forced to wait until they sent me messages, and therefore react this way.

Anywho, we went out for ribs (real ribs! They tasted like something from the States, and my taste buds were the happiest they've ever been in a long time!). It was a "take-a-break" dinner for the sports teacher. He'd just taken one of several difficult exams to become an official teacher. This dinner wasn't really to celebrate any results; rather, just to highlight him accomplishing one step in his goal. As usual, the conversations took place in Korean. Sometimes, one of them would say something or ask me something in English. I felt like they were making progress including me in the conversation like that. I thought about the first casual dinner I had with teachers and staff when I started working here. In contrast to last night's dinner, I wasn't talked to after the first 10 minutes. I spent almost 3 hours watching the others at the table gossip fiercely in Korean. Near the end of it all, when a server came over, one looked up and asked what after-dinner drink I wanted. Orange juice, please. Then they all dipped their heads again and began talking excitedly. It wasn't one of them had to leave that they all raised their heads and allowed me to join their reality. Welcome back, I think. In the car, on the way home, my MT apologizes several times. She doesn't say it, exactly, but she knows that  they all forgot I was there and got carried away.  Instead, she says that they rarely get to meet outside of school and talk casually, so this is why all that happened back there. In later months, I come across many instances where they are all gathered around talking and chatting.

My point in all this is that, at the beginning, I hardly knew more than a few words. There was absolutely no way I would ever guess what two people were talking about if I listened in. Today, my chances are much better; still, it's really difficult. At most, I can guess what the subject is (students at school, co-workers, hairstyles, etc.), but I have no idea what else is going on. I can't figure out why their talking about a co-worker, or what happened with 3 students in the 4th grade class. So, I still sit there trying to entertain myself until someone brings me into the conversation. Every once in awhile I'll try and tune in and see how many words I can understand, wonder what connection these words have with their facial expressions and gestures, and then give up and go back to entertaining myself.

Why go to these dinners if I feel this way? Again, because of the bright side. I'm becoming their friends somehow, if they constantly think of inviting me out time after time. I'm (in a way) learning Korean, and studying my friend's social habits. ...And, like I stated earlier, they're learning to include me in the conversations. We don't meet often, but each time, they talk to me a little more. Call it progress, no matter how freakin slow it's taking. It's better than sitting at home with nothing to do. Plus, the ribs were really delicious.

'Til next time,

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