Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hangul and Haircuts

Two weeks back from Christmas break, and I'm feeling ready for another vacation...
Even those first two snow days right after break turned out to be not-so-lucky...we have to make them up by working a Saturday. With that 6-day workweek looming in the near future, and the recent removal of kindergarten playtime at school (in order to schedule more practice time for the big school pageant coming up in February), I'm already feeling pretty overwhelmed and exhausted at the idea of getting through the next few weeks. Otherwise, it hasn't been too exciting here lately...aside from the heaviest snowfall that Korea has seen in 103 years, no big deal! And the freezing temps lately (though not as cold as MN, as I know a lot of you would be quick to point out). Namu-chuwa-yo! ("It's so cold!")

I've been trying to study my Korean just about every day, writing down all the characters of the alphabet (called Hangul) whenever I can and sounding out the words on signs and stores everywhere I go. When Christine and I first learned the alphabet (one Sunday at Starbucks after church- because you can't expect to learn Korean without the atmosphere of an expensive American coffee chain), it was like a whole new world opened up to us...we were literally walking down the street, stopping at every storefront and street sign to sound out the characters...and then jumping up and down in excitement when we actually recognized a word. It has opened up an unbelievable new world of possibilities (we can read menus! make sure we're getting on the right bus!

The only problem is that we don't understand about 99% of what we read...but that's a minor detail right now, I'm still basking in my glory of learning the whole alphabet. I've started on some basic verbs and conjugations, plus some useful vocabulary like the days of the week and how to say "puppy" and "shark" (the latter of which is useful only if you have a boyfriend who is a really big fan of sharks- good thing I do). I'm so much more in-tune with what I hear around me now...and what I see all around me! While I'm working out, I'll read and repeat all the Korean words printed on the elliptical or stairmaster, or try to read any street signs I can see out the windows.

It's so tempting to ask my students for new Korean words, or to sound out something for them to check my pronunciation...but since they're not allowed to speak any Korean in school, even during their breaks, it's not a good idea to. That's why I really wish I could start a Korean class now, or get a tutor...but it just doesn't seem possible, with the long hours at school everyday. I feel like I barely have enough time to get home, make dinner, and get to the gym...trying to fit in a Korean class at night would be pretty tough. I do think it's helpful, though, to have some understanding of the language while teaching, and that it would have been much more helpful to have had an understanding from the very beginning. Most public school contracts here for foreign teachers include basic Korean classes or tutors...wish we just had that! I can really see now why my students pronounce words and sounds the way they do, or why their sentences always seem myseteriously devoid of a subject and articles. For example, my kinders will say something like, "My book get, please," when trying to express that they will go get their book. We'd say it, "May I get my book?" but in Korean, they reverse the order and drop the subject and articles.

Sorry if that sounds confusing- it helps me to really think it out, and then write it out, to fully understand how the language that little explanation was just as much for me as it was for you :)

To Mom and Bridget: I learned how to read and speak Korean this year. What did you learn? Oh wait, doesn't matter, I win.

And one more thing: I got my hair cut for the first time here last week, and it was quite a disaster. Other teachers had gone to this salon, so I thought I'd be fairly safe with it...but apparently my insistence that they only cut "little, little bit" was lost in mean "little hair," as in, "cut it very short!"

Not what I had intended...but I guess I know for next time to NOT use the phrase "little, little bit" when describing a haircut.

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