Today was our last Korean Survival Advanced Class. Heesu gave a presentation on the Busan dialect which is one that many Seoul-ites have difficulty understanding (so much so that a famous movie, 부산 사터리 or ‘Busan Satori’, required subtitles for the lines spoken in a Busan dialect). Shirley, a native Seoul-ite, provided a contrast. The differences in the dialects we’re astounding and even hilarious at times. It was a great presentation!
Heesu also gave a presentation on Korean manners like standing up when greeting your elders, always making sure everyone’s cup is full, turning away from those with higher rank than you and covering your mouth when you drink, and always giving and receiving items with two hands.
According to Heesu, Korean culture can sometimes be seen as very strict to outsiders, but it is based on military etiquette because the military was the body that helped Korea grow so strong so quickly after the Korean War. Things like the importance of rank or standing when your elders enter the room derive from this. I’m sure a healthy dose of Confucianism is mixed in here too somewhere.
Korean culture is also very much about sharing with each other. As Heesu put it, Koreans are like one family, so much so that Koreans will use the word 우리, meaning ‘we’ or ‘our’ all the time when talking about something they own or have. For example, in conversation with a non-blood-related friend, it is normal for a person to say, “Our mother went…” even though it isn’t their shared mother. If someone elderly, sick, or tired needs a seat on the bus, you get up for them. If your co-teacher is tired, you buy them a water or help share their work. Koreans share everything: food, drink, celebrations, and burdens.
So it should come as no surprise that for our last Survival Korean class we shared a meal like a family. Shirley bought a bunch of snacks and orange juice and we rearranged the desks in our room so that we were all facing one another in a long table. There were Nacho-flavored chips (and they tasted like legit nachos), 빼빼로biscuits covered in chocolate (think Pocky), taco chips (kinda weird), light pastry bars with strawberry filling on top, and these white cheese puff things with chocolate on top that (absolutely phenomenal). We stayed way past the end of class until 9PM and then we all helped clean up and return the room to normal.
Heesu said that if you can remember that we are like one family in Korea, you will be loved and greatly enjoy your time here. With an attitude like this, I can guess why I’ve already met English teachers who have stayed two, seven, ten, and even fifteen years in South Korea after starting with EPIK. I can only hope that I will have a similarly great experience, but with all of the warm wishes I have already received from the “안녕하세요!” ‘s of the cafeteria workers to the genuine interest of the speakers and EPIK leaders here, I think I will enjoy my Korean family this year in some way no matter what.
I'll add a picture later when Shirley uploads it to the Facebook page!