DO | My Korean Disconnect

This past summer, during my hiatus from Noah’s Arc, I traveled to South Korea for the first time by myself. Traveling internationally and experiencing life in a big city solo were such surreal experiences that I still have a hard time believing it was actually me doing those things. If college was the big first step to independence, this trip was confirmation that I had reached some kind of newfound maturity in my three years at Cornell. Now that the trip has had time to marinate, I can better situate it in the grand scheme of my young adulthood. And most importantly, in my Korean identity.

Although many differences reminded me I was on the other side of the globe, like no one holding the door open, fast Wi-Fi everywhere and a myriad of aesthetically pleasing cafes, language stood out as the most profound. It’s difficult to explain the level of my Korean abilities because it’s such a context-dependent assessment, but the best comparison I can give is a Furby toy. Furbys can technically speak English, but only in simple sentences that sound robotic, and their speech can’t be customized for the situation; the Furby will give whatever pre-programmed message it has, regardless of what you asked it in the first place. Similarly, I tend to speak Korean in short, pre-programmed sentences. When I have a conversation in Korean, I understand approximately 30 percent of what is being said to me, and any contextless nonsense I have to say has been short-circuiting my brain for the last half hour. 

As much as I put down my Korean abilities, they have improved significantly since the start of college. I grew up speaking only English at home, and was in Korean school as a child long enough to learn the alphabet and some basic words.  My Korean is 95 percent learned from my own studying, which at least gives me confidence that I can improve moving forward if I keep at it. 

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