Thursday, October 21, 2010

Going to Language Classes – Why doesn’t anyone eat?

I sign up for Hangul language classes at a language institute (called “hagwam in Korean”).  Classes are held four days a week from 10:30-1:30.  I learned French and Italian in the past, living and working in those countries so I figure I will make this commitment.

I know it will be a huge advantage to be able to speak and communicate in the language. On the first day, I pack my survival kit – I have three Diet Cokes (they have the little cans in Korea), a peanut butter sandwich and several granola bars.  I imagined other students forming mini groups and talking and eating during the breaks.  Maybe I will get to know some local places and meet lots of expats from across Seoul.

Well, no one else in the class brought in anything and I am the only American.  There was not so much as a Styrofoam cup with the last bits of coffee. I feel embarrassed thinking that only a mom would bring in her silly snack and drinks; everyone else must hang out at the breaks, make friends and sip cappuccino. We all sit down at the long table and the teacher (“sangsamneem”) comes in and immediately starts speaking in Hangul. I am confused.  Isn’t this beginners’ intensive course?

I soon realize that the other 8 students are from Vietnam, Cambodia, Russia and China.  They are new to Korea and need the language to get into a school or get a job.  So English is not a common language. My assigned partner in class is Vietnamese; I am nervous about the pairing. Not because he is Vietnamese (I love Vietnamese people) but I am instantly suspicion of any man who is skinnier than me! But more importantly, he appears to understand everything and takes copious notes.
Anyway, I am sweating within a half hour; this is definitely going to be more than a hobby.  All the written and oral instructions are in Hangul.  I do not understand anything and there is going to be homework every night. How can I do the homework when I can’t read the directions? I can’t read and pronounce the characters yet. I need remedial Korean!

Isn’t there a lower class for people like me – this is completely alien to me!

I instantly sympathize with people coming to the US who do not know a thing and want to build a life. Now I understood why almost none of the expats speak more than a few phrases of Korean – it’s very hard to learn another language, especially a character language if you are a Westerner. During the break, I am starving so I take out the sandwich and diet soda.  No one has anything to eat or drink.  A few people go outside to smoke but no one grabs snacks at the local café.

After the first week, I finally ask the teacher, “why doesn’t anyone eat?” In the US, people would have brought pizza, croissants, coffee, etc. and the breaks would tend to be filled with eating and chatter. I am humbled by her answer. She says, “I am sure they ate breakfast and will eat their meals later at home but most people who are here learning the language are very poor and this school is very expensive for them. They do not have any money for snacks. Plus we do not eat snacks in class here.  Maybe that is why people in the US are getting bigger.”

This is another big plus for Asia.  They actually work their entire time in the class, pay attention and are there to learn – not to socialize and eat snacks. It is an excellent diet strategy so I only bring snacks on Fridays and I share them with everyone!
Enhanced by Zemanta

No comments:

Post a Comment