Today I have been living in Korea two days shy of to months. Like many other experiences, it is hard to believe that time has passed so quickly.
I arrived in a mostly empty terminal, pushing my life’s items in front of me was quickly impressed with the sleek modernity of Seoul’s mass transit. A feature that has long been lacking in the cities I’ve lived in since leaving Hamburg, Germany 16 years ago. The first days were spent meeting the current staff for the Global Ministries’ Asia-Pacific Regional Office – where I will be spending the majority of my time. I also moved into my Dongdaemun-gu apartment, went on a bike ride with Bong, a fellow missionary, who reintroduced me to the exhilarating feeling of cycling along dedicated paths without fear of sudden death by automobiles.
My work so far has been attending a smattering of events like the Centennial of the March 1st Movement and visiting the Demilitarized Zone. I have been meeting and networking with leaders in the ecumenical movement for peace and reconciliation of North and South Korea. I have also spent a good deal of my time researching, relearning and reading histories of the Korean Peninsula conflict.
“Humility helps me learn faster”
One of the most important tasks I have undertaken is learning the Korean language, as such, I have been enrolled at a private learning institute since March. I successfully completed 1/3 of the first level and am currently enjoying a unique feeling of accomplishment, tempered by an overwhelming weight of how useless my scripted conversations are for daily interactions. I can only get better (I hope.)
I think one of the coolest things about Hangul is a completely different alphabet. This makes it fun (and somewhat frustrating) when deciphering some of the Konglish often found on menu signs or information posts.
Last week, while biking from the office to my language lesson, I missed the green light at a, particularly large intersection. The red light grated on my time-centered awareness so I opted to practice my reading on the information card in the front bike pannier:
‘ABCs: 브레이크, 타이어’
I sound out each syllable, mumbling to myself. “Buh rae ee kuh, Ta ee eoh.” Realization hits with “Brake, Tire.” I feel less accomplished than if it were actually a Korean word that I stuttered through, rather than the Konglish equivalent. Pride while learning a language is unsustainable. Humility helps me learn faster… humility and colleagues I can test my limited Korean with.
On the weekends I have fallen into a semblance of a routine. Saturday morning I life easy. Wake up whenever. Make coffee. Have breakfast. Do some household chores. Do nothing. Have lunch and depending on the weather/my energy level. Go for a walk, go biking, go explore more of Seoul. Saturday is my recharge day.
Come Sunday, I sleep in, make coffee, have brunch, take the subway to City Hall station in order to arrive at Chung Dong First Methodist Church before choir practice at 1 pm. I have joined the church’s wonderful choir as the only ethnically non-Korean! It’s fun. (Thanks to Mrs. Gilbert for all the choir foundations you taught in high school and Prof. Wei for the advanced shaping in Chamber Singers at Denison-without you, I would have no idea what is happening in rehearsal) Rehearsals are held in Korean, though the songs we sing are in English because I attend the English language ministry. A notable exception, this Easter we are singing with as a full Chung Dong Chorale with the main choir. One of the songs is in Korean. I really need to practice it more! After worship, we have another choir rehearsal before being dismissed for the day. The rest of the afternoon is for studying before looking for dinner. Whether or not I actually study is dictated by the ration of Sun to Sunday…however this weekend I really need to catch up on my vocabulary.
Through it all, including the microdust, I am trying to adapt as best I can to life in Seoul and while being faithful and useful to the mission of the work here. While it certainly is a new assignment and a different culture with many new possible irrecoverable pitfalls, I find hope in the renewed hospitality extended to me every day by my colleagues, church acquaintances, and strangers.