Yesterday I ran into one of my former students from Angye High School. He was never a stellar English student and seemed to have preferred playing soccer to being in class. Actually he was one of the boys that invited me to play with them way back in October 2010.
Anyway, he graduated that year (January 2011) but I bumped into him once last year when he came to visit Angye and we took the same bus to Sangju. At that time, our conversation was severely lacking because of the giant language barrier. I think in about an hour we only managed to convey that I lived in Sangju and that he would go to the military next year (2012).
So, back to yesterday… I now live in Gumi but I took a bus to Sangju for the Lunar New Year. As I was waiting at the bus terminal, I was approached by this guy and it took a moment for me to register that it was a former student. He had a big smile and he opened his arms for a hug. After we hugged, we started a conversation that consisted of Korean, hand signals, and broken English.
It turned out we were taking the same bus so we continued an hour long conversation. It was awesome. It also turns out that he lives near my home in Gumi and he works pretty close to me at an Italian restaurant. I promised I would visit when he was working…probably the Tuesday when I get back from Texas.
It made me realize just how far along I’ve come with my Korean. I always feel so behind when I’m around large groups of Koreans. I can sometimes follow the gist of a conversation or understand at least 25% of the words. But because I’m not usually included in the conversation and there are a lot of words I don’t know, I get bored and stop paying attention. Someone might occasionally make an effort to talk to me, but it’s usually after they’ve got some liquid confidence in them too. (Or, more rarely, they might ask someone to translate.) Needless to say, I’ve definitely felt ignored and it’s definitely frustrating at times.
My student, however, wanted to genuinely have a conversation with me and so we both made an effort. Even though we used more Korean than English, he still tried to use simple sentences and words for me. We also both spoke pretty slowly and repeated things to make sure we understood each other. The conversation wasn’t the smoothest but I think we understood each other most of the time. Anyway, it was definitely the highlight of my day and it proved to me that I am making progress.