Learning Korean: Embracing Small Failures for Long-Term Success

I promised myself I would really put in a solid effort at becoming fluent in Korean this year.  And that endeavor is just about as easy as it sounds.  I know that I should put in even more of an effort, actually, more than the 20-30 minutes I can carve out in a day, but it is was it is.

I started doing a language exchange with a woman I met at starbucks a few weeks ago and it’s simultaneously the best and worst thing, haha. The best, because I really like her and she’s such a good person.  It’s also a good opportunity to study (it’s like eating vegetables – you know it’s good for you in the long run, but you’ve still got to force it down your own throat sometimes).  The worst thing being, however, that I’m not very good at it.  My speaking ability is so much lower than it should be.  That’s the point of putting myself in this situation, though, right? It’s uncomfortable, and it’s hard, and it’s well outside of my comfort zone, but that’s the best way that I can push myself and gain the skills I want to acquire.  It’s the same as it was in my early twenties which were simultaneously the worst and the best times – Because I was constantly pushing myself to do more, see more, experience more, but all those experiences came in overwhelming doses of both good and bad ones.

I’ve forgiven myself for the intermitted years between then and now because I was barely keeping myself together.  Now I’m in a good enough place that I’m okay to reach beyond my limits to chase after something I want (note the distinction between pushing myself for what needs to be done vs. what I want).  So, here I am.

That also means that I’ve putting myself in waaaaay more awkward social situations, too. And while I feel guilty for inflicting my inability on others and making them have stilted conversation with me, I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t helping me out (even if it’s painful for everyone involved) and it hasn’t improved my Korean just a little bit.

And I’m slowly getting over my own nerves and embracing the fact that I’ll always sound like a foreigner despite however hard I study. And now I’m starting to have fun with it. ^^ *evil laugh* And maybe I’ll actually be able to test at the level I want for TOPIK later this year after all!

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The Olympics are almost here!

I’m bummed that I won’t be able to go to the Olympics this year despite how much planning I put in to it.  As it turns out, however, waiting on people to make up their minds is never the way to go.   I was ready to buy all the tickets and book the accommodations and arrange the (complicated) transportation more than a month ago.  However, since I didn’t want to go alone – going alone would have been okay, mind, but not as fun as jumping up and down and cheering myself hoarse with a friend – so I waited first for my husband to make up his mind, then my sister-in-law, then my husband again after she canceled, then again when she suddenly called me to say she changed her mind only to change it back a few days later and finally, after waiting another week, my husband shrugging and saying, “you’ll be okay on your own right?”

SO. FRUSTRATING.

The sad part is I didn’t ask them to come – I had simply told them how excited I was and that I was planning on going. They got excited when they heard and said they wanted to tag along. And look at us now.. I finally know that I’m going alone, but everything is sold out or ridiculously overpriced.  I should have just booked everything and be like “look, I’ve booked everything so if you want to follow, great, but I’m not going to wait around.” Lesson learned. Sigh.

There’s also no way I’m going to stay home this weekend, not when I could’ve gone to the Olympics. So I’ll just have to find something exciting to do that is far, far away from my little city..

Listless

I’m still trying to find a purpose for this blog, but the more I think about it the more I come to realize that this blog really needs to be a catch-all.  And by “need” I mean it needs to be that for me to enjoy it and to motivate me to keep a schedule.  The things I want to talk about reach across a broad spectrum, I guess, but it is limited to my experiences and many of them pertain to life abroad in South Korea, what it’s like to live abroad for almost a decade now (!!), struggling with a second language, and day-to-day thoughts and larger contemplations about society, gender roles, current events, and so on. And don’t laugh! Larger Contemplations sounds cheesy, but I spent the 2-3 minute wait at the crosswalk the other day contemplating what 5 rules I would give if ever asked how one should live a good, meaningful life.  Big thoughts for small moments happen all the time (though most of the time I’ll admit they don’t merit being remembered or repeated, haha).

Happy 2018

Surprisingly, there hasn’t been much to write about in the past year.  But wait, there were so many long holidays in 2017 – Didn’t you travel? Didn’t you do stuff on the weekend? Well….. not really.  There was a memorable (and very impulsive) 3-day trip to Tokyo in May that was actually one of the happiest trips I’ve ever taken in my life despite having no plans whatsoever until I arrived at Narita airport and picked up about 30 pamphlets from the tourist information office and read them on my way in to the city. But besides that small glimpse? Work, work, work.

Burn out is something I’ve been struggling with for years because I work a minimum of 50 hours a week, a standard 60 and, more often than not, it edges up in to 70s/80s and stays there. And while I wholeheartedly think that despite a lot of terrible things happening on a large scale in 2017, on a more personal scale, this was actually a quiet year in comparison to 2015 or 2016.  It was hard, but those long holidays gave me some respite – not to do anything fun, mind, but to sleep and pointedly not even look at my overflowing desk.

It’s a wonder that I reached some of my goals in 2017, and I’m cutting myself slack for the ones I couldn’t even graze (this blog being one of them. Ugh!) .  I read a lot of novels, I participated in NaNoWrimo (and won!), I stayed in touch with family and friends better than I have in previous years (though not especially well), I taught myself how to crochet simple things,  and I even sometimes remembered to take my vitamins.  I’m already started calling 2017 my “escapist” year because can you see a trend? All of those new hobbies and goals had one thing in common – checking out from reality and tucking myself away faaar away from most people).  It’s perhaps something I needed, but something I acknowledge as not being particularly healthy or something that I can continue doing.

And now, 2018 has arrived with a flash and a bang, and it’s already crowded with new and old loud responsibilities.   But I’ve made a promise with myself. I’ll be present in the moment this year and I’ll face those things I’ve been straight up avoiding or shying away from as well as I can. I’ll fail, I’ll lapse back in to my books and social media silence, and I’ll be kind with myself as I pick myself back up and push forward against my fears again.  But I’ll keep this promise to myself as best as I can.

So what fears am I addressing?

Language.  I’ve lived in South Korea for almost all of my twenties, but holding a comfortable conversation in Korean is still something I struggle with.   As I side effect, I avoid places (and people) where I might be pushed in to uncomfortable conversations.  That’s not really good or even practical way to life, though, is it? Hiding yourself away with my consequences from your actions than benefits.  I’m tackling this problem head-on this year.  I’m going to take the Test of Proficiency in Korean (ToPiK) II exam this fall.  Since the intermediate and advanced exam are combined, I’ll really have to study hard to get the score I want.  Upside? I’m already seeing the benefits – rewatching old movies and understanding more of the dialogue – just two weeks in.

Health. I’ve absolutely been terrible about taking care of my body these past couple of years… and it’s shown.  I sleep and eat too little and I work too much.  I have very, very little muscle mass.  Going to the gym alone was soooooo uncomfortable (read: language problems and being stared at) a few years ago, but I’ll see if I can’t psych myself up enough to get another membership this year.  In the meantime, my husband and I will start yoga classes together in February.  My husband is really great guy, and I really appreciate that he’s so worried about me and that he’s actively getting me to do something I want to do anyway (but, honestly, haven’t had the balls to go through with).  Of course, exercise isn’t every thing. I’m gathering a lot of doable, healthy recipes in my bullet journal and slowly trying them out. There’s been more successes than failures so far, thank goodness.

Finally…

Keeping a Record.  This. Sooo much this.  This is my planned guilty pleasure for the year.  This is actually something that I hadn’t originally thought of and put in to my plans for this year, but…. as I started jotting down just quick notes about my day and it’s ‘rating’… well, it’s made me aware of how I’m passing the time and how quickly it goes.  Life quickly passes and disappears in to the darkness, like the silverly-white breath around you mouth as you jog that last hard mile, everything around you lost as your feet hit the asphalt and you’re only aware of the tightness of your chest and the throbbing of your heartbeat in your ears, and you don’t know what you’ve missed until you’re bent over and breathing hard and your senses only just start to come back to you without you ever realizing they’d left. It’s in the way darkness has suddenly fallen over the skyline when it was just light, or the loud traffic in the distance comes at you like a whisper and then like a hammer, and you wobble a bit, trying to count out your breath, disorientated and trying to acclimate yourself to your own body and senses once more, but the chasm between the In and the Out of body experience lasts just long enough to make you aware of it and to fearfully recognize it the next time it seizes you.  It’s been a lot like that for me, there are long stretches of time that I can’t account for – lost to my hectic schedule and all it’s deadlines and small emergencies, and in those moments of reprieve of quiet nights in or dates with husband, last just long enough for me to slow down, remember myself and the webs of my own desires and goals, before everything begins once more, and I resign myself to the Out as it swallows me up once more. It’s hard doing that time and time again.  I want to keep track of my time, record those good and bad things that are happening, and…. not have to keep finding myself because I don’t want to lose sight of myself to begin with. And, oddly enough, despite being so incredibly important, that’s something I couldn’t realize until after the fact, and it’s one of those things that I didn’t realize how absolutely needed it was until it’s simple truth was laid out for me in my own handwriting and under my own ink-stained fingertips.  Be present.  It doesn’t so much matter how you achieve it so long as you do.

Talks: Being on the Out

I think that’s something that’s always going to bother me about living in South Korea.  No matter how long I’ve lived here, no matter how well I speak Korean, or how well I acclimate to the culture that I will always be an outsider.  I’ve read about how micro-aggressions work and, while some people discount those kind of things as making mountains out of molehills, would you believe me if I said all of those small looks and comments can completely jar you out of your day, make you feel uncomfortable in your own space, and they add up when you experience them from several different sources and on a near constant basis..? I’ll never be…quiet exactly in as much as I’ll be out. More like an awkward hovering in the doorway, haha.

I like to think I’m gracious about it, because I know most people wouldn’t (and aren’t) being deliberately mean. Like when the group of giggling older women sitting next to me at the cafe just complimented me on how well I pronounce “thank you” in Korean when… well, I can hold entire conversations in Korean, thank you very much. I’m not fluent, but I’m edging closer and closer to advanced. Yet I still smiled graciously and took it as praise rather than focusing on how it was being pointed out to me (again) that I’m an anomaly in their algorithms.  The same when wide-eyed little kids shout out “foreigner!” when they see on the sidewalk and people hold conversations (loudly) about my appearance because they assume I don’t understand, or when they compliment or exclaim over me knowing how to use chopsticks and other rudimentary skills and knowledge.

And I know, I know.

You knew this going in. Why are you complaining about it now?  It’s true, I understood the history behind Korea’s tense relations with other (often invading) countries in the past and the general opinion toward foreigners and I understand that with blonde hair and blue eyes there was absolutely no way I would be able to blend in.  Especially in a city as small as ours.

Yet…

It’s one thing to estimate what to expect from a safe distance and using only the factors you know, but there’s no exact way to measure, quantify, and apply how it’s going to affect you, how it’s going to trickle in to your life in ways you had no idea to expect or make contingencies for.  Suddenly you have 20 figures to work into the equation when you thought you’d only have 4 or 5. Not to mention how you’re going to feel on the first day compared to, eventually, how you feel on the 1,000th.

There’s so many good people in South Korea, especially my in-laws and my husband’s rather large extended family (so, so big! haha) have been so accepting and lovely. And all the clerks and baristas that I see every week are usually all very kind.  I suppose I’m just feeling nostalgic and, admittedly, a little lonely on New Year’s Eve thinking about how I’ll never quite fit in to the world I’ve been utterly immersed in for the last six years. That I’ll never quite belong.   And wondering if I’ll ever be able to make some sort of peace with it instead of just accepting it resigned.

Things to Eat: Korean Potato Pancakes Recipe (감자전 요리법)

I attempted to make potato pancakes (감자전) tonight while my husband is out with his friends and it actually turned out alright! 😀 Makes me glad that I’m home alone and get it all to myself, haha.

I have never been particularly comfortable in the kitchen and I definitely spent most of my early twenties eating cereal for dinner and being thankful that take-out is so cheap and convenient in Korea.  That being said, however, I want to improve and this blog is way of holding myself accountable to at least try and to keep doing things that don’t come easily to me.  So, first step frypan – next step, world domination!  (maybe)

Potato pancakes are a pretty good place to start – It only took 20 minutes from start to finish, and goodness are they good! Think healthy french fries with a Korean twist.

You can find the recipe below.^^

Korean Potato Pancake Recipe Continue reading