Greetings from Seoul

By admin
15 July 2013

Our new blogger Joe Makka has been teaching English in South Korea for the past five years and shares his experiences of being the foreigner in a big city.

Our new bloggerJoe Makka has been teaching English in South Korea for the past five years and shares his experiences of being the foreigner in a big city.

Greetings from Seoul, the capital of South Korea, a city with 25 million people. It’s been five years since I arrived here in June 2008 from Hopefield (population 5 000) to teach English to five to 12-year-olds.

When you land here Koreans at the airport greet you in fluent English and this can be misleading. You get onto a bus to your destination in a country smaller than the Western Cape and you realise that just a handful of people out there in the “real” Korea can understand you. It was actually after I got off the bus that I met the “real” Korea.

On that first night three of my new colleagues picked me up at the bus stop. They could not speak much English but, as I discovered later, they spoke the best English of all the staff at the public primary school where I would be working.

I introduced myself by saying very slowly, “Hello, my name is Joe.” I can’t deny or confirm that I said it in such a way that you would think the people were stupid or deaf. In any case, Koreans, like South Africans, enjoy feeding their guests. The first thing they did after the uncomfortable, “My name is Joe” was to invite me to dinner at a Pizza Hut.

I wasn’t very hungry but I consented. Or I think I consented without knowing what I was saying yes to. Self-conscious and uncertain of what to say or do, I sat there with a massive piece of pizza in my hand while the older lady asked me, “Are you Richie?”

‘‘No,’’ I thought, “I’ve just told you what my name is.” I repeated it even slower, “My name is Joe.”

“I know,” she said “but are you Richie?” That’s when it struck me. It wasn’t Richie the name, she wanted to know if I was rich. I would later learn that Koreans place vowels between and at the end of syllables where there aren’t any in the original English. I explained that I was from a very ordinary middle-class family that wasn’t “richeee”.

The language and cultural barrier resulted in many lighter moments in which you learn a lot about yourself and the Koreans. I’m really looking forward to sharing these stories with YOU readers.

Bye for now,

Joe Makka aka Richie

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