Sunday, December 11, 2005

Prolonged vacation: Communcation and Foreign Environments

My vacation is going to be prolonged. Sorry folks, but it had to be done. I know you were just waiting for more Korean adventures!

As of today, I moved my ticket up a full 2 weeks. Now, on one hand, I should be thrilled to stay longer: my folks are here, I get to visit with my friends and family longer, and I'd be here to finalize moving my stuff and turning in the keys to my old apartment, among other things (say--health check-ups, for example: there's nothing like being able to communicate with your doctor about important things without having to translate sensitive topics between you and your school director, due to the language barrier!) But alas, I feel a little guilty, for more than once reason.

I've been missing the kids at school: driving me mad, begging me to buy them Odang and taking the first part of class trying to persuade me to play, whereas the phrase, "Chelsea ssem (meaning, teacher), let's play game!" has become all too common.

I miss to some degree, the co-workers who choose to speak in Korean all the time, leaving me often in my own little world~ yeah, I sort of miss them too. Perhaps it's their way of speaking English a wee bit broken. Or the frivalous blah blahs they chat about, petty stories I imagine they gossip about since I often have but a 2% understanding of their conversations anway (thanks to Konglish).

And then there's my boss, Susan, who'll somehow have to collaborate another 2 weeks of chaos, figuring out how to keep the kids we've got and praying I'll really come back before the parents start wondering. I'm sure I'll have some feet tapping when I return: but after they've tasted my delectable, American snacks; given my quasi-Christmas, quasi-"thank you for putting up with a whole month of knowing what my days at work feel like without a break or a moment to breath" just-because gifts; and begun to work my butt off again in the usual manner~ I'm sure all will be forgiven.

Last, I miss the familiar landscapes that were once foreign to me. I've had a bit of time to think about how much just being in Korea, geographically, has changed me. I've become more independent and self-sufficient, and among other things, have taken a sort of pride and ownership for my little town-- it's petite, distinct culture that took me so long to adjust to, for example, along with the funky food, the quirks I've come in contact with, and the manner and way things were done~ which was so far from the normal, westernized style I had known all my life.

But speaking in terms of guiltiness in prolonging my vacation: the simple, rudimentary and obvious reason boils down to an issue of health. The fact of the matter is, I've realized there is no quarreling or compromising with one's health. It's either good or bad, not somewhere in-between. And I didn't want to go back to Korea in a stae of bad or in-betweeness concerning my health. Period.

So for the curious audience, I'll just say a bladder infection is no fun in a foreign country (including--and ladies, you know what I mean when I talk about--the infection that ensues because of the pills you take to cure the bladder infection!) Funny, I already dealt with the like in Switzerland, some years ago; but at least then I was able to communicate in French without a translator! Let me tell you, it's another story when you can't find the help you need (or the pills!) because you lack the necessary language skills.

Ahhh.. now, all I need is for everything to go as planned, and my fairytale vacation stay, to end blissfully. So all you women considering moving to another country to teach, consider ALL the possibilities. I'm not saying you should base whether moving to another country outside of your own is worth it, based upon whether you're able to communicate to health professionals or emergency services in that foreign country should the occasion arise; the point is, being knowledgeable ABOUT them~ who to talk to, connecting to translation services, and knowing heads from tails are essential to getting around and feeling comfortable in the foreign environment. How you feel in that foreign environment is the key, and knowing where to look for help....

(Commercial Break) And now that I'm on a rampage, and you know practically the whole story, let me talk to you about some necessities when you consider going to another country (for work, for teaching, or anything of a nature where you'll stay longer than a few weeks, that is).

I mentioned knowing how you feel in a foreign environment, knowing where to look for help and who to talk to when a crisis or anything health-related is concerned.

Once that's covered, you need to think about having a proper support system; something that is crucial when your outside of your 'comfortable environment'--a.k.a. your country of origin. That is, people you can depend upon to help you out. And no, I don't just mean when there's a crisis. Every woman, particularly, needs to have girl friends to talk to. You need to ask yourself: Who can I turn to when I need help, and not just in an emergency? Do I have friends or acquaintences I can rely on, simply communicate or hang out with? When you have a comfortable circle--a list of numbers to dial when you need to, you become less on the 'offensive' and more resilient to the environment you're residing in. You essentially feel comfortable, more in-tune, more 'one' in where you are (a bit philosophical, I know, but I'm trying hard to stay clear of that!)

One brick wall I hit when I arrived in Korea was being able to simply ask where the bathroom was, where I could buy bread, or how to take a taxi to downtown. Language barriers are just the tip of the iceberg, too, in terms of how you feel in that foreign environment. It's not just about being able to communicate in the case of health emergencies, when you're at the bank, or in everyday circumstances. I'm talking about simple, good-'ol human talk.

Everyone needs to nurture themselves through social contact and relationships. I suffered a bit from isolation when I first arrived in Korea. I subconsciously believed that to truly immerse myself and learn the language in this country, I had to limit myself to the locals. Not entirely so (but this is subjective: in Switzerland, I intentially spoke only French because it was the only way I could essentially become fluent in the language!)

Back to Korea, within a few months, I realized the isolation was taking it's tole on me, and what I really needed was confirmation from other English speakers. What I longed for were people who were in my same position, going through exactly what I was going through, with mutually shared experiences on which I could base my own. This was part of the experience I was missing.

In terms of communication, you don't get the same affect speaking English to non-native speakers; eventually, you end up speaking slower than normal, watching your grammar and what you say, and either party can easily misconstrue what is communicated. I've also found, when speaking to non-native speakers, there's two things that could happen, which essentially changes the way you speak: You can sometimes break down that fluency and begin communicating like the foreigners with whom you speak with (when, in actuality, you're the foreigner in their country!) or you enable your fluency skills and build upon them. You figure out the meaning of the language you speak, simply by dissecting it, breaking it down, and teaching it to others. You become in-tune to your language, and that is the moment when you realize the true meaning of communication, and just how important it is.

With a native-english speaker, you brush past those language barriers you intially needed to overcome in the first place; you abate those uncertainties, feelings of lonliness or isolation, embellishing those experiences with people you feel comfortable with, building upon your independence and certitude in that foreign environment. Eventually, that environment becomes less and less foreign, until one day, you consider that environment your home.

It's an awesome phenomenon that teachers, such as my self, stumble upon in their ESL teaching experiences. But who knows; I am but one of many in this little country called Korea. Once I tackled the initial fears~ learning and memorizing basic phrases needed to get me around and feel independent, gathering a support circle of friends and must-have contact infos, I essentially realized how self-empowering it could be to live in Korea, and doing just what I was doing!

So there you go. My vacation is prolonged, and here I am talking about not being able to communicate to others in a foreign country! Perhaps I'm going through withdrawals from not being surrounded 24/7 with people I can't communicate with...or better yet, maybe the place I've called home for more than 27 years has now become foreign to me? I almost find it easier now to speak in English to non-native speakers. It's a curious thought, indeed.

I find it interesting how being in a foreign place can change you. I saw myself changing in Korea, and maybe now, I'm finding myself changed being home again. 'Til then, I'll just enjoy speaking regular English for awhile.

~ Chelsea


blueshoewhotwo in Daegu said...

How is it that you get to take a whole month off work? Here's to your vacation!
(I am back in the Edmonton by the way).

Chelsea said...

Hey! Wow, let me tell ya~ luck of the draw, really. Any other Hagwon, and I would have been fired, maybe. I'll just keep my fingers crossed~ I'm still waiting for a reply from my boss, but she knew to expect a possble 'extention' to my already near-2 week vacation. By the way, it's all unpaid~ which is fine with me. I just needed the time off!

Wow, back home. Must be great to finally be there. Do you know my boss is looking for another foreigner?? If you think you might want to come back, you're probably a shoe-in (hehe, no pun intended!) to work for us. Just pass me the resume and I'll get things started (yeah, little did I know, like 2 weeks before my departure, that my boss is looking for ANOTHER foreigner. One year contract, paid apartment, round trip paid for, and bonus at the end. Sound tempting?? :)

I'll update myself on your website~ as far as I knew, you were still galavanding around Tibet!! :)