There are few people in the world more respectful and kind than those found in the Korean culture. Especially for those who seek to understand the language (Hangeul Mal). There are far fewer Korean characters than found in Japanese and Chinese cultures. Phonetically speaking, that helps you begin learning to read and write Korean in just a matter of weeks. Though it may take you a little while longer to grasp the nuances between certain usage and meanings.
For example; Angyong-hashimnika? Formal/polite for; “Are you at peace?” Informal/Polite; Angyong-haseyo? Are you (in) peace? Commonly misunderstood for asking; “How are you?” Which is actually; “Oto-shim-ni-ka?” Informal/polite. Note the differences in formal polite versus informal polite.
Wherever you are located throughout the world, you will find Korean culture and people reflected in a positive light. Just as the greeting of one individual by another denotes respect, the concept of “face” promotes positive attitudes and adherence to rules of conduct and law. It is considered bad manners and a loss of face to commit acts contrary to the promotion of social grace. Sometimes you may see another berating him/her self openly for duties and obligations not fulfilled. When viewed, it would be impolite for your to agree or comment. Instead look to the positives, understanding that Koreans do not take showering of compliments well either. They often defer or share credit of positive events to others. But, they are silently thankful of your recognition and remember your kind words.
Learning to speak the language promotes a greater appreciation for its people. Soon though you may find yourself with a whole new world of relatives. The Korean people embrace those who take an interest in them. They welcome you, introduce you to others and may even be introduced as a family member. Seriously. When introduced to someone’s parents, you literally state; “I am pleased to meet you ‘mother/father’.” (“Man-na-suh ban-sseum-ni-da mu-ree/a-bo-gi.”)
It is not uncommon to find that both parents have worked most of their life to provide for their families. Pride in the accomplishment of one’s family members permits them to acknowledge their work prior to retirement. Such as teachers, doctors, lawyers, etc. Being interested in the lives of those you meet will bring you a new perspective on the culture, the language, and the importance of empathy in your new-found friends.
One way to practice your language skills is in finding restaurants or businesses frequented by the Korean community. There are online web sites devoted to teaching the language, educational programming on history and current events. The influx of Korean literature, music, and television to the world market includes intensely popular daytime dramas, with a huge fan base. You can sample these on the internet as well as a host of Korean produced movies that are winning critical acclaim worldwide. Your foray into learning to speak, read and write Korean is well supported.
We often see advertisements reflecting thousands of years of cultural firsts reflected on television and in print. Airlines have special getaway packages that promote the beauty and depth of feeling behind traditions we seek to understand. When the magic of a place far older and different from our own captures our imagination, we then choose to experience Korea as a gift to ourselves.
The food in Korea provides a wonder of incredible tastes and smells. Fresh vegetables, noodles and rice, complimenting a variety of marinated meats. Kim chi (gimche) is a taste people say is either loved or not. But with so many varieties of the pickled vegetable, there is bound to be something special for your palate.
Imagine starting with a simple leaf of Romaine Lettuce. Spread a thin bed of rice across the face. Then add some bean paste, marinated lean beef (cooked by you over an open flame, right at your table), adding sprouts, kim chi or assorted spices, then rolled up in that lettuce like a taco — for immediate consumption. Great on taste and low in calories.
Remember to let your host know; “I have eaten well.” (“Jal muh-guh-sseum-ni-da.”)
Enjoyment of another culture isn’t as scary as you may think. So go to a museum, a restaurant, a social event where those who speak the language are present. Let them know that you may not speak their language well, but you are interested. Doing so will open you up to a whole new world. Enrichment as a part of a much larger family.