The Language Barrier: A Mysterious Chasm

A Leap of Faith

So my first few weeks in Korea have been very eventful, interesting, and educational. I have had my good days, my bad, and those in between. Right now, I feel like sharing something that my Korean friends here have helped me to learn. This thing we call “the language barrier” is really not much of a barrier at all.

Do you remember that scene in Indiana Jones where he has to cross the invisible bridge? At first, it seems impossible. Then, he takes a handful of sand, and throws it out into the “air.” Miraculously, it lands on the bridge and shows him the way to cross the chasm. This is very much how I feel here.

Last summer, I met some Korean people in my study abroad program in Germany. I have seen two of them here thus far, Jonghwa and Soo Jin. Although sometimes they struggle with how to say what it is they want to say in English, we still seem to understand each other. In just three short weeks I have been working with my Korean coteacher, Nora, and we have come to know each other quite well. This barrier that I used to be afraid of – the language barrier- no longer seems so difficult to pass through. It now seems like an invisible bridge, with sand visualizing the path across.

All of them have done so much to help me. Soo Jin helped me get a cell phone here, haggling with the store clerk and asking him EVERY question in the book to make sure I knew what I was getting myself into. Jonghwa showed me his hometown, had his mother cook dinner for me, and sent me home with a bag of fruit. He then called me today to tell me that he saw that the weather was going to be cold, and wanted to make sure that I would dress warm this week so I wouldn’t get sick. Nora has gone out of her way to help me settle into my home. She saved me from accidentally using bleach on all my clothes, ran to the bank with me on Friday to make sure I could set up an account so that I could get access to my money, and cheers me up on a daily basis when the students are difficult.

THE TAKEAWAY: At times, I feel like I am an outcast in the country. The language barrier seems to separate me from these people, and at times makes it seem impossible to fit in. And then I realize that there is a universal language that is far more valuable. The language of compassion and friendship – the sand over the invisible bridge – has begun to show me the way.


4 thoughts on “The Language Barrier: A Mysterious Chasm

  1. I’ve been quietly following you quietly via your mom and your blog for years. You have just eloquently summed up how I felt when I was learning to speak English as a kid. I am impressed. Cheers!

    • Caroline,

      Thank you for your words! It is a constant struggle for me here everyday but I am beginning to understand what that must have been like. You should be proud of what you went through! It was very difficult!

      • The difference with children is that it is a bit easier. You just go for it whole-heartedly – no fear, as they say. You don’t know any different. You see kids playing and you want to play too… and if words get difficult you just smile and point a lot 🙂

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