“One who learns language without learning culture ends up becoming a fluent fool.”
I’m Korean with Korean parents, but I’ve probably only spent 20% of my life in Korea.
I grew up in a beachy Southeast Asian country attending international school on weekdays and Korean school on Saturdays. I spent a lot of time watching dramas and variety shows on VHS tapes that my mom rented from the neighborhood store. Eventually, I was accepted into one of the SKY schools (but ultimately transferred to and graduated from a university in Beijing).
When you’re an overseas Korean/Third-Culture Kid, you’re pretty much an outsider wherever you go. I always felt culturally different from my peers regardless of whether I was in my “home” country or in a “host” country.
The maxim “one who learns a language without culture ends up becoming a fluent fool” definitely resonates with my experience.
I’m literate and somewhat conversationally fluent in Korean, but I have a lot of blind spots. I still get really nervous before hitting send on an email or KaTalk message that I’ve typed out in Korean. I can have an hours-long heart-to-heart with a friend, but I really wouldn’t know what to say at a funeral, or know the story behind a four-character idiom. Or perhaps I’m watching a drama and I understand the words literally but don’t get all the references. I love a good historical drama (sageuk), but too often the names of kings and figures and their significance go over my head.
I guess my goal here is to become “fluent” in Korean. Not just in terms of expanding my vocabulary, but also to enrich my understanding of both culture and history by actively learning something new about my heritage every day.
At the same time, I want to recognize and celebrate my international upbringing and the experiences of others who weren’t born and raised in Korea. I have a lot of Korean pride, but I’m also embracing the slow but steady multiculturalism happening beneath the 38th parallel.
I hope you’ll join me as I crash land into the Korean language and explore the culture, history, pop culture, and current events of Korea and the global Korean diaspora.
And if you want to send me a suggestion, ask a question, or just say hello, I encourage you to fill out the form below. I’ll try to get back to you as soon as I can!