Thursday, August 6, 2015

#differentisbeautiful: 한국 사람 - Hanguk Saram (Korean People)

The best thing comes when you least expect it.

I just had an amazing week with students from Hanseo University who participated in Global Leadership Program. They stayed in my guest house, and somehow being with them reminds me of the quote above. It represents my interaction with Korean people so far. Dealing with Korean has been one of the most challenging yet most fulfilling intercultural relationship. I have met football players, businessmen, students; and meeting them for the first time is always like receiving a black box – you don’t know what kind of surprise that you can get.

Back in 2011, when I meet Coach Timo Scheunemann of Persema Malang for proposing my minor thesis, he gives me full access with one requirement: I have to assist the new Korean football player in adapting with Indonesian culture. As much as I want to hold myself back, I talked to my friend about the possibility of getting a sharp A if everything going well. So I hopped on the board. And that was how the story goes.

But my excitement has to be torn off by my first meeting with the player. Night before, I learn a few Korean sentences and read all news about him (#kepo detected). At the morning, when I just spill out ‘shigani isseoyo’ (do you have some time), he shooed me. I was so shocked as other informants were welcomed me.

I came back to the coach and I said that no matter how hard I will try, I can’t overcome this because I can’t speak Korean. Luckily, the coach who is also a teacher of an international high school appointed some of his Korean students to help me. As they are helping me communicate with the player, my impression about Korean slowly changing.

However, there was still a lot of misunderstanding between us – especially because I couldn’t always count on the interpreters. It made me so nervous; I remember I often crying at the downstairs before going up to see him. After couple weeks, I couldn’t help it and I wanted to give up. I called my mom, and she said, “Dear, imagine if you were him. Being totally stranger in a country he never visit before; no friend, no family. It must be stressful. Don’t just thinking to finish your assignment; try to be someone who helps him in accepting these new things.”

So then I change my approach. I agreed when he ask me to learn Korean. At my first day in the Korean course, I was embarrassed because I don’t know any Korean boyband or drama. No, I never watch Winter Sonata and didn’t know how famous Nami Island was. When I finish the class that day, I ask my friend who happens to be a K-pop hardcore fans to explain the hallyu wave. I watched Family Outing, Cinderella's Sister and Pasta (although I can only survive for three episodes and not continuing it).

At one of the critical point where I want to know more about Korean culture, God send me an angel named Sthefany Eonni who found me on Twitter accidentally. I once blabbed about how dealing with Korean is a very new thing for me; she replied on my tweet and tells me her story with his Korean husband. It couldn’t be more perfect as she lives in my hometown! She even helped sending samgyeobsal for the Korean football player. Things getting much better from then, fiuh.

After my relationship with him improved, he introduced me to the fellow Korean football players. For some months after, I attended a lot of football matches because they give me free tickets, hahaha. My weekend was filled by supporting them. But as soon as I graduated and start working; one by one is leaving Indonesia.

Surely, it’s not always this hard in dealing with Korean people. When I become the host parent (although I’m not a parent…yet) for a Vietnamese student in an AIESEC project, I also make friend with one of the sweetest woman in the world, her name is Sunhyung Eonni. I once wrote on my old blog that she is the sunshine among us. She is very cute and she taught me to be more positive in life. 

Sunhyung Eonni - me - and Nhung (the Vietnamese student).

In 2,5 years of working, I got only one Korean client, and they are the most polite clients I ever interact with. But they are American-Korean, so I don’t know if it can be counted :p

Reflecting my experience with Korean people, it might be an important lesson that I wasn’t prepared enough. I was too confident with myself, but lucky me I have second chance to fix it. I also didn’t treat the football player the way he wants to be treated. Now I think I might be the one who scared him and bothered him at that time.

It is always exciting to jump in the intercultural situation, but between me and Korean – it is just...different. Never in my life have I thought of learning Korean language or going to Korea – and now it’s totally transformed. I even watched Big Bang concert! Such a very big leap, isn’t it?

So, if you are about to enter a new intercultural encounter, you might want to prepare something. But even though you’re not, there is no best teacher as experience. Just remember to always be kind in every situation – put yourself in their shoes and don’t just think of accomplishing your personal goal. And don’t forget to smile; because you know what they said, it’s a universal language that should warm everybody’s heart.

Have a good day!

Lots of love,


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