Nov 15, 2012

Language barriers and things that break them.

There's been a lot written about language barriers. It's one of the first things people ask me about when we're talking about my experience, and it's the Big Thing that I run  up against every single day.

However, a language barrier, even one as severe as the one I usually have to deal with, does not have to be a barrier to friendship. Most of the teachers in my school have an English level about on par with or slightly above my level of Korean (and THAT is saying something, because my Korean is still rotten.) However, that hasn't stopped us from bonding over common experiences and trying to get to know each other. In particular, there's one teacher with whom I've become friends, despite our inability to speak each others' languages. She's one of the school special ed teachers, and she's my age. We're the two youngest teachers in the whole school.  We were both shy of each other at first. I know I was shy because I was embarrassed at my abysmal Korean, and I'm sure she felt the same way about her English.  But over the last few weeks, we've started stopping by each others' classrooms to say hi. We can hold simple conversations about what we did recently, and what our plans are for the weekend. 

Side note: I've mastered saying "I will go to Hongdae. I will meet friends and we will drink and go to noraebang." Convenient, because that's pretty much all I do. I can also say it in past tense.

We also send each other little messages through the school messaging system. This lets us have slightly more realistic conversations, thanks to the (albeit imperfect) help of Google Translate.

Yesterday, however, our friendship successfully transcended our  language differences. It all started with a simple message: "Do you like Wii games?" Ummm... yes.

Yep, apparently the special ed classroom has a Wii.



But I digress.

I headed downstairs to her classroom (blissfully warm, I might add), we "chatted" over a cup of tea, and then fired up the ol' Wii. Her (much older) coteacher walked in right as we were in the middle of our first Mario Kart race, yelling in our respective languages and at each other in a weird mix of both.  Elder teacher just smiled and shook her head at the two youngins.

 Before long, we were taunting each other, taking credit for blowing each other up with shells, and sneering "hello, goodbye!" when one of us passed the other.

Then, as I blew her up with a blue shell, she said three little words that I knew meant we were true friends: "I hate you."

If you're ever uncertain about whether someone is your friend, play them in Mario Kart. If they really do hate you, they're not going to say it. They'll just sulk when you win.

It's funny how an hour spent playing a mutually-understood video game can remind you that we're really all just the same. Even though we don't all  have the same culture or speak different languages, we all still feel the same joys, the same frustration, and the same agony when you lose your half-lap lead by being blown to bits with a blue shell.

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