Sunday, November 24, 2019

A Happy Birthday

I recently celebrated my birthday, and it was wonderful. I really missed being able to do the small things I love when I'm at home while I was overseas. First, I went to my mom's house to eat some delicious Korean food.

In Korean culture, you eat miyeok guk (slimy seaweed soup) on your birthday. There are a lot of superstitions about miyeok guk, including that you should eat it when you're pregnant but not when you take a test. Regardless, it's absolutely delicious. So I enjoyed the soup and a bunch of other delicious foods my mom made for me. As far as I'm concerned, nobody can cook quite like my mom.

We also lit a fire in the dining room, where my childhood bedroom used to be. It brought back a lot of memories of cozying up by the fire in the winter months with my sister and sometimes even making s'mores from our beds if our parents would let us. My mom even spoiled me with some new winter clothes since I had been in Kenya without winter for a few years! She's the best.

The next day, my Korean class gave me a birthday surprise with homemade cupcakes and mini cheesecakes. I even got to blow out candles for the first time in many years! They sang me "Happy Birthday" in Korean. (You can listen to how that goes here). It was just so kind and really warmed my heart. That same day, I reached my birthday fundraiser goal on Facebook to donate to Britepaths, a wonderful organization that helps people in need in Fairfax County, Virginia. I was impressed by the generosity of my friends.

Then, it was M's turn to treat me. We went to The Melting Pot, a fondue chain restaurant we've loved since even before we were married (and the location of the first photo of this post). After dinner, we rushed to the movie theatre and barely made it in time to see the newly-released Frozen 2. Y'all, I loved this movie! I really enjoy how it features relatable sister love as the focal point and a main character who isn't driven by romance. Also, Disney's music is always so great that I find myself playing the songs on repeat long after I've seen one of their films.

Later this weekend, we went to the Kennedy Center in DC to see a beautiful series of traditional Korean performance arts. We also went out to Lighthouse Tofu, a Korean restaurant recommended by a mutual friend and Koreaphile we met in Nairobi, and I caught up with a dear mentor and friend. The food was delicious and the portions were truly staggering! We ate until we hurt and still wound up taking leftovers home. I highly recommend this place.

Last, I enjoyed my favorite birthday tradition: sitting back and relaxing while M cooks all of the food I want for a day. He even incorporated my request for more fresh, healthy foods this year. I am definitely the cook in our marriage, so it's fun to take a break and have him pamper me with foods I typically wouldn't make myself anyway. Even though it takes him ages to make the food, it always tastes divine. This year, he made me a green lentil salad, ginger-carrot soup, roasted chicken thighs, and dark chocolate mousse. He's just amazing.

So now I'm looking forward to riding the high of a fabulous birthday right into one of my favorite American holidays, Thanksgiving! As much as I love traveling the world, it sure is good to be home - and especially this time of year. Who else loves the holiday season?

Sunday, November 17, 2019

What the Heck is Konglish?

The first time I heard the word "Konglish" the first thing that popped into my mind was "Congolese English?" But alas, Konglish (콩글리쉬) is the beloved merger of Korean and English, where loan words are attempted with varying degrees of faithfulness to the original meaning and then spread far and wide.

Here are a few examples:

  • Notebook (노트북): A laptop computer, not a notebook. What we call a "notebook" is kongchek (공책).
  • Dress (드레스): Not just any dress, but only fancy, formal dress. It may also apply to men. See next bullet for what we English-speakers would call a "dress".
  • One piece (원피스): A dress more generally, not a swimsuit. I still have no idea how to say swimsuit, and summer's a long way away so I'm not prioritizing it.
  • Eye shopping (아이쇼핑): Window shopping.
  • Hand phone (핸드폰): A cell phone.
  • Meeting (미팅): Usually a blind date, not a meeting. "Meeting" is hwoe-ui (회의). (It does not sound how the romanization standards make it look.)
  • Open car (오픈카): A convertible. I mean, it's not wrong. (To be completely fair, convertible [컨버터블] is also used.)
  • Manicure (매니큐어): General term for nail polish.
  • Fighting (파이팅 or 화이팅): This is the most famous Konglish word of all, and you'll see it in pretty much any modern Korean drama (K-drama). It does not have anything to do with actual fighting, but it's more an expression of encouragement like "You got this!" or "Go, team!"

Are these false cognates? I don't think they quite fit the definition because they don't have different etymologies. They all ostensibly come from the English language, but their meaning has changed somehow. I will also say that there are plenty of true loan words that have maintained their meaning (looking at you, ice cream [아이스크림]), but I found the different ones way more entertaining. Did I miss any in Korean? Do you know of words like this in other languages? Please feel free to share in the comments below!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Learning a Language, 40 Hours a Week

What's it like to spend 40 hours a week learning a language? Well, it depends on whom you ask. (Though I recommend not asking M, who just doesn't enjoy studying foreign languages very much.) Each day, I'm in language class for five hours (at the Foreign Service Institute, also known as FSI) and I'm expected to study about three hours outside of class on my own. I usually squeeze in at least two hours between homework and vocabulary study, so I've stayed relatively on track so far. It helps that I'm ahead of the curriculum because I've studied Korean before, but I'm still learning an immense amount of vocabulary (about 100 words per week, and yes the first photo of this post is a typical sheet of my vocab notes from class).

At this stage, it feels pretty similar to me as some of the times I spent intensively studying Arabic abroad in Oman. There, I had about four hours of classes at most and then about two hours of homework each night. But on top of that, I also had to use the language more in "real life" to communicate with my Omani friends. Thankfully, I have my mom and others to help offer me free Korean practice--but my Korean still has a long way to go to get to that more complex conversational phase!

To be honest, I'm having a pretty good time in Korean class so far. The teachers are very knowledgeable and organized and the students have strong camaraderie. Moreover, the Korean department has incorporated a lot of cultural and linguistic immersion activities, like the Chuseok celebration I described in a previous post.

Probably the single biggest factor, though, is the fact that I simply love learning languages. I know not everyone does, so a lot of folks in language training are definitely not having as good of a time as I am. I find it to be a refreshing break from the typical grind and pace of work I've done in the office lately. I also enjoy challenging different parts of my brain that could use the exercise. I still struggle with mixing languages, and I deeply admire the polyglots who can flawlessly switch between many languages. (They are definitely my #goals.) For now, I'm accidentally dropping or thinking Korean words when I'm looking for French or Arabic, but hopefully with enough practice I can overcome that particular hurdle.

Two months in, I'm pretty impressed with my FSI language learning experience. My classmates are hard-working, the teachers are great, and the language training supervisor is good about setting clear expectations. To be honest, at first I was really disappointed that there wasn't space in the Korean department to create a more advanced course or to allow me to pursue a more in-depth self-study. (All the Korean classes at FSI start from 0 and go up to level 2, which is certainly not the case with other, larger language departments like French, Spanish, or even Chinese that can accommodate multiple levels simultaneously.) Now that we're past the alphabet (a grueling two full weeks) and the lowest-level basics, though, it's become much more interesting and fun. I'm looking forward to learning more and hopefully not burning out before I'm finished next year.