There are many interesting people living in South Korea and one of them is my friend Jeong-Seon Lee. When she graduates college she wants to teach English to students about the same age as all of you! Come along with me as I talk to Jeong-seon about what it’s like to live in Korea!
“Ahn-yong-ha-say-yo, Jeong-seon (Jung-sohn) unnie!” I say, as I greet Jeong-seon at the Yohk-guk subway station in Bucheon (Booch-ohn) just outside of Seoul. I call Jeong-seon “uhn-nie” because she is my friend and she is older than me. Uhn-nie means older sister, but it is also used between friends when a younger friend is talking to an older one. If I were a boy I would call her noona instead. Jeong-son is 26 years old Korean age, which makes her about 24 years old in the United States. She is wearing leggings and a sweater-shirt, covered by a dark grey coat not quite warm enough for this windy spring day. The weather is “goh-sehm- choo-ee,” she says, referring to the few days of cold weather during the beginning of the spring season.
She takes me through the campus of the Catholic University of Korea where she did her undergraduate studies. She shows me where she used to attend classes and hang out during the day. Finally we sit down in her old cafeteria to talk. She speaks to me in English, because she knows my Korean is not good enough yet, but sometimes she uses simple Korean phrases.
What is your full name?
“My full name is Jeongson Lee or in Korea, 이정선 (Ee Jung-sohn).” In Korean, last names are written first. Lee, which is pronounced Ee, is Jeong-seon’s last name.
Where do you live? What is your house like?
“I was born in Incheon (Inch-ohn) and I’m living in Incheon now,” Jeong-seon tells me. “We have a really good transportation system and it’s less crowded than Seoul,” she says when I ask her what she likes about living in Incheon.
“There are many apartment building around and I also live in an apartment building, Jeong-seon says, her eye-shadow glittering in the lights of the cafeteria every time she blinks. “There are four rooms. Compared to a U.S. style house it is very small, because we don’t have enough territory for people to own big houses.” There are also a lot of people in the cities she tells me. “That’s why we have a lot of apartment buildings. I like living in an apartment though, maybe because I have been living in one for more than 20 years.” Jeong-seon lives on the 15th floor of the apartment building with her Uhm-ma or mother, Ahp-pah or father and her nam-dohng-sayng, her younger brother.
What is your family like?
“I live with my family,” Jeong-seon tells me. In this way Korean college students can be quite different from American college students. Many American college students live in dorms during college, and after they tend to get their own apartments. In contrast, most Korean students live with their parents and commute to school every day. Jeong-seon expects to live with her parents until she gets married, at which point she will move in with her husband.
“I like my family very much, maybe I depend on them too much. Family won’t betray you. They always encourage me because they are my family, so I love my family very much.”
“My mom loves to go hiking. She loves to exercise. She is very active. She’s very different from me. My dad works for a car company and he loves to read books. He’s different from my mom. I think he’s quiet, but he is very humorous at the same time.”
“My brother just finished serving his military service four months ago and now he has returned to college,” she adds. In Korea almost all men are required to serve for two years in the Korean military. Most men usually do this between the ages of 19 and 25, though some men, especially celebrities, may serve their time later.
“Do you get along well with your brother?” I ask her.
“Yeah!” She tells me with a laugh. He is three years younger, but because they are from the same generation they talk a lot. “We talk about many things,” she says, “We talk about campus life, and my daily life. We talk many times on the weekends.”
How do you get around?
“I don’t have a driver’s license, even though I am 26! Since I don’t have a driver’s license I take the subway,” she says. Jeong-seon tells me that when she goes to school she often takes a bus to the subway station and then transfers to the subway. After the subway she takes a bus again to get to the college. Sometimes, she adds, her father will drive her to the subway station in the morning, because they both leave at 7:20 AM. “We have a very good transportation system,” she tells me and I nod in agreement.
“Oh, Kelsi!” She says excitedly, “Please mention that we have a machine that tells you when the bus will come to the minute. If you use a smart-phone, you can download an application that will tell you which bus will come when. So we are living in high technology,” she says with a sigh of awe. “Even though I don’t have a driver’s license I can go almost everywhere I want.”
What types of clothes do you like to wear?
“It depends on the days and occasions,” she says. “I am a graduate student so I wear very casual clothes, so I wear hoodies or sweaters and jeans, but when I have to do a presentation I wear formal suits, high-heels, jacket, and skirt. Korean students are so interested in fashion, they wear so many pretty clothes, they wear high heels often.”
“I prefer Nike sneaker, but it is very random, because sometimes I buy clothes in the street (at street vendor’s stalls) and sometimes I buy clothes in the department store. My favorite Korean brand is Thursday Island, or Roem for formal clothes. I like to shop in the Boopyohng station underground.” In Korea, many of the subway stations have underground areas where there are many shops that sell clothes, jewelry and other small souvenirs. “I also like Dong-day-moon (a large shopping district) and Shin-say-gay department store.”
What do you like to do in your free time?
“In my free time I like to surf the web. There is a community (online) where people share information about their daily lives that I like to look at. I also like to watch movies. Since I was young, I’ve liked to watch English movies with Korean and English captions,” she tells me, saying that it helped her learn a lot of conversational English.
“My mom and I love to watch musicals! Recently I watched the musical Aida. I’ve also seen Legally Blonde and Chicago.” Jeong-seon also likes to watch television on the weekends when she has free time. Her favorite program is called Moo-han-do-juhn called Infinity Challenge in English. “There are seven different comedians and they do silly things for fun. They sometimes reflect social situations in a funny and positive way. Sometimes they do silly games. Every Saturday at 6:30 PM I turn on the TV and watch it with my family.”
What languages do you speak?
Jeong-seon speaks Korean and English, but she also knows Japanese. Even though she doesn’t speak it fluently she knew it well enough to speak with Japanese students when she was in the United States. Jeong-seon attended St. Michael’s College in Vermont during her senior year of university. This is actually where I got to meet her for the first time!
“There are expression that I cannot translate into English,” she says “so sometimes, when I have a conversation with Japanese friends, I use the Japanese expressions, because they deliver the meaning more clearly than in English.”
Do you have any pets?
“No, unfortunately I don’t have. I really want to raise a dog, but I live in an apartment and it’s not easy to have a pet in an apartment. If a dog barks harshly, a lot, some families who have babies (will be disturbed). I want a really big dog, like a Golden Retriever. They are so cute! In America, dogs are like family members. In Korea it is changing, so some people consider dogs as family members, but it’s not easy to have dogs in an apartment.”
Have you traveled? Where?
“I’ve been to ten states,” she tells me, listing them off on her fingers. There was Vermont, where she attended college for a year at St. Michael’s College. She has also been to New York, New Hampshire, and Nevada. As well as Arizona, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, California, and Maryland. She tells me that Vermont was her favorite, because the nature there was very beautiful, and it was a quiet and clean place. However, in terms of site seeing, she really enjoyed Nevada, because she got to see the Grand Canyon.
“What was your favorite place in New York?” I ask her.
“I loved the Brooklyn Bridge,” she says. “I love museums!” she adds. “I loved the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I also really liked being in Times Square. I felt that I was alive in the middle of Times Square. Oh! I have to mention this place, Washington Square. I saw Washington Square in the movie When Harry Met Sally when I was really young. Then I saw the Washington Square in person! It felt so great, because I had always wanted to be there.”
What do you do for work?
Since Jeong-seon is a student she does not currently have an official job. She is a graduate student at Sook-Myung Yo-Ja Day-hak-yo (숙명 여자 대핰교) or Sook-Myung Women’s University. At Sook-Myun she is majoring in TESOL or teaching English to students of other languages. She currently teaches English in elementary and middle school classrooms. In the future she hopes to teach English to students in this age group, because she really loves working with children. She is also thinking about teaching college students. “I know it is difficult to study English. Getting a job is not that easy. You must study English to get a job here, but English is difficult. I want to help them, because I have experienced the same thing, so I want to help them to speak English with confidence. I want to show them, I did it, so you can too.”
While Jeong-son was in undergraduate school at The Catholic University of Korea, she was the vice-president of the English Language café on campus. Students are not allowed to speak any language other than English in the café in order to practice and improve their English speaking abilities. If they speak in Korean more than three times they get kicked out of the café! Jeong-seon is very proud of the fact that she was vice-president of the club for three years.
What would you like to say to students in the U.S.?
“It is nice to meet you everybody,” she says smiling. “I’m honored to share my personal stories and I will be glad if my personal stories help you and if you find them interesting. Study hard, but enjoy it,” she says. There is a limited amount of time that people get to spend learning she explains to me, so it is important to “study more, learn more, read a lot of books, and learn from everything you can.” You don’t have to learn just in the classroom she adds, you can learn from everything, but you should enjoy learning, not be stressed out by it. In Korea they say gong-boo-ruhr your-shim-he hay-yah sohng-gong har-soo-eet-da. This means study hard and you will succeed. She ends by saying, “If you want to know more about Korea, just ask me and I can help you!”