Tag korea

On Free Lunches

Seoul is currently all abuzz with what I’m told is its first-ever referendum: the issue of free school lunches. Problem is, I’m not sure people have considered even the most basic facts before forming an opinion.

Let me open by saying I am all for free school lunches. In both Korea and the U.S., there are some kids who, for various reasons, would literally have nothing to eat all day if they weren’t provided a lunch by the school. If we, as a society, can help these kids by giving them one meal a day, we must.

Now, in Seoul, where this issue is being debated, how many children are in this kind of situation, or something remotely close to it? I’m thinking 5% would be the absolute high end.

Here’s the thing: Seoul already provides free lunches for the bottom 35%.

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DMZ Tour Notes

Annie and I went on a DMZ tour this past Saturday, June 11, which was hosted (and likely subsidized) by the Yeoksam Global Village Center, which I am quite familiar with because I attend Korean class there twice a week. And likely because of this familiarity, the center staff asked me to do a short writeup and share my thoughts.

I originally intended to write a paragraph or two, but got carried away and wrote a bit more than they probably expected. Since I spent some time on it, I thought I’d post it here as well.

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Can a non-native speaker achieve native proficiency later in life?

This is a question to which I am dedicating a significant portion of this lifetime.

I’ve been studying Korean for well over 7 years now, but as any English native attempting to learn Japanese or Korean quickly discovers, these languages are as different from English as one could imagine.

Admittedly, in those 7+ years, I still haven’t taken a single class. That is, I’ve been largely studying on my own, off and on, in my spare time. I’ve used a mix of books, podcasts, iPhone apps, web sites, language exchanges, and three trips to Korea. Additionally, for the past 6 months (!) I’ve been living in Seoul, and the daily exposure to new words, concepts and situations has accelerated my learning and has provided a constant source of motivation.

Still, I feel like I should be further than I am. It’s a struggle, and I’ve discovered there’s much more to it than just vocabulary and grammar.
Native speakers are distinguished not only by their language, but also the culture and customs in which they have been steeped since birth, as well as the events that shaped their lives. I do my best to pick up on the various cultural elements that Koreans allude to in everyday speech, I try to read up on past events, and I am even trying to learn a little Chinese (Chinese is to Korean as Latin is to English) but there may well be limits to how much I can absorb and imitate.

Koreans, in particular, use simple words in their everyday speech and writing, instead preferring to color their language with a dazzling array of idioms. I am thankful that I can get by using the tiny set of words I have memorized, but in order to understand what the heck other people are talking about, I bought a book a couple years ago containing nothing but idioms. I have mastered some of them (such as, “May you have a son like a fat toad,” encouraging words for pregnant women), but it’s still going to be a few more years before I can get through all of them.

Still, I am encouraged somewhat by Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule. In essence, he says 10,000 hours (20 hours/week for 10 years) can be sufficient to put you at the top of any given field. I am hoping this applies to me as well, since I am essentially attempting to become an expert in Korean language and culture.

I don’t have 20 hours a week, but I do have 1 hour a day. To achieve 10,000 hours at that rate, it will take me 27 years. And that is okay by me.

So, can I achieve my goal of being indistinguishable from a native Korean speaker? I don’t know, and I hope my goal is not “a rice cake in a painting” (something I can never have), but ask me again in 20 years and I should have an answer for you then. Hopefully in fluent Korean. And if you’ve also been studying an hour a day, you’ll understand!

Sending out a big announcement re: Bigger Bird…

About to send out a BIG announcement to our Bigger Bird clients and partners, as well as friends and family who, for whatever reason, aren’t connected via Facebook. We have been researching and planning for two months (and on-and-off for the past few years) to make sure the plan is sound, and we are finally ready to announce it to everyone (drumroll):

We are moving to Korea!

We plan to live in Seoul for a year, starting in June. We bought our plane tickets last week, so we are committed.

How will all this work? Why are we going? Read the full announcement here:

The announcement will go out to our email list tomorrow. Then, I anxiously wait to see what our clients think of our plan…

P.S. If you are interested in receiving emails like this re: Bigger Bird, by all means please join our email list. (Very low volume… I’d like to send out 1 email per month, but the reality is closer to 1/quarter or 1/year.)

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A release valve for my mind.

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