It’s been a few months since I’ve posted here, and if I’m completely honest, it’s been more than a few months since I’ve, you know, actually posted. My most recent posts were scheduled well in advance. Why?
At the end of April, I graduated undergrad. I graduated with High Honors on my honors thesis in Korean Studies, won a prestigious award for Korean Studies, nabbed a second major in International Studies, got a short story published in a college lit magazine, said goodbye to almost all my friends, and started working full-time a day after commencement ceremonies.
Adulting is hard.
It’s also terrifying because I’m doing two seemingly opposing things. One’s commended by everyone I meet. The other? Well, let’s just say not everyone understands why I’m doing it. Continue reading →
As these interviews are for humans, by humans, and introduce thoughts from humans, a natural amount of human error results in the process of taking an idea from the words of a person halfway around the world and then translating it in a way that an English-speaker will understand. Translation isn’t just about plugging in one word at a time and assembling an identical line of words. That’s what most automatic translators do.
After a year at this work, I’ve developed my own style for translating. First, I read through the entire interview, and pick out any words that I feel remotely uncertain about. Then, yes, I do translate these one by one, basically out of context. I jot down every possible meaning I can find for that word. Then I go back to the interview and, in a stream of consciousness-like state, write what I think the person is saying. When I hit little speed bumps (the uncertain words), I glance at the list I created. Now, with context, I know which one matters and the English version comes into existence.
Sometimes a word isn’t anywhere. Naver dictionary? Doesn’t have it. Google Translate? Doesn’t have it/is unsafe. At times like this, I’ll try random variations of spelling and even Google Image it. You’d be amazed how you can figure out a word’s meaning by staring at pictures.
Like the time I couldn’t figure out what 지푸라기 꾸러미 was.
Of course, when I’m truly desperate, I ask for help from my Korean boyfriend on those sneaky, hidden words and twisted grammar structures.
And that’s how I translate. Then our team’s proofreader checks everything, makes lots of helpful comments to explain his edits, and sometimes we have a conversation over the different ways a word or sentence can be translated. Even a single word can make or break a translation.
When I first started translating, it was exhausting work. Exhilarating, but exhausting. I felt driven to make every single piece perfect before showing it to the proofreader, but with my limited Korean skills, I frequently found myself facing numerous corrections and edits. Quite the blow to my Korean-speaking ego!
All those kind 아줌마들 with their “한국어 너어어무 잘 하시네용!”s and the 할아버지들 at the Korean markets with their “아가씨가 한국 몇년 살아셨나?’s – all this faded away. Why was I translating when there was so much I didn’t know about the language, let alone culture, history, social cues – all the things that you must learn to truly, truly understand another language – even after several years of self-study and university?
Preliminary translations can be very rough. Much of this was changed before it was a finished product. Yet as difficult as they can be, I just love doing the interviews for 할머니들 and 할아버지들. There’s so much history packed into their memories.
But then, at some point, the scales started to tip back. My Korean skills grew. I cannot claim this was solely due to doggedly working at translations every week; it also came largely from talking every day with my Korean language partner-turned-boyfriend, as well as returning to Korea for two months in the summer (here‘s my reflection on three different stints studying in Korea). But translating for Humans of Seoul was indubitably instrumental.
Language skills are all about lifelong learning. They require constant maintenance and exhaustive effort. Translating is one element that has helped me, ironically, become better at translating. Am I substantially better at translating in January 2017 than I was in January 2016? I don’t know; ask my proofreader. One thing is for sure, though. My increased confidence in using Korean has opened doors that a fearful me would never have been able to open.
Well, yet another adventure in Korea has come and gone, and impacted my life in ways that I did not foresee. Each time, I am asked if I’m really going again, and each time I somehow manage to go again by finding scholarships and fellowships and saving my own money. And each time, people ask me when I’m going back.
The answer hasn’t changed: I don’t know. And that’s okay. I have my senior year of undergrad to finish, and my future to consider. It will probably be a good while before I can go back.
In the meantime, I’m going to reflect on the past two months as well as 2014 and 2015 before I start sharing more focused posts.
This fellowship was very different from the two previous times I’ve gone to Korea. In 2014, I was an exchange student for a semester and took courses like a normal student at Yonsei University. I lived in the dorms, I made numerous international friends, and I finally got to test my Korean skills in a truly Korean environment. I took intensive Korean and my skills improved rapidly. I attended countless concerts and special events, traveled deep into the countryside, and even got really sick several times from overbooking myself for classwork and for fun things. Most importantly, I went on mini-excursions on my own all around Seoul in an effort to find ‘me’. It was a period of immense growth and one of the best times of my life.
And attending 연고전 redefined my concept of “school spirit”.
I spent summer 2015 at Yonsei as well, but this time as a student in the International Summer School program. This meant that I lived in the exact same dorm as before, attended courses in the same buildings, and met a new group of international students (primarily from the U.S.). Again, I took intensive Korean, but I suffered from a severe drop in confidence in my language skills as most of my classmates were native speakers who had grown up in the U.S.
As in 2014, I attended concerts and events and traveled out of Seoul, this time on a brief trip to Boseong’s green tea fields. I spent much of my time in Cafe Noriter in Edae. For summer 2015, Korea to me was in some ways different from before, but still so much was the same – perhaps too much. Instead of being pushed out of my comfort zone, I simply returned to the one I had built the previous year when I was an exchange student.
Artwork in the GD-curated PEACEMINUSONE exhibit 2015
Artwork in the GD-curated PEACEMINUSONE exhibit 2015
Bus ticket from the Boseong trip!
That’s not to say that I didn’t have a fantastic time.
But let’s talk about 2016 now.
For the past two months, I was not at Yonsei. I did not live in a dorm. I entered knowing only one student in my program at Sungkyunkwan University. I attended no concerts. Yet for all these differences, it was the right way to spend my third time in Korea. At this point, I have already attended so many varied cultural events that the ones offered by my program or that friends invited me to were ones I had already attended in past years.
A quiet summer evening on SKKU’s main campus
I realized a new dream, one that I fulfilled throughout June and July: that of feeling truly like I was living in Korea like anyone else. I was independent, and yet also a person absorbed into the existing millions. While it was far beyond my comfort zone, I was simultaneously scared and thrilled to be pushing myself again. My schedule was my own; my mealtimes were dependent on me alone. I did not have the community that a dorm provides, and I lived a long bus or subway ride from SKKU. I wasn’t taking intensive Korean – in fact, I only had one course on human rights, and it was incredibly intensive and informative. I wasn’t interested in making friends during my program because I already had people I wanted to spend time with and places that I wanted to go. Things were very, very different.
And I drank a lot of coffee.
And I loved it. I lived in cafes, I studied on my own schedule. I commuted on sweaty buses with the rest of the teeming masses of students and workers in the morning and evening because I could no longer simply walk out of my dorm and into the next building for class. I bought books at Kyobo and wrote poems in pastry shops, and after a while I started running into people in my neighborhood that I recognized. I became a ‘regular’ at cafes and restaurants, someone who was recognized and welcomed a bit more than the general groups of strangers. Where I lived truly began to feel like my town – or perhaps, in the style of Korea, I should say it was ours.
Rain or shine, Hongdae was home.
Also, the most thrilling and different thing from my previous two experiences in Korea was that this time, a language exchange friendship of the past half year blossomed into a dating relationship and that deeply affected how much I practiced speaking Korean and how much I traveled around Seoul and the surrounding regions. As a result, I also experienced a variety of things that I would not have imagined, like attending a Korean wedding, meeting my Korean boyfriend’s family after he told them he was dating me, and learning more about Korea’s couple culture firsthand (ㅎㅎㅎ couple shoes, anyone?). It also vastly increased the stares – a mixed-race couple rather than simply a foreigner draws even more attention ㅋㅋㅋ
A few weeks ago I was contacted by Jasmine Sohn, a contributor to ATK Magazine, and she asked to interview me about my Korean language study journey and this little rambling blog of mine. The interview was posted recently and is currently featured on the magazine’s main page!
ATK Magazine is an online magazine based out of Toronto, Canada, and it covers all things Korean. Road to Korea is one of the categories curated on the site and it is comprised of a series of interviews with various bloggers, each of them exploring the reasons why foreigners develop a deep interest in Korea as well as delving into each interviewee’s personal backstory and continued involvement with Korea.
If you’re interested in learning more about how I developed my passion for learning Korean and how I like to spend my time in Seoul, you can check out the interview here.
Shout out to Jasmine and ATK Magazine for the fun interview!
I haven’t written a new post in quite a long time – and it was a long time before that post that I’d last written a post. I really need to get my act together and start actively blogging again. I thought that if I ‘took a break,’ I’d be blogging again in no time – once I had more time.
And yes, college has been busy, life has been crazy, endless midterms and papers are all very awful, but it’s no excuse to ignore what I really love: writing, reading (in English) and studying Korean. And I’ve been ignoring them all far too much.
Something that has come to my attention over the past several months is what my best friend and I like to call ‘speaking in subtitles.’ Continue reading →