Learning Korean has never been so relaxing

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Learning Korean has never been so relaxing

The first-time visitor immediately notices just how laid-back iHouse is. As one of the least stressful atmospheres in Seoul for learning a foreign language, interested students flock to the Sinchon cafe with comfy sofas and chairs strewn amid wipe-boards and glasses of tea.
Every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the cafe fills with foreigners taking advantage of the free Korean lessons offered by volunteer teachers. The only thing to bring is 3,500 won ($3) for tea during lesson time. The cafe also holds loosely organized study groups for English, Japanese, Chinese, French and German, but the main focus of the cafe is to teach foreigners Korean.
The students looking to learn Korean are from various backgrounds, including English teachers, U.S. Army soldiers, professors and exchange students. Most want to experience Korean culture and learn essentials of the language during their stay here. But there are other reasons, as well. “My husband is Korean,” says Kei Hashimoto, who is Japanese. “He can’t speak Japanese so we communicate in English. But I have to learn Korean in order to talk with my mother-in-law.”
The two-hour lessons sometimes spill out into the streets, as teachers and students forge friendships. “Sometimes we hang out at places in Sinchon after the lesson,” says Takashi Shimada, a Japanese student. “My Korean teacher is helpful and fun to talk to. With her help I’ve expanded my understanding of Korean culture.”
Damon Bug, who works at an English institute, is on his first visit. “My first impression is the friendly, casual attitude here,” he says.
The teachers are energetic volunteers, not professionals. But they bring both rigor and enthusiasm to their teaching. Ms. Kim, who declined to give her full name because she hasn’t told her parents about her volunteer gig, has taught Korean every Wednesday and Friday since May 2002. “I learned about this community through my friend. It attracted me as a way to interact with foreigners regularly. For the past year I have taught students diverse in age, nationality and occupation.”
For those who stick it out, the stresses of living in another country can be greatly lessened. “Sometimes people give up quickly, but when I see the students who attend faithfully and improve day by day, it makes me very happy,” Ms. Kim says.
Kim Sang-yung, the owner of iHouse, got the idea after realizing the plight of foreign workers in Korea. “For foreign workers, this is often the only place they can learn Korean. They really need to learn in order to make a living here, but they are limited in terms of time and money.” Even though the number of foreign workers taking lessons at iHouse has waned over the years, the spirit of goodwill pervades. Lee Jung-min, another volunteer teacher, says, “As long as people come in wanting to learn, I will be here.”

by Ahn Keum-nyo

Subway: Ewha Womans University station, line No. 2
Phone: (02) 393-2246
Web site: www.i-ihouse.com
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