It’s an expat club, but all Korean
His wife argued that it would be rude to ask her friend to leave; he didn’t see why.
“I think the difference is that Koreans think they should try to understand others, while Americans [or Westerners] think they should try not to bother others,” said Stephen Revere, an American Korean instructor at Sogang University. He laughed. “And that’s my conclusion after having lived in Korea for 11 years.”
It’s a typical exchange for the two members of their group, not just in its topic, but in its delivery ― they both spoke in Korean. The two are members of Hanwaymo, a social club for Korean speakers. The club’s rules bar the use of English conversation, at least during the first round of drinking.
At the group’s evening meeting on July 8, over a dozen members, foreigners and Koreans, gathered at a restaurant near Hongik University. At the head of the group was Mr. Revere, who formed the club on Oct. 9, 2004, to facilitate a discussion on cultural differences experienced by expatriates and to help the members improve their Korean language skills. October 9 is Hangul Day, which commemorates the creation of the Korean alphabet by King Sejong in 1446.
The background and linguistic abilities of the club’s members are diverse, including an 11-year resident who teaches Korean to foreigners, an official at the Japanese Embassy who is learning to play the daegeum (a large bamboo flute), a businessman whose family runs a Korean restaurant in his home country, Nepal, a Russian who appears Korean despite having no ancestry here, and an American whose Korean carries traces of a Japanese accent.
“The cultures of Korea and Nepal are surprisingly similar in many aspects. For example, in Nepal, a younger person should hold his glass with two hands when an older person fills it, as in Korea. Also, the traditional wedding ceremony is very similar,” said Gambhir Man Shrestha. His pronunciation and accent is almost perfect; over the phone, a Korean person might never know he was talking to a foreigner. After learning some Korean from Korean customers in his restaurant in Nepal, he came to Korea in 2001 and studied Korean history at Dongguk University.
Mr. Revere and Mr. Shrestha teach Korean to blue-collar workers in a community center in Sindang-dong, central Seoul. Some of the workers are also club members, though not many, said Mr. Revere. He also recently launched a free magazine for students of the Korean language.
Chad Walker, who studies Korean at Yonsei University, is the one with the Japanese accent. Originally from Texas, Mr. Walker studied Japanese for quite a long time and even studied in Tokyo and Kyushu. He said that after he found many similarities between Japanese and Koreans ― such as how both use Chinese characters ― he wanted to learn Korean. “I think Koreans are more like Americans than Japanese. They express what they feel more directly,” Mr. Walker said.
“It feels great to see a mix of foreigners and Koreans sitting together,” Mr. Revere said, adding that he wants to see more foreigners to come to the gathering and share their cultural experiences with others.
Gatherings are on every second Saturday of the month, and Koreans can join only if they come with a foreigner who speaks Korean, in order to prevent the mix of nationalities from becoming unbalanced.
by Park Sung-ha