[Letter to the editor]No excuses for canceling Korean class
Korea has been my home for the last four years. I have learned much about Korean culture. I have enjoyed studying the rich history of this nation. I have learned how to cook Korean cuisine. I have come to appreciate the influence of Confucianism on the Korean mindset, contrary to underpinnings of Puritanical thought in my own country. The thing I have not done is master the Korean language.
I blame myself. I have Western friends who speak near-native Korean. I commented to a linguistically gifted colleague whom I love to hate, “Your Korean is excellent!” His pithy response reeled me: “It was no accident.” I had excused myself. I lived in Daejeon. I had a Korean girlfriend who bridged every linguistic moat. I didn’t want to lose my Spanish. Any excuse.
When I moved to Seoul, opportunities opened up. I started taking Korean classes at my university. I started seeing any Korean citizen as a potential instructor. Then, I noticed an advertisement in the Korea Herald. With a little discipline, I could ― according to the YBM-KLI ad ―go to Korean classes from 8 to 8:50 a.m., five days a week. I went to be tested. The courses were canceled!
My cheerful outlook turned lugubrious. I reasoned with the clerk. How could they do this to me? Couldn’t they see I was finally ready? I went home and wrote an e-mail complaint. I chastised YBM-KLI, saying it has a responsibility to the foreign community to offer Korean classes at a variety of times, despite low enrollment numbers. Isn’t this one of the biggest institutes for foreign languages in Korea? By the prestige and the profits they enjoy, don’t they owe it to the general public? Not according to an e-mail by the supervisor of YBM-KLI.
When I bellyached that I had arranged my schedule specifically to take the morning classes, he responded, “So?” When I cried in his coffee that YBM-KLI should feel a sense of obligation, he replied, “Obligation? What kind of obligation? You are very impertinent and rude.” I looked in a dictionary. Impertinent means one of two things: it means intrusive or presumptuous or it means irrelevant. Maybe he meant to insult me with the latter. He scolded, “YBM KLI does not open classes only for YOU.” Ouch!
I know I am not the raison d’etre of any Korean language institute, but does repudiation need to be a customer service strategy? Korean classes at YBM-KLI require five students. Couldn’t one eager student be viewed as 1/5 of a solution?
I think I finally have my indolence under control. I believe I am ready to give it my blood, sweat and tears, but learning this top-10 most difficult language just got harder. While my respect for King Sejong is still solidly in place, I am finding it difficult to risk an institute who is so utterly dismissive of nameless, ubiquitous, otiose me.
Rob Walsh, a visiting professor
at Kyung Hee University