Lost in translation

Annyong Americans!
Lindsay here, reporting from the comfort of my own computer now that we have Internet access!
Whit and I have now spent a full week at our new home in Gwangju, South Korea. We have seen and experienced a lot, the least of which our new careers as elementary school English teachers. By the way, I have newfound respect for teachers, and now understand why my mom, a first grade teacher, goes home every afternoon to take a nap.
The teaching is getting more and more comfortable for me, and today, I found myself singing “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands” to a group of excited third graders (though it was Whit’s rendition that gave me the giggles all morning after I captured it on video for your viewing pleasure!)
But it’s the before- and after-school activities that continue to surprise and shock us each day. For example, we were informed yesterday that our vice principal, a common enemy to most teachers at the school, would be visiting our home after school today. She does not speak English and, gasp!, she is single, and in her mid- to late-40s. Single is synomous with freak-of-nature in Korea, I am learning.
So, today, we found ourselves sitting on the bare floor, knees politely tucked under, sipping juice with our vice principal in our own home. She, and another woman from the school who we were actually not introduced to, and another English teacher–our translater– sat around to talk, at our home. It was strange, especially as the VP started strangely resembling Kim-Jong-il of North Korea as she told us what we should and should not do in Gwangju. I’ll leave out the details, as it might scare anyone who is not a communist. They eventually left after a long, awkward, and intrusive conversation. Whit quickly stated as the door shut that he felt like we were just on an NBC nightly news special, possibly a feature on Korean culture.
There are lots of strange things here, many of which we can’t get an explanation for, because when we ask, there is so much lost in translation.
If any of you readers are Korean, maybe you can answer our burning questions. It’s not that we are disrespecting their culture, we are simply curious.
1. Why do women wear high heels to work, walking ungodly distances on cracked sidewalks just to take off their pumps to put on slippers inside the building?
2. Are Koreans afraid of the sun? Why do they cover every centimenter of their skin when out exercising, from their long pants to long shirts to hats with attached visors to face masks? I get sweaty just looking at them in this heat!
3. Where do Koreans learn to drive? Why must they pull out in front of other cars two moments too late just to slow down and anger the other driver? And why do taxis honk everytime they pass a pedestrian? Do they think we can’t see them? And why don’t cars stop for pedestrians on crosswalks?
4. Why do Korean men suck their gums loudly, making a popping sound?
5. Why do they sit on the floor in restaurants and homes? And how are they so good at it? Don’t they realize that it is uncomfortable?
6. Why, oh why, do they not drink water, much less any other liquid, with their lunch, especially when it is so spicy?
7. Why don’t they use napkins?
8. Why, oh why, is toilet paper so scarce in this country? And why, again, must we not toss it in the toilet after use? I just cannot remember this!

OK, those are our observations for now. As the year continues, we’ll hopefully start answering these questions. And while we may be looking at them like freaks at the moment, in return, I had a group of girls accost me in the hallway today so they could look at my eyes and teeth (why teeth?! I don’t know) as if through a microscope.

So all is fair in the face of culture shock, much is lost in translation in attempted explanations, but this, my friends, is just plain funny. See for yourself:



  1. Jessica says:

    So the video is really cute! I’m loving that the kids noticed you, but Whit didn’t seem to notice.


  2. Jessica says:

    Also noticed another woman in the background. I’m assuming she’s observing the class? She doesn’t even look up during the song!


  3. Jaime says:

    Loved the video!! When do we get to see video of you singing and dancing with your class? 🙂


  4. Angie says:

    This totally made my day! [As I clap hands, stomp feet and shout hooray!!]


  5. That’s the Whit I know and love. Straight outta OMOD.


  6. Summer says:

    My Korean friends in class told me today in broken English that I look like Julia Roberts, so for right now I am loving Koreans! (Perhaps I can get some insight from them on your observations.) I am fascinated by your VP who sounds like some movie character, and of course, I laughed out loud at the video. To see Whit interact with the children really is special. Love you guys!


  7. mmitchell says:

    We are over at Bill and Monica’s house, and we just saw the great video of “When you’re happy and you know it”. Way to go! Mom and I, along with Bill and Monica are reading and enjoying. Whit, I have a monk story to tell you. Love you,Mom and Dad


  8. Rebecca says:

    Please consider bringing one of those children home in August! They are adorable. Who is the guy in the khakis and belt?? I thought I was going to be watching Whit…..


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