Marlena McDaniel is an alumna of the 2016 CLS Korean program in Gwangju, South Korea. She is currently a senior at the University of North Alabama majoring in Hospitality Management and International Studies. Marlena hopes to return to South Korea next year for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. When she is not studying Korean, Marlena likes to paint, crochet, sew, and otherwise spend her time doing all sorts of crafts.
I have always found the Korean language very interesting. It has a very unique structure, especially compared to other East Asian languages like Chinese or Japanese. I like the fact that the written language is very specifically designed. People actually sat down and decided how it would work rather than it developing over time. Because of this, it is an easier language to learn and read.
Standing Out in a Crowd
Korea is an extremely homogeneous society and there is a lot of pressure to fit in and not stick out. As a foreigner I stood out in a crowd, all the more so because I am a person with a physical disability, and I wear a prosthetic leg in order to walk around. In the hot Korean summer I was wearing shorts almost every day, so my prosthetic was on full display. I got some stares from people on the street but it also opened a lot of chances to talk to people. We all had Korean college students as language partners and several of the girls asked me about my leg or complemented me on how well I walked. It gave me an opportunity to talk to them about how my disability is part of my identity and I don’t feel the need to hide it.
A Gift from the Heart
One of the things that first peaked my interest in Korean was television dramas from Korea. There was one particular scene repeated in a lot of drama that always confused me though. Whenever someone would move into a new house, their friends would come by with a roll of toilet paper as a housewarming gift. I thought it must be because if you’d just moved into a new place you probably hadn’t had the time to go out and buy this important household item, but still it seemed odd. Then one day in class we learned about this exact thing. Gifting a roll of toilet paper means something to the effect of “may your life unroll smoothly.” It wasn’t just a helpful gift; it was a blessing of good luck. I left class so excited that I finally understood the cultural significance of something I had seen over and over again.
Words of Wisdom
I would definitely recommend that people study Korean. Even though Korea is a small county they are growing quickly as a world power. Korean corporations are growing rapidly and have a major place in the global marketplace.