This is an old post by Internet standards, but sometimes digging up an old post is like digging up buried treasure.
Should I answer this one? I think I will. Please bear with me while I summarize my motivation for learning Korean:
You often hear stories of Korean adoption into "white" homes but you never hear the reverse situation. My story is kind of like that other side of the coin.
Born 1959, a Caucasian American US citizen, I was virtually orphaned and on my own at a young age. Our small extended family was never a close one, not like the close-knit Korean family unit where the adage 'blood is thicker than water" comes to its fullest expression.
After three and a half years in a home for boys, I ran away at age 16 and started working. I managed to finish high school and even attended a community college for a while. Life was hard, I was alone. At age 18 I hitchhiked around the US and then joined the army. For some strange reason I felt compelled to go to Korea but they sent me to Germany instead.
At age 21 I dated a 20 year old Korean girl for about a year, but she kept refusing to introduce me to her family, saying "They hate all Americans." I was sure I could convince them that I was different that whatever stereotype they had in mind, but when we finally met they went so far as to threaten my life. They sent "Sue" back to Korea within a week, and she came back 4 months later married and pregnant.
For a while I had ill feelings, but by age 22 I met another Korean named "Ronny" and we became drinking buddies. One night we returned to his house at 2:30 AM and found his mother sleeping in his bed. Needless to say, when she awoke we both got a serious scolding --in Korean- which I didn't understand a word of, yet I understood the love behind it and I envied my friend. After his mother finally went to sleep in her own room, I thought surly this was the last time I would be allowed in the house. But Ronny assured me that everything was all right.
Ronny asked if I was hungry and went to the kitchen to get us a snack. He returned with a large cabbage leaf hanging from chopsticks and said "I want you to try this, it's kimchi -Korean pickle." This was my first taste of Korean food -ever. I had always liked spicy food and I was still buzzed from the beers we drank earlier that evening, so I figured 'why not?'
The bite of kimchi that changed my life forever:
I had been waiting for this flavor my whole life! If flavors were crayons then this kimchi was like the whole box. A rainbow of flavor to my palate; spicy, sweet, salty, crunchy, fizzy, musty, and a fresh ocean breeze carrying the spray of waves breaking on a rocky crag. I ended up eating quite a bit. Yep, it was that incredible.
I had had digestive problems ever since I was 14 years old so I expected that this spicy delight would cause me much distress the next day, but to my surprise the next day was the first time in many years my digestion was close to normal. I was hooked.
Not wanting to bother Ronny's mom, I sought out a Korean market to purchase kimchi. The owner and I soon became friends. Her name was 주인 (owner, proprietor) isn't that funny? 그 마켓 주인의 이름은 '주인'이었다는 거 참 이상하고 웃기지요?
Anyway, the owner eventually asked if I was a Christian, and I replied 'yes' so she invited me to visit her church, a small Korean Presbyterian church located nearby. I went one Sunday, and after the service we shared a nice Korean meal, and there was my favorite thing - kimchi.
I had first heard about Jesus while living in the home for boys, and while I believed and prayed and read the bible, I never felt comfortable in a church. I had been to various American churches numerous times, but the people always seemed to go home right after the worship service, maybe they would stay for coffee and donuts, but I found no real friendship there, only more 'distance.'
By this time I had learned a few Korean words and greetings, and even purchased a small pocket guide to Korean conversation that came with a casset tape. Also Ronny's dad was determined to teach me Hangul every time I went to visit their house. "You can learn it, you're smart, I can tell. Korean is very scientific." He used to say. "가,나,다,라,마,... 아,야,어,여,오,요," He'd make me repeat as I waited for Ronny to get ready to go out. I was too polite to refuse his dad, but I knew I could never learn something as complicated as Hangul. To me it looked like Chinese.
But one night, as I was studying my pocket guide alone in my apartment (it was laid out like this):
I'm glad to meet you.
만 - 나 - 서 반 - 갑 - 습 - 니 - 다
Everything just fell into place. Suddenly, I was reading Hangul!
I continued to get a free Korean meal on Sunday by attending the Korean church, and some of the church members asked every kind of personal question in the world - questions that American etiquette normally doesn't allow, but I didn't mind. I was happy for the attention. When they found out I was an orphan and lived alone in an apartment they asked "Aren't you lonely?" - I HAD NEVER BEEN ASKED THAT BEFORE. And I had to think a moment before I answered - yes, in fact, I was lonely.
The following week some of the members asked if I would like to live together in a rented house. It was a Korean boarding house where about 10 people of diverse backgrounds lived together, sharing expenses in a kind of patchwork harmony. My rent would be cheaper, I could eat Korean food every day, they would help me learn Korean, and I could help them learn English. I agreed.
Well, I got more than just a place to live - I got a family! Having grown up in a cold distant family and western culture that values individuality and individual freedom above anything else, I never knew in all the world that people actually lived and shared like these Korean people. They were total strangers, yet they were concerned with my coming and going. I soon learned that I could not even go to work without saying "(I will) attend (work) and return again" "다녀오겠읍니다." It was as if I had been adopted, a little late in life perhaps, but I was a child at heart, and I still am.
So there you have the roots of my motivation to learn Korean.
After a few years of living with Korean people I made up my mind that I could only marry a Korean, and that dream also came true. I had studied Korean diligently those first few years but study soon took a backseat to family and work. I continued to attend Korean church with my wife, but I only just started seriously studying Korean again in 2008. My Korean had gotten quite rusty. But it has improved substantially in the past 2 years.
Kimchi is still my favorite Korean food.
George Posten, 한국 이름은 '나영훈' 羅永訓 입니다