I hadn't exactly realized how strange my form of regular communication was until this past weekend. My very dear friend from university, Kim, recently moved to Korea to embark on my same journey. I was thrilled to finally see her again and have a wonderful taste of home just being in her presence!
Fresh off the boat (well...plane), four weeks into her new adventure, Korea is still foreign to her. I know how I was way back when when I was first here. It was a challenge and always intimidating trying to talk to the locals. How do you express what you want to say? How will they understand? How will I understand how they respond?
It's amazing how two people can have a "conversation" of sorts when they each know very few words in the others' language.
For example, at one point we were in a taxi... The driver was trying to ask our relationship. I told him (in Korean) that we're friends. Luckily, I know that in Korean what he said next wasn't actually offensive. To understand me correctly, he called me an old woman... but in the form of a semi-question? The western term for "friend" is too difficult for him to understand.
In Korea, only people of the same age can be "friends." Otherwise, they're your older/younger brother/sister. This isn't really weird for me because I call my uncle, "Uncle," and all of my cousins, "Cousin." (What is weird though, is the main term of endearment for a girl to call her boyfriend is the same word as "older brother." A bit incestuous if you ask me.)
Lessons on family is always terribly difficult here. If a student tells me he has two sisters and a brother that could mean he has two sisters and a brother or he's an only child with three cousins!
Long story long... I told the cabbie in Korean that she was my aunt. That was a term he could understand and believe. And I called him a grandpa in Korean for insinuating that I was an old woman.