THE JOY of SPEAKING- Conversations with Foreigners (the original STREET MEETS in Korea)

Introduction: Over the years of teaching university students in Korea, I realized one of the best ways to get them over their fears of speaking English was to send them out to the street to meet real people. It was always the scariest assignment, but the one with the most enthusiastic response after the fact. It was a rare student who didn’t come back with an inspired story to tell. Here are a few of them, in their own words.

KMU student after interviewing a foreigner

KMU student after interviewing a foreigner

STORY #1: My Interview with Foreigners 소용덕

Hunting foreigners in Insadong

Hunting foreigners in Insadong

I went to Insadong as my professor said to hunt foreigners. It was so very scary to me. I went there with four classmates. I think I couldn’t hunt foreigners without them. We talked to about ten foreigners. The first time, I was so scared, but by the third time, it was very funny and enjoyable. Most foreigners were very kind and they took an active interest in us. In truth, I had worried about the interview with foreigners because I can’t speak English well, but all the foreigners understood my English, like “How long here?” “When go Canada?” “Why you come here?” I said so much incorrect grammar, but they understood my questions. Now I will introduce two foreigners.

His name is Fabian. He’s from Canada. This foreigner was my first interview. He saw my “English Conversation” Questionnaire. I couldn’t look at it because he wanted to talk, so we just talked about 10 minutes without using the Questionnaire. When I said my major is Electronic Engineering, he said his job was electronic engineer. He liked his job, and he comes to Korea for business. I asked, “What kind of Korean food do you like?” and he said, “Bibimbab and kimchi.” I told him that Bulgogi is very delicious, but he was a vegetarian. He said he likes ice hockey, because ice hockey is so exciting. I asked him, “When do you go back to Canada?” He will go July 17th. He said Canada is a very beautiful country, and he recommended taking a trip to Canada. We had a good time, and I said, “Thank you. Have a good trip.”

His name is Till. He’s from Germany, but he spoke English well, so I asked him, “How do you speak English well?” He said he lived three years in America. I asked, “Do you think Koreans are shy about speaking with foreigners?” He said some people are. He said he liked Korean pancake and Kimchi but I didn’t understand Korean pancake. I asked him, “Korean pancake is Ddeok?” but he said no. Anyway, now I think Korean pancake is Bu-Chim-Ge.

In conclusion: I think I didn’t write many things down. I had so many funny times with these foreigners. I gave expression to my feelings, like “Wow! Really? Ha ha ha! You’re very handsome! Good!” But I don’t know how to write them all here. Anyway, I think this interview homework was so very very very good for me and my classmates. At first I was so scared of foreigners, but I’m not scared anymore. Now I know that speaking English with foreigners is a lot of fun and they like talking to anyone who speaks to them. Thank you for this homework. It was a very instructive experience.


With Jeff in front of the old Seoul Train Station

With Jeff in front of the old Seoul Train Station

For the interview assignment in the advanced class, I went out of the school and I took the bus. I intended to go to Seoul station as I guessed that was the place where many foreigners might visit. Jeff Reissman(?) (I wrote it down as he said it, but I’m not sure how to spell his family name) was one of the travelers in Seoul. When he was sitting on the bench in front of the station drinking a soda, I approached him with a hello. I had a nervous mind when I said hello, so I hesitated, “Uh, Uh…,” but Jeff answered me with a nice manner. I could feel he wasn’t someone who’s afraid of talking to somebody new.

Jeff said he was visiting Seoul, and he had been waiting for the train to Incheon Airport. I thought he had plenty of time to talk with me, but I decided not to speak too much. I was very careful of my manner at that time, and after introducing myself and my purpose to interview him, I started to ask him questions from my questionnaire.

I was wondering about what feeling he might have had when he first arrived in Seoul. This isn’t exactly what he said but in short, “Seoul is a big city a lot like Tokyo but with more hills, spicier food, and prettier girls.” When he mentioned the Korean girls, I burst into a giggle and asked him why he thought that Japanese girls weren’t prettier than Korean girls. Jeff replied with a big smile, “They are pretty, I admit, but Korean girls are better.”

He continued to talk about his impression of Seoul, especially In-sa Dong. He went there a few hours ago and found a couple of the stationary shops in Ssamzie Gil which looked interesting to him.

Jeff, however, also mentioned a bad impression, that Korean restaurants don’t open at 8 am. His mouth was watering for more Bibimbap in the early morning, but there were no restaurants open at that time so he went to McDonald’s. In addition to that, even though some restaurants were open and every restaurant he walked into had someone cleaning and vacuuming the tables and floor, when they saw his face, they would make an X sign and shake their heads.

Finally, I asked the last question because I didn’t want to keep him any longer. It was, “Is it okay or normal for you to speak to somebody new?” Jeff replied, “I really don’t have a nervous feeling when I meet someone new. I guess it’s because I don’t really care if they like me or not. Most people feel nervous because they don’t want to embarrass themselves or look stupid.” I thought that’s a more natural way to be. I was afraid of meeting someone new because I just don’t want to be embarrassed. After saying thank you for the interview, we asked a middle-aged Japanese couple to take a photo of us in front of Seoul station, and then he went into the station.

I had had a vague feeling about talking to someone new until this meeting with Jeff. He had a clearer thought than me about that, and I admitted I was so afraid of what other people might think of me. However, it doesn’t matter, and I realized that talking to someone new is an interesting experience and everything about it is up to me. It was a good and pleasant experience and I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to meet somebody new.

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