Connecting to the Korean people is not always easy. We don’t speak their language or share the same culture. In a small town like Dongsong, people will smile and be friendly but you don’t really connect with them other than “Hello.” During our time living here, I have found that it has been very hard to connect and gain respect from the male teachers at my school, most of them being older than me and not speaking much English. They are all very friendly, but I always feel that I am an outsider and I would have to work hard to feel welcome in their world. Dinners and drinking can only go so far as generally the previous night of bonding through soju is forgotten the next day. Then one day I was invited to play badminton.
I had never played badminton before, but I thought it looked fun. I was decent at tennis so I wanted to give badminton a shot. When I got to the gym, I was immediately made to feel like the rookie I was. I was not allowed near the main game, which included the principal of our school, let alone to play in it. I watched them play and they were very good. One teacher was nice enough to teach me for a bit. However, this was not tennis and I was absolutely terrible. But he kept teaching me and by the end of my first day I thought I was getting the hang of it, but I was not invited to play again.
I practiced on my own for a bit. I played some with Alli and our neighbor Ssu. My game was coming along enough that I thought I could give it another try. I asked if I could join and they said “of course.” I played better. The teacher who was giving me lessons began to see my stroke was improving. He taught me some new skills and played a few singles games with me. I then got to be in the “B” level doubles games, which was a big step for me.
As I began to play more, I started getting regular invitations to play. I joined in on the dinners and drinks after the badminton games. I was no longer the worst player out there. The teachers who were in the “A” games would watch us a bit and they noticed I was very quick; I can run short distances fast, but once they become longer I die. They enjoyed laughing at my intensity; I always wanted to win and I was different.
I was eventually invited to the “A” game. I was nervous and did not play well. It took awhile to get back in, but eventually I did. I would get laughed at playfully, but I began to hit great shots and could get around the court quickly, much quicker than most of the Koreans. I thank my hockey skills for that. Today I am always invited to the games and have earned the respect of everyone as a great player. Even the principal wants to play me, which is a big deal in Korea. I am proud of that and badminton has been a large part of my life here; sometimes I play as often as three times a week.
I hope to find someone in the U.S. to play when I return. Any takers?