Be gentle.

7 months ago I packed my bags and headed to a land that I knew nothing about. And I most certainly didn’t know the language. I learned how to say hello before I left, and that was about it. I didn’t learn the Korean alphabet until after I arrived.

Koreans love seeing foreigners, and a lot of them have talked to me on the streets just so that they could practice their English. Koreans are impressed that I can say hello to them in Korean. There are a lot of things about Koreans that annoy me, but I am SO thankful for their kindness and patience with me. No one has gotten upset with me for not understanding, even though I came to their country not knowing anything about the language. All of the street signs here are in Korean, but are also in English. Ordering food at a restaurant isn’t very difficult because most people in Korea have some knowledge of English. The thing that makes me the most nervous is having to take a taxi. I usually just point. Those taxi drivers are troopers, for real.

The reason for saying all this, is to ask everyone at home to be patient. Be patient with foreigners. Understand that English is a hard, hard language, and that even though it seems like someone doesn’t know English, they’ve probably put in a lot of years of learning English to come as far as they have. The next time you’re on the phone, and you get frustrated because the person you’re talking to “doesn’t know English”, extend grace. Remember that they don’t have signs everywhere with their language on it. Remember that learning any foreign language is hard. Don’t get upset when you have to “press 1 for English”, because in case you forgot, there’s a billion other people in the world who can’t speak English quite as well as you. Do we really want to be the kind of country that is unwelcoming to foreigners?

Moving to Korea would have been so. much. harder. if the signs weren’t in English and if everyone hated me because I don’t know their language. I do think if someone is going to stay in a country long-term, they should learn the language. But understand that people that move to America have actually studied the language. And probably for several years. These people would not have a job if they weren’t fluent in English. They would be absolutely screwed if they weren’t. I can’t imagine moving to the United States as a foreigner. It would be hard.

I understand that it’s annoying when you can’t understand someone because of their accent. I understand that people should learn the language of the country they are moving to. But I also understand grace, and that it has been given to me and countless other people, and should be given back. Grace is what it’s all about, people.

So, please, be gentle. Because moving to a country where you don’t know the language very well (or at all) is scary.

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  1. bomb, so true. such a double standard exhibited by Americans in regards to patience to foreigners. expect to be treated like royalty, dont treat others like royalty. Emily, you got it.

  2. It is interesting to think about other people’s experiences as foreigners in the US. I think you’ve got some good thoughts here, though. Hope all is well.

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