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  • Writer's pictureHappiness in Handfulls

The Circle: My Korean Beginning

Published: Apr 25, 2016

I have been practicing Korean (Hahn geul) for the past few weeks, attempting to understand or be able to recognize as much as I can before I travel 7000 miles to Daejeon, South Korea this summer for three months. It is my dream to have this chance, this opportunity, but wonderful things don't come with ease. Saying I'm scared is an understatement; I’m terrified, but with fear, comes excitement, and I live for new adventures. But you know what they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. So week after week, I log on to the Korean class and practice my constants and vowels. I think to myself, will I ever say these phrases out loud to someone else? - Besides my boyfriend (he is my soundboard for the language, however, he doesn’t know Korean either). I wonder what the first person will think of my new language? Will it be a long three months of attempting to communicate? My empathy often takes the first place spot as strongest personality trait, so will I be able to connect with people?

After running Sunday chores, we returned to find a little boy (3-4 years of age) alone on the sidewalk, stickers in hand, just trotting along. As I got out of the car, he ran towards me. I looked around for guidance, parental supervision, something that could shrink the feeling that he had been all alone. He mumbled some words, none of which I could understand, but he didn’t seem scared.

So I politely asked, “Where’s your Mom? Your Dad?”

Again… more mumbling. He was not speaking English. He was speaking Korean. Great.

Frustration didn’t quite sink in, but it would have if there wasn’t a Korean church directly down the street, about a block from our current location. Alright, we will go there and see if we can get in touch with his caregivers. What if he isn’t from the church? What if I can’t communicate well enough to get him back to where he belongs? All thoughts creeped slowly into my head, but I had to start somewhere. I motioned for him to hold my hand, he accepted, and we walked down the street together.

I said to him, “OK let’s walk back to the church, how’s that sound?” Realizing English did no good, I rose above, found the energy to break over the activation barrier, and mumbled out,

“Annyenonghaseyo Kathleen ibnida”

안녕하세요 Kathleen 입니다

Hi I am Kathleen.

A blank stare, “you have a thousand heads, what the heck, deer in headlights” look was returned to me. Either I said it correct and he wasn’t expecting it, or I said it very, very wrong, we will never know. But directly after, he spoke very slowly, and imitated all of his words with his hands, just as if he was playing charades, I probably had a thick accent? He kept saying one word. Only one word, but I could not decipher, until he started to draw a circle with his finger.

“jihb dahn”



OH, circle! The church is in a round-about, a circle road! Yes, good, we are going in the correct direction. As we approach the church, the little boy got feisty, he pulls to let go of my hand, and starts putting on the breaks. I didn’t resist and he let go. He started running, but this time in the street. Luckily, I caught him before he got too far, and a group from the nearby church noticed. I said, “Excuse me, I found this boy walking up the street, do you know his family?” Immediately a woman recognized him as her neighbor, but he resisted even more, I was reluctant. Finally, a man in a leadership role counseled the situation and found the appropriate family members. Relief was setting over me. Phew, he is safe.

Upon writing his blog, I looked up the proper Korean words which he emphasized  and found something interesting. Not only does the above 집단 stand for circle, it also stands for community and colony. This word is representative of how a community should make you feel, included, just as a circle involves all who make it round.

The little boy escaped from church, even with his stickers in hand, to go for a walk, to tackle his own adventure. Luckily, he had his community there for him to guide and allow him to migrate back home. The same is true for me. I hope that by investing time, I will be included in the community, the colony, the circle. 집단

And finally we all said “gomabseubnida”~고맙습니다 ~thank you.

고맙습니다 A phrase I learned when I was young, when my Dad went on his very own adventure to South Korea. The world is large, but when you live inside your communities and allow others to enter your circle, the world is much smaller than you can ever imagine. It is so small, that walking along a street, I had my first Korean conversation with a young child. I guess I fit in with what they say: my Korean journey of a (few) thousand miles began with a single step. Amazing.

hanjum ui haengbog

한줌 의 행복

Happiness in Handfulls

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