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A Korean/American Romance

Again, students came to my office to read the Bible in English together here in Korea. There was a good sized group one summer.  There was a very pretty American girl attending with the others who was not a student at the university, but a friend of mine.  There was a really crazy Korean guy who wasn’t a student at the university, but I had met at church, and he couldn’t speak English at all, but he loved what we were doing, and he was always there.  There were some Korean girls and a couple of Korean boys who were students at the university, and there was a couple of boys from Bangladesh.  They were having a good time studying the Bible in English together.  The guy who couldn’t speak English brought his brother. He had told his brother about the group. His brother was a student at another university and could speak English well, and he liked the idea of the group.  When the funny boy brought his brother, the other students seemed to instantly like him.  He was smart, cute, and friendly.  They really welcomed him in and put the welcome mat out! He seemed to really enjoy it.

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We were only meeting once a week, and it was summer. The students were on summer break, so they decided they wanted to get together more, but not just for English Bible. They decided to make a language exchange group.  It was actually the idea of the new guy from the other university. Yes, he wanted to be friends with all the students, but he really liked the girl from America, but Korean guys don’t always ask girls out on dates. Dating is something new to this generation of young people in Korea, and many really don’t know how to go about it.

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The group had a really fun summer meeting once a week just to have a good time together too. They met at coffee shops. They went site seeing. They went out to eat together, whatever fun they could think to do together, this group had a great summer of fun together inside and outside of the English Bible class.  When the fall came, the American girl was still coming, but went back to her university on the other side of Seoul, a different one from where I was teaching.  The boy from the other university was still coming, but went back to his school too.  We were joined by one more boy from Bangladesh, and one of the Korean boys went to America to study.  They all continued coming to the Bible study.

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When Halloween came, they decided to have a Halloween party, and I volunteered my house, and they had a great time. However, one of the boys from Bangladesh had entered graduate school and had to miss the party.  The students always enjoyed dressing up for Halloween.  At Christmas, they did the same, another Christmas party. One of the Bangladeshi guys loved Christmas! He was just the opposite of the Grinch, and he always made himself the head Christmas tree decorator!  Many had never decorated a tree before, and they loved me inviting them and letting them decorate my tree.  They kept meeting for language exchange and English Bible. They would speak in English sometimes and Korean sometimes, and it was helping everyone’s language abilities.

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By the next summer, they were still studying English Bible, but the group who was going site seeing, etc. together had dwindled.  School got hard on them, and they were worried about their classes. It was hard to keep up with everything.  The two brothers were concerned because the Korean girls they got to know always called them “Opa,” a kind of term of endearment that Korean girls call older guys they know well.  Sometimes they are just close friends. Sometimes they are boyfriend/girlfriend, and sometimes they are married when the girls use that term. They couldn’t get the American girl to call them “Opa.”  I think it felt to them that she didn’t like them, but she actually didn’t like the term “Opa” because it was too nebulous, and she felt like it gave the guys a chance to feel closer than they should feel.  To her, it was like calling them “honey” because you could call your boyfriend and husband that as well as just a close friend. She didn’t think you should use it for close friends.  One of the Korean boys called me up concerned because she wouldn’t call him “Opa,’ and I had to tell him not to worry that they were still good friends. Perhaps it was just a cultural difference.

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The next summer, the only people in the language exchange group were the American girl and the two Korean brothers.  They were all still friends, but schedules change. Students get jobs or have to study, so the group dwindled. They were still studying the Bible, but extra things like the language exchange group had gone out the window for most of them. Eventually, one of the brothers dropped out, and the only ones left were the American girl and the boy from the other university.  She was studying Korean and really needed the exchange group, and he didn’t care if he spoke English or not and didn’t mind speaking all in Korean to help her pass her classes.  However, he kept trying to pay for her, and it bothered her.  He began buying her gifts, and it bothered her.  She felt like he was trying to date her without actually dating her, and in fact, he was. He was Korean and didn’t know how to actually go about beginning a romance.  She talked to me and told me that she liked the guy, but she wasn’t going to accept this half dating and half not relationship. She called him up and said, “Either date me or leave me alone!”  She refused to meet him.

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He got the courage and actually called her up and asked her for a date.  He said the only fun he ever had was when he went with her, and when he bought her gifts.  They began dating.  The others in the group were astounded. Many of them had had a crush on the American girl, but hadn’t known how to go about getting her.  One of them said, “If I had only stayed in there longer, and it would have been me left, and she would have dated me.”  One of the boys called me up and he was so upset!  He thought he should have been informed first if these two were going to date!  The group had another party, and I opened my house for them again.  I heard the Korean guy was holding the American girl’s hand as they walked to the bus stop after the party, and one of the Bangladeshi guys was walking behind them taking pictures of them holding hands, and everyone laughed at him.  The whole group was acting crazy because these two had gotten together.

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Eventually, the two decided to get married, and they are happily married now. The American girl confided in me that she knew the kind of guy that he was, if she consented to date him, he would marry her, and she was right. Young Korean guys don’t normally have one girlfriend after another like young American guys do.  She was his first and only girlfriend, and that is very normal in Korea. She still won’t call him “Opa,” and it is fine with him.

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