I was recruited to go to S. Korea as a teacher of English at an elementary school. I had been a university professor, but had recently received all the credentials to teach English as a Second language for elementary school students. I was in a land where I didn’t speak the language, and I was studying hard to learn to speak to the people around me. There was a Korea professor who was in charge of taking care of me. He wanted to show me all the nice things he could in S. Korea and was so proud of S. Korea. One day, he decided to take me to a place called English Village.
English Village is a kind of amusement park in Paju City, S. Korea devoted to English. They have a replica of Stone Henge from England in front of the Park. When you get your tickets to go in, you are issued a “passport” and a “visa.” As you go in, everything is all about English. You can experience going to the bank in English. You can go to an English book shop. You can go to English restaurants. You can go to a show called “English Circus” where some guy with a blond pony tail from California and women from Russia are all dressed up and playing English games with everyone. You can go to a Mask Museum with masks from all over the world, and everything is written in English. School groups can go there and compete putting on plays in English, etc. All the buildings are built as if you are in England.
We happened into the English book shop. I was poking around through the books thinking perhaps I could find something good for my students. A little blonde lady came up and asked if she could help me. I noticed she was speaking with an accent and was speaking English a a second language. As we talked, I asked her where she was from. She replied, “Oh, I am from a little country in Europe than no one has ever heard of.” It was only about ten or twelve years after the Romanian revolution, and when we had gone to Romania, we went to live in Transylvania, and when my son had told people we were moving there, they laughed at him because they thought Transylvania was just a legendary place. People may never have heard of the place, but it did exist. When she described her country, I took a chance because I am fluent in Romanian. I began speaking to her in Romanian. She literally almost hit the floor! She was so shocked she buckled and had to catch herself!
She spoke back in Romanian, and I was thrilled to find someone who could speak Romanian in S. Korea! She was thrilled to find someone who could speak Romanian too! We chatted along happily in Romanian. I invited her to my house for dinner, and she invited me to her house for dinner. We both wanted to get to know one another better. She happened to be a marvelous cook! Her cooking skill with Romanian food kept making me want to go back for more.
I went to Seoul every Sunday for church and then out to eat, so I decided to ask her to go with me. She said she was a Christian and raised in a church, but that her boss never let her off on Sundays. She was disappointed, but she needed a job, and it was a miracle that she had been able to get a job speaking English in S. Korea, so she wasn’t ready to mess with it. We continued visiting back and forth, and I could feel her pain that they wouldn’t let her go to church.
After a year of teaching at the elementary school, a university in Seoul learned about me and offered me a job teaching English at their university, and I took it. I continued to go back to Paju City to visit my Romanian friend, and she got on the bus and came to Seoul to visit me when she could too. After I taught at the university for a year, there was a job open for a foreign English professor. Everyone thinks by law, they must hire native speakers of English to teach English, but I had figured out not necessarily so. My friend in Paju City had a B. A. with a major in French and a minor in English as well as a masters in French/English translations. I decided to tell my university about her. I thought it was a shame that she had a masters but had to work in a book shop. I thought it was a shame that she wanted to go to church, but her boss wouldn’t let her. When I put her name in to teach at my university, there was an important thing I didn’t know about her that really helped. She also had a B. A. in Computers. The university decided to invite all the potential professors to teach a sample lesson for them to help them decide which English professor to hire. She used her computer degree and put together an out of this world presentation, and they hired her over native speakers of English.
She almost passed out again. When I took her to the visa office to get her visa to teach at the university, she was convinced they wouldn’t let her have a visa, but I had been to the visa office earlier, and the lady assured me that they would. She said as long as the university wanted her, they would give her a visa. I always went to a special section of the visa office called “global talent” to get my visas, and I took her there. It was a streamlined office for people they considered special. It didn’t take long, and it was her turn to go to the window and sit down to submit her documents for a visa. She was so nervous! She was talking a mile an hour! She was so scared they wouldn’t give her a visa because she wasn’t a native speaker of English. She was weak with fear and almost backed out. She was afraid she had made the wrong decision applying for the job at the university.
The lady behind the desk took her papers and was working on them, and we sat and waited for her papers to process. Finally, the lady came back with a stamp in my Romanian friend’s passport and an alien registration card. She literally swooned! She hadn’t expected it to happen at all. She almost hit the floor again! Her nerves had made her sick, and she was in disbelief! I had to give her a bit of time to collect herself before she was able to walk back to my car to go back to the university.
She was then my co worker. She was able to go to church every Sunday. She had a bigger, nicer apartment than she had at Paju City. She had a nice pay check. I was so happy for her! We taught along side one another for several years. We had ups and downs in our friendship, but always came out as friends. She finally married one of the Romanian professors. I had felt responsible for her because I had taken her away from English Village. If something went wrong, I thought it was my job to fix it for her. However, when she got married, I didn’t have to worry any more. She had a Korean Christian English professor to look out for her.
They live in an even nicer apartment in Seoul now. He can’t speak Romanian, and she cant speak Korean. They speak English together. However, she loves S. Korea, and he loves Romania. They live in S. Korea and take periodic trips to vacation in Romania. She always wanted me to go on one of those trips, but I never had a chance. She took Korean lessons, but never could quite catch on. Now, I am trying to teach her husband to speak Romanian through the internet. You see, I had to retire because of my age. At 60, everyone in S. Korea has to retire. I never married a Korean like she did, so I can’t get the visa the way she can. She and I still talk on Facebook, and she tells me that if I find a job for her and her husband, she would like to follow me to America. However, it is more her than him. He wants to live in S. Korea. She is happy and well taken care of, and it makes me happy, but we miss being apart. We spent a lot of time chatting, eating out together, and singing together. We spent every holiday together, and my daughter began thinking of her as her Romanian aunt.