Meet the San Diego Korean Language Exchange!
A group interview with the members of the language meetup
by Simeon Rodgers
Because San Diego County has some of the best weather found anywhere, many people from all over the world flock to its shores yearly. They are drawn here to experience American culture without the hindrance of extreme weather and to have a close proximity to places like the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and the like. Because of its unique blend of weather, proximity to other attractions, topography, and other SoCal charms, San Diego benefits in turn by being exposed to many other cultures. Luckily for those of us who are interested in it, Korean culture is no exception. While not mainstream and popular, despite the recent worldwide success of Psy’s “Gangnam Style”, the Hallyu Wave rages on for all with eyes to see and ears to hear. For those of us with a healthy curiosity or appreciation for Korean culture (whether it be music, history, dance, language, cinema, dramas, or otherwise) now is a very exciting time. The information we seek is right there at the tip of our fingers on the internet, but where does one go in San Diego County to actually meet real Koreans who know the culture and language and can give us a first hand introduction? Where can we find like-minded individuals who are as curious, knowledgable, or interested in Korean culture as ourselves? While there might be small pockets of friends who get together for the occasional Korean BBQ excursion, real tangible exposure to the Korean culture is slim to none as far as corporate gatherings go. There is nothing I have seen in this arena thus far that is as concrete and consistent as the San Diego Korean Language and Culture Exchange group. The group meets on Wednesday nights from 7pm to 9pm, then heads out to eat dinner together at one of the local Korean restaurants. With just over 200 members now, a typical Wednesday night meeting will have about 25-30 or so people show up, each one bringing their own spice and flavor to the group. Usually we are split right down the middle with 50% native Koreans and 50% Americans. Because you will see me mention this group often in my writings, I don’t want to lessen my opinion by being one-sided. I want to take the time to let some other members speak about their experience so that you can get a good picture of the kinds of people who attend and what you would have to look forward to. Hopefully their testimony will give you a better view of what this meetup is all about.
Mahdvi Acharya graduated from Michigan State University with a Master’s in Higher Education Administration. She has been attending meetup for a year and 3 months and is an Internship Counselor at UC San Diego.
Bobae Heo is a 4th year student majoring in Engineering in the University of Seoul in South Korea. He is currently living in San Diego as an international student studying English. He has attended meetup for 2 months.
Mandy Day is a graduate of Mills College in Oakland, California, with a B.A. in Public Policy. She loves to travel and is preparing to start a career teaching English in South Korea. Mandy has been attending meetup for 2 years.
Neda Shenavai is a 4th year Economics major at UCSD. She just returned from a year-long stint as an international student in Yonsei University and is nearly fluent in Korean. She has been attending meetup for 2 months.
1. How did you get started going to meetup?
Madhvi: “I got interested in the Korean language and culture after I started watching Korean dramas. I was also teaching English to a Korean lady and she started teaching me some Korean. I joined the meetup group so that I could learn more about the culture, learn Korean, and interact with Koreans.”
Bobae:”When I first got to San Diego I wanted to meet people and socialize and I found the meetup on my search.”
Mandy: “I became addicted to Korean dramas earlier in 2010 and my best friend found the group at meetup.com. She thought it would be good for me to practice Korean and learn more about the culture before my plans to move there came through.
Neda: “My friend told me about it in 2009, but since I didn’t have a car back then, I never had the chance to go to a meetup. However, after studying abroad in Korea for the past year (Aug 2011 ~ Jul 2012) and coming back to the States, I was determined to keep my Korean skills up to par, and thus decided to attend meetup.”
2. What is your favorite part about meetup?
Mahdvi: “Meeting new people, learning new Korean words and grammar, and I love the sense of community and friendships which have been built over several months.”
Bobae: People. They make my Wednesdays full of happiness.”
Mandy: “My favorite part of meet up is making new friends from unique backgrounds, cultures, and areas of study. I have never had so many friends with engineering backgrounds in my life.”
Neda: “Language exchange and socializing.”
3. What is your main purpose for continuing to attend meetup?
Mahdvi: “Learning Korean and Korean culture, meeting people with similar interests and building friendships and a community.”
Bobae: “At first I joined the meetup to improve my English, but now I attend in order to see everyone and have fun with them.”
Mandy: “At first my goal was to speak and read Korean. That morphed into making new friends and I have had the incredible opportunity to develop relationships that will hopefully last a lifetime.”
Neda: “I continue to attend meetup to make friendships and improve my Korean skills.”
4. What are some things you have you gained from attending meetup?
Madhvi: “I have gained better understanding about the Korean culture and I am continuously learning and practicing Korean. I am also able to share about the Indian/Kenyan/American culture with others.”
Bobae: “I have gained friendships and I learned other cultures.
Mandy: “Meet up has afforded me the opportunity to embrace Korean culture and learn more about their societal issues and structure. Being from a bi-racial background, much of my childhood was influenced by my Japanese grandmother’s culture. I am curious to find out if young Korean adults were raised in a similar fashion. Though our backgrounds are quite different, I find similarities in the food, education system, and behavioral expectations of society.”
Neda: “Although I have attended meetup for only a little over one month, I have made close friends through it. I have also learned some good methods of teaching English, and have learned some more about Korean culture.”
5. Do you feel that the meetup group is a good place to learn about Korean Culture and Language?
Madhvi: “Absolutely, especially because one has the opportunity to interact with native Koreans.”
Bobae: “In the San diego area I think this meetup is the best way to learn Korean culture and language.”
Mandy: “Since our group is so large, we have all had an incredible opportunity to fish for different perspectives on how Korean culture really is versus our perception influenced by years of stereotyping by other Americans. We have dispelled many myths about how Asians and Asian Americans are perceived in our society. For me, I think that is one of the most valuable aspects of meet up. We now have a teacher in our group and he has worked incredibly hard to get us back on the language learning track. We’ve deviated away from that a bit in the past two years but we have come full circle in making it an integral part of our sessions.”
Neda: “Yes, it definitely is! The people who attend meetup are a friendly crowd, and they are eager to share their knowledge about Korean culture and language with others.”
6. How would you describe your experience in meetup thus far?
Madhvi: “The meet up provides both a social and educational forum for its members, which makes the cultural and language exchange fun and interesting. In order to gain the maximum benefit out of the meetup, one has to take the initiative to interact with the members and actively engage in the learning process by asking questions.”
Bobae: “It’s been everything to me in my life in San Diego.”
Mandy: “As someone who came in knowing little about Korean culture aside from my limited interactions with Korean Americans and absolutely nothing in the language department, I have learned so much in the last two years. After my “promotion” to assistant organizer, I am now very aware of the enormous amount of work and coordination that has been placed on our head organizer’s shoulders. I love every minute of planning events for our group whether it be house parties, beach BBQs, film screenings, and future activities put up by our members. Besides meeting some of my closest friends in San Diego Korean Language Exchange, and having cool people to show me around Seoul if I ever get there, I am inspired by the hard work and dedication of our members to show up every week and contribute to our group. From my first meeting with ten people (at some point we were down to six or eight for a month or two) and watching it grow to roughly forty attendees every week, I am incredibly proud of what our group has evolved into.”
Neda: “It’s been a very positive experience. Let’s just say, I look forward to every Wednesday”
7. How would you describe the San Diego Korean Culture and Language Exchange Meetup group in 3 sentences or less?
Madhvi: “The meetup provides a good blend of both social and educational learning opportunities. It’s also a platform for people to meet others with similar interests and to learn from each other in a very social and friendly environment.”
Bobae: “A good opportunity to learn languages, have fun, and make life-long friends.”
Mandy: “Good people, great experiences, priceless memories.”
Neda: “Go to meetup to make lasting friends, learn about Korean culture and language, and have fun!”
8. What would you say to a person who was on the fence about visiting or regularly attending the meetup?
Madhvi: “The members are very friendly and welcoming. One also has to be open minded towards the “meetup experience” and make an effort to have meaningful interactions with others.”
Bobae: “Just come join us! You will not regret it.”
Mandy: “If anyone wasn’t sure if the SDKLA was their kind of group, I’d encourage them to try us out once or twice and see if it works for them. We have more people that come back week after week than come once and decide it’s not for them. We truly have something for everyone and even if the group isn’t quite their thing, we always have good food afterward.”
Neda: “Just go at least once and see what it’s like. If you like it, then good for you. If not, well, you’re not losing anything. Just give it a shot! You’ve got nothing to lose!”
Now you have heard it from newcomers and long-time attendees: The San Diego Korean Language Exchange meetup is awesome! I hope you guys take one day to come visit and check out what we are all about. We love to see new faces and guaranteed you’ll be met with smiles and handshakes. When you come, tell them Simeon sent you!