Living in a country where you don’t speak its mother tongue language, it is always a challenge. In some cases, it’s not a big deal, but in others… you know you can’t change anything, but that is still extremely frustrating. I believe I experienced both.
I lived in Korea for a while and I don’t speak Korean at all. I know how to say hello and thank you but that’s basically it. In addition to that, their alphabet is like quite little drawings – you know what it is supposed to be but you have no idea how it becomes that. So, nothing written on the walls, bus stations,warnings made any sense to me. Thus, I decided to be that stupid American (I’m definitely not American but all Koreans didn’t care) who is extremely ignorant and doesn’t care about their rules. I know it’s not fair but I couldn’t survive in that place, otherwise. Don’t get me wrong, that’s an amazing country. Their culture is so different that you can’t really understand it. They have some of the most beautiful places and their food is delicious! However, the language barrier was something I had trouble dealing with. You would say something in English and they would simply nod pretending to understand. Everything was in Korean and I mean everything. If you need to use a bus, you should carefully count how many stops you passed (they don’t stop at each stop) or memorize the route. If you go to a bar in a relatively popular place, in most cases the menu will be in Korean. The solutions for you: quickly find Korean friends, memorize the destinations, have Google Translate all the time and go to the place where foreigners go. Otherwise, it might be difficult to survive in that place without speaking Korean.
On the other side is the Netherlands – the country where everyone speaks English. Before coming here, everyone told me that it won’t be a problem because everyone speaks English here. In a way, that’s true. You won’t have any problems when asking directions, ordering food or buying things in the market. The problems start when you have to deal with their government, companies or trains. They are pretending to have something in English but when you are looking for a specific information, it’s usually in Dutch. When the train stops working, everything about alternative routes, reasons why, recommended options are in Dutch. When you go to a restaurant, bar or whatever place, a menu is in Dutch. When you go to a festival, all the program is in Dutch. When you go to a museum, everything is in Dutch. When you want to buy train ticket through their website, everything is in Dutch. That somewhat surprises me mainly for two reasons. Dutch speak perfect English but they are unable to have proper websites in English. That becomes extremely important considering how many expats, exchange students and foreigners in general they have. As I said, you won’t have any problems in the Netherlands unless you have to deal with non-trivial issues.
The experience that you get when visiting or even moving to the country where you don’t speak native’s language can be very different. However, there is one thing in comon – it becomes much easier when you do speak the language. That’s the reason why I am learning Dutch. Hopefully, after a year I will be able to say at least few sentences.