3 weeks ago I went on a taekwondo summer camp with a bunch of amazing people. A lot of things happened that weekend! First of all, I had my third belt graduation and successfully earned myself a new belt! Hello Orange!
And then the next day I did actual 겨루기 (kyorugi) which is the sparring/fighting part of taekwondo. Obviously we practice the techniques and such but we don’t do a lot of 겨루기 in our normal practice sessions (unless you are around a red belt or up – at that point 겨루기 becomes a part of your future promotions) so it was super new to me. We practiced a few techniques and then a few people got to try them out in an actual fight. I have always been absolutely terrified of the thought of fighting someone else, so imagine my surprise when my hand flew up in response to our coaches request for volunteers. Well.. ^^; I really have no idea what happened. Maybe I was feeling a bit more confident due to my new belt, or maybe something inside me just knew that I really needed to challenge myself. Who knows?
I was sparring with a girl who was used to sparring so I quickly had to change my tactic and focus on defending. I got 0 points and she got 2, but we were supposed to keep on till 3 points had been achieved. However I ended up defending myself well enough so that she couldn’t get the final point and the fight had to be stopped because the time ran out. That still makes her the winner, but I felt strong and completely invincible! Sort of funny since I had just lost my first fight, huh?
Those things has already turned into fond memories however, something way .. bigger? .. more interesting? happened. I don’t really know what to call it yet. Whatever it is, it certainly sparked a bunch of thoughts and emotions within me.
As some of you guys already know, our club – and sister clubs – all have a Korean Grand Master, living in Germany. I had met him twice before summer camp. I met him briefly at the dan promotion back in September and again in March when we had our annual Easter trip to his Dojang in Hamburg. Back in March I had decided that I was going to challenge myself and actually talk to him. He doesn’t speak Danish nor English, and his German skills are not too great either. I don’t speak German at all so if we were to talk, it would only be in Korean, which – as you all know – is not at all new to me.
When we were having dinner back then, he sat down next to me and while I was trying to gather some courage, his family joined him and they started chatting away in Korean SO FREAKING FAST and with the thickest Busan dialect I have heard in a long time. In the end I just sat there with my, not at all charming, 멍 face. Nope. I was so not going to try and join that conversation! I did thank his wife for the food in Korean though, but then she got so shocked that I for a moment thought I had broken her, and I ended up just smiling awkwardly and then practically ran out of the room. Great. It was just great.
As you can probably imagine, I had absolutely no intentions of talking to him and making a fool out of myself this time either, however I forgot to take something quite important into consideration. You see, back then only a handful of my taekwondo friends knew about my language skills, and it has since then become known among them all..
Saturday evening was our last evening together, it was they day where we had the most lessons and also the day of our successful belt promotion so everybody was having fun and relaxing together. Master Shin and his wife had brought a karaoke machine and people were singing, dancing, yelling, laughing and getting more than just a little tipsy. I was sitting with my friends and coaches who were talking to Master Shin, when one of my coaches suddenly turned around and asked me if I wanted to speak in Korean with Master Shin, and before I had a chance to decline the ‘offer’ my other coach was telling Master Shin about my Korean abilities.
It happened so freaking fast and I quickly turned into Master Shins favorite person. I was quickly asked to switch places with my coach and he then called over his wife to talk to me as well. He was talking so fast and even though his dialect was way lighter when talking to me, I still had to focus 100% on understanding what he was telling me. He also talks A LOT. That’s kinda an inside joke among the clubs, but it only made it ‘worse’ when he was able to speak comfortably in Korean. I asked him when they had moved to Germany and he started telling me about where he grew up, what university he had graduated from and about a funny friend of his who has become very wealthy. He never answered my question though He asked me to sing a Korean song which I politely but very strongly passed up on. Every time he and his wife had to do something or went to sing a song, they would instantly circle right back to me, and it quickly gained interest from the 150 other people who were present. They were all staring at us and talking about us with the biggest fascination I have seen in a very long time. I didn’t know most of them and I couldn’t really process the situation because I had to focus all of my energy into understanding the conversation.
A few hours into the conversation he suddenly got out his wallet and took out a business card. It was old and wrinkly so he started to smooth it out on the table until his wife found a prettier one. He then gave the pretty to me and asked me to write down my contact information on the other one. He explained that he would love for me to help him translate in the future, at these taekwondo events. He also told me about a bunch of Korean companies in Germany that he could connect me to if I wished to work with them in the future.
Going to bed in my tiny little pink tent that night, I couldn’t sleep despite being completely drained. I was trying to process all of my thoughts and emotions but all I felt was panic. I was fine when I didn’t have time to think about the situation but now that I was all alone I instantly doubted myself and I felt like crying. I almost called my boyfriend despite it being way past midnight, because I suddenly felt like the most stupid person in the world and I needed someone to tell me that it wasn’t true.
The thing is, I have never been super confident about any of my skills, but I have been working a lot on that and it has been a really long time since I have felt that insecure and it really caught me by surprise.
I was cursing at myself for having agreed to help, and for giving him my contact information. I mean, who the hell do I think I am?! I can’t interpret. I’m not good enough. I keep thinking about myself as a TOPIK level 4, but the truth is that I haven’t actually passed that grade yet. I could fail. And even if I don’t, a level 4 is still no where near a level 6 which would be way better for him. I’m going to mess everything up. He’ll meet me next time with big expectations and become disappointed because I haven’t improved since the last time. Or he’ll ask me me to translate something and I wont understand and I’ll just stand there in front of everyone like an idiot.
Also, I don’t network. I can’t. I’m a super awkward person and I suck at being social. I can’t network with companies! I mean god, I don’t even know what I want to do with my life yet. What the hell is wrong with me?
It suddenly turned into a depressing post, huh?
In the end I kept all these worries to myself. I joked to my friends and my coaches about going home and focusing my studies even more now, but I felt really worried. My boyfriend sensed that something was off but I insisted that I was just tired. For the next week I studied like crazy and got N.O.T.H.I.N.G out of it. I couldn’t focus at all and I didn’t absorb anything that I read. My study tracker looked great but I can’t remember a single thing from that entire week. Time spent on studying doesn’t equal progress.
As the week had passed and we gathered at my regular Dojang, we all got diplomas for passing the test and talked about our favorite parts of the weekend while sharing everything with those who weren’t able to join us on camp.
When it was my turn I got my diploma, talked a bit about my favorite moments and then went to sit back down, when my main coach stopped me and said “Something else also happened, right? Would you like to tell everybody or can I do it?”. I knew he was talking about my conversation with Master Shin, so I started explaining and my coach kept adding to the story.
This is basically where everything changed. My coach was eagerly telling my story from his point of view, everybody who was at the camp started talking to those who hadn’t been there “It was so cool, she just sat there and talked to him in Korean like it was the most normal thing in the entire world…”, “Frau Shin looked so happy when they talked about her homemade Kimchi”.
Everybody was so fascinated. It was such a new thing to them. I felt a bit lighter seeing everybody so happy and excited and then my coach added something that really touched my heart. He said that he had known Master Shin for more than 25 years and in all that time he had never ever seen him or his wife so relaxed and open. As I mentioned before, Master Shin talks a lot. However, he only talks if he has a purpose (which is usually explaining something about taekwondo, the human body or our minds). Probably because communication is tricky when he isn’t that good at German, and doesn’t have any other language in common with everybody else. My coach said that it was incredibly touching to see him relaxed like that. He then lastly added, that our little Dojang had gotten some serious bonus points from Master Shin, thanks to me.
It made me realize how incredibly lucky I am. I got to see a side of Master Shin that nobody else get to. I got to hear about his childhood, and I got to listen to him bickering with his wife about the wrinkly business card, while nobody else had any idea what was going on.
It also made me realize that I’m not going to disappoint anyone. I talked to him almost nonstop for 4 hours. He knows exactly what my skills are. Sure, he’ll probably expect me to improve till I see him again. And I will.
I also wont disappoint my coaches. To them, this has already been an incredible experience. Also, they all cheer me on! They ask how my exam preparations are coming along and they all listen even when I get carried away and talk about it for way too long.
I don’t know where all of this will take me. I might end up doing a lot of translation/interpretation work in the future, or I might never. I might end up networking my way into some company or I might not. I truly have no idea. All I know is that I didn’t come this far by freaking out and running away.
I might face some difficulties and I’ll need a different focus during my study sessions, but I’m going to do my absolute best and I wont let any self doubt drag me down that hole again.
This is all about growing.
So here we go. I’m going to rock this!