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Songdo StoriesSongdo cleaning lady learns English

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Incheon's Songdo seen from the mainland / Courtesy of Chantal Faures
Incheon's Songdo seen from the mainland / Courtesy of Chantal Faures


By Kim Ju-yeon


I went to work earlier than usual and turned on "anti-slack" in my gym. Then, after having an early lunch, I came back. The lady in charge of cleaning the building welcomed me. She was cleaning the second floor where the taekwondo gym is located. Our building's cleaning lady, Oh Hye-jeong, has such a nice personality!

I was going to have a cup of hot coffee, so I offered her a cup. She accepted readily and thanked me over and over again.

Sharing coffee led to a 10-minute conversation that made me feel as if I was reading a book. It was like a book that I read with great emotion. I now want to brag about Oh Hye-jeong.

We have settled in Songdo International City. Just as the term "international" is included in the name of the city, it hosts global companies, international financial institutions, the Green Climate Fund and U.N.-affiliated organizations. When I first came here in May 2017, there were so many foreigners walking around in the street that I thought it was like a foreign country with a lot of Koreans. Moreover, in the store right next to the taekwondo gym, there is a clinic called Ewha Wellbom Pediatric Clinic, which is well-known in Songdo International City. The director of this place is an excellent doctor, but she also speaks excellent English, as so many foreigners in Songdo come to this place.

Incheon's Songdo seen from the mainland / Courtesy of Chantal Faures
Incheon's Songdo seen from the mainland / Courtesy of Chantal Faures

Given this situation, the cleaning lady who cleans every nook and cranny of the building runs into foreigners very often. She said that whenever she sees a foreigner she turns away from them. Then she said that her thinking was like this: "I can't allow myself to keep ignoring the customers visiting the building I am in charge of!"

So she started learning English online, one-on-one with an instructor so that she could learn practical conversations for everyday situations. After a bit of studying, she was eager to engage with foreigners. In the beginning she could only do simple greetings, but now she can give basic guiding instructions.

She no longer avoid foreigners. Rather, if a foreigner is standing in the hallway waiting in front of the hospital, she goes first and says hello.

When she tells her friends this, they laugh and say, "Songdo is an international city, where even the cleaners speak English!"

As I listened to her words, I was filled with shame and respect. It has become clear that I don't work hard enough at studying English conversation! At my Haneul Taekwondo gym, I have foreign trainees. This means I may need to learn and use English even more. But I always avoided studying it because there is a master who is fluent at English. I'll do my best to study.

After finishing her coffee, the cleaning lady once again expressed her gratitude.

Then she suddenly pulled me in, saying:

"Sir, come here and look at this. Because today is Thursday, the hospital opens at 2 p.m.! So I prepared the English I will use for today! 'Every Thursday open 2 p.m.' A while ago I met a foreigner on the first floor and I spoke to him first. I asked him if he was going to the hospital, and he said yes. I told him: 'Every Thursday open 2 p.m.' And then I looked on the wall and saw a sign where it is written exactly like what I practiced. I am so proud of myself."

If a person is selected to represent Songdo International City in each field, I think the cleaning lady of our Haesung Medipia Building should be selected!

Songdonian since 2017, Kim Ju-yeon is the director of Songdo Haneul Gymnasium and the author of "How to capture the hearts of parents." This article was translated into English with help by Yun Han-min. Visit songdostories.com and check out issue 3 to read a Korean version of this contribution.



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