The Kindness of Strangers in South Korea: Language Barriers Notwithstanding — A Travel Tale

The kindness of strangers in South Korea isn’t always as overt as in other countries in which I’ve travelled. I’ve said before that I’ve been laughed at or rudely shunned when asking for help. This isn’t always the case. I think Koreans are eager to help, but often intimidated by the language barrier, which, frankly, is bigger than in most other places most ESL teachers have travelled.

The kindness of strangers in South Korea saved me after hiking Seonunsan, where I photographed this lovely landscape.
A view from Seonunsan, where the kindness of strangers in South Korea sure helped me out (smiley face).

I was at a provincial park once. I’d hiked about 4 hours, from one end of the park to the other. I knew there were buses at both ends, but since I’d started at one, I didn’t know where the bus left from at the other.

So I asked some people but they didn’t know (they’d come to the park on a tour bus). I didn’t just ask. No, I waved and gesticulated and used the few Korean words I know that could help, and hoped they knew basic English. Well, they were able to answer in the negative, anyway.

But they didn’t leave it at that. The kindness of strangers in South Korea frequently knows no bounds in my experience. They couldn’t just leave me there without having been able to help, so they went off to ask other people. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I could tell they wanted me to wait where I was.

When they came back, I suppose they were dissatisfied with the information they received, so they asked their tour bus driver to bring me where I needed to go. The driver was just telling me to get on his bus (I think I was getting a free ride on a luxury bus) when someone else walked up and told him about the public bus.

So then I was brought to the bus stop and left there. But that’s not the end of this story of the kindness of strangers in South Korea.

Shortly after, a young Korean couple showed up and sat there waiting with me. We chatted a bit, but not much. It was too tough and they were too unsure of themselves.

When we got on the bus, I asked them if they could point out the bus terminal to me when we got there (I needed to take yet another bus back to Jeonju).

They did even better than that. At my stop, they got off the bus with me, took me to the terminal, helped me buy my ticket, and waited 30 minutes with me until my bus arrived to point out which bus I needed to take. The entire time, we barely talked, but they stuck it out.

Talk about going above and beyond! These aren’t my only examples of the kindness of strangers in South Korea, but they’re the most prominent in my mind right now.

For more tales about the kindness of strangers in South Korea, read Memories of a Carnivore.