Just the other evening, I found myself sitting in a circle trading ghost stories with some Korean university students. They told me about the gawee (ê°ì), a spirit that wakes you up in the middle of the night by sitting on your chest, effectively paralyzing you. âSometimes,’ one student said, âit counts the hairs on your head… one… two… three…’The student told me her voice was thin, high-pitched and creepy, mimicking what she imagined the gawee to sound like. Another student explained how, as children, they were all told that a ghost will sometimes live at the bottom of squat toilets. While doing your business, it will ask if you’d rather have red toilet paper or blue toilet paper. Yeah… I didn’t get it either. After hearing their stories, I knew I had a cultural advantage and I cruelly relished in abusing it when I began my own. I told them an old story every westerner has probably heard. It featured a maniacal serial killer, an innocent young girl and plenty of suspense. At the climax of my yarn, the students held their breath and their unblinking eyes were glossy with fear and compassion… after all, the girl was a high-school friend of mine. I banged my fist on the table, let out a sudden âBOOO!’ and enjoyed the show.
The previous scene didn’t happen in the woods around a campfire (too bad… the students would have really freaked if it had). No, this all went down LZone Language Cafe, a new kind of learning establishment in the Kyungsung University area. The English education industry in Korea is not known for its innovation and flexibility, but LZone has managed to take both attributes and create a successful learning model.
Opened in August, 2001 by three friends, Andy Cho, Roy Park and Peter Jeong, LZone is, in Andy’s words, âan international place to study, party and do activities together.’ English is not the only language taught by native teachers either–there are also lessons in Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and, of course, Korean. A âmember’ (in LZone-speak: student=member, teacher=leader) may choose to learn through private tutoring, a variety of group classes, or a laid-back language exchange with other members.
During the week, LZone is a bustling and hip haven for those in the pursuit of language fluency. At its core is the actual cafe. A member automatically receives a drink – juice, espresso-based, or something a bit stiffer – upon admission. Although the coffee isn’t going to win any awards, it serves nicely as a prop that encourages people to loosen up and get in the right frame of mind. After receiving their obligatory beverage, a member may mingle in the âFree Zone’, a comfortable space lined with bookshelves and plush velvet chairs where someone can study in peace, chat with new friends, or find a language exchange partner.
Each hour, Topic Study begins in the âStudy Zone.’ This is basically a small conversation group moderated by a native speaker in the language of your choice. Each day brings a new topic and a sheet of paper is provided with appropriate vocabulary and sample sentences to practice. The topics vary from relevant – What Kind of Laws Support Animal Rights in Your Country? – to edgy – Have You Ever Kissed Someone the First Time You Met? – to fun and creative – How Did You Escape From the Alien Spaceship? Regardless of the topic, the cultural back-and-forth is always interesting.
Think of Friday nights at LZone as the old Studio 54â¦ but replace the supermodels with chipper, eager-to-learn university students; the blow with Hite; and the 70’s fashion with ironic t-shirts lacking in grammatical integrity. From 8 pm-midnight, the cafe throws its infamous âInternational Party.’ For 10,000 won, you get a mixed drink of your choice, some cardboard-flavored anju, and all the draft beer you want. One might imagine this attracts those foreigners with the tight wallets and loose bladder control we’ve all seen outside Family Mart on Saturday nights/Sunday morning, but surprisingly, the scene is lighthearted and mirthful without indulging too much in revelers’ decadent sides.
Andy greets each guest at the door and leads him or her to a seat at the long biergarten-style tables. I match groups of people by what language they’d like to speak, he says, then adds with a smile, and I like to introduce guys to girls and vice versa.
Intercultural matchmaking aside, the party actually lives up to its name. Amidst the sea of Koreans and Native English Teachers, you can find people from all over the world. Swiss, French, German, Spanish, Turkish, Peruvian, Argentinian, Somalian, Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian, and Filipino nationals contribute to the multicultural patchwork on any given Friday. The music is loud, the lights are dim, and there are plenty of things to amuse yourself with: board games, Nintendo Wii, and something that used to be a foosball table. If the party scene is too much, you can also hang out in one of the 42 plasma equipped classrooms.
If you sometimes feel left out of Korean culture, LZone offers an easy way in. In exchange for volunteering a couple hours leading a discussion group, any native speaker can get free language lessons and the ability to make many Korean friends. Not only is it gratifying to feel involved in the world outside your classroom, its really great to have someone who can explain the more puzzling aspects of life in Korea… or translate for you over the phone when something goes wrong. You never know when you might be asked to choose between red or blue toilet paper.
Lzone is located in the KSU area across the street from Thursday Party, on the 4th floor. For more information, call Andy at 010-9528-2212 or check out their Facebook page.