Last night’s dream

Posted by on May 26, 2013 in Language Learning, Musings | 4 Comments


Last night I dreamt that I was in Colombia. I knew I was in Colombia, even though I was in a large, florescent-lit room, surrounded by a committee of people preparing for a party. I was wearing a dress and scurrying about the room, making plates of appetizers filled with grapes and cheese and crackers.

I wanted to set my bag down–the navy blue backpack that I bought at a night market in Taiwan–but I was paranoid that someone would steal it. I asked a woman in the room–in English–where I could put it, and she directed me upstairs to a desolate room with white walls and two gray couches. Several bags were shoved behind the couches, and I hesitatingly set mine next to them.

I returned downstairs to see guests filing into the room. They all seemed bored, wondering when the food would be ready–much like the Wine Party I recently attended at my university. I hurried to serve the food to the guests, but at the same time, I kept thinking about my backpack upstairs.

I set down the tray of food and ran upstairs to the desolate room, now containing a few people. I peered behind the couch and noticed that my backpack was missing. I frantically approached a woman in the room. “Hola,” I said. She greeted me back in Spanish, but she looked Korean. I expressed concern about my missing backpack, wondering if she had seen anyone take it. I realized that I was speaking to her in Korean, and when I tried to switch to Spanish, I couldn’t. I kept apologizing, but she just nodded politely, seeming to understand what I was saying.


I woke up confused. Where the hell is my bag? I thought. After realizing that I was dreaming, I felt a wave of relief. Then I thought, Was I just speaking Korean in my dream? Holy shit. However, shortly afterwards, I was sad that I couldn’t recall any Spanish, even though I was in a subconscious state. I experienced this array of emotions all within the time frame of about 10 seconds.

This is the first time I’ve ever spoken Korean in a dream. Although I can’t recall exactly what I said, I’m thrilled this happened. However, I think this dream is foresight into the extent of my second language learning abilities.

I don’t want to believe it, but I have a strong feeling that once I move to Colombia and begin speaking Spanish everyday, I’m going to forget all the Korean I’ve learned. At first, I know that the Korean words will automatically come to mind, but after awhile, I’m afraid that they’ll fizzle away, like a can of soda cracked-open and left on a countertop overnight. It’s happened before. In high school, I studied Spanish, but the summer after my third year, I lived with a host family in Italy. When I returned to Spanish class my senior year, I confused all my Spanish vocabulary with Italian. After some time, I forgot all the Italian I’d learned, and once again, replaced all my Italian vocabulary with Spanish. Now that I’ve been living in Korea and learning Korean, I’ve forgotten much of my Spanish vocabulary. Sigh…The first world problems of a traveler.

Because I began learning a second language when I was 15 years old, my brain seems to have two switches: English and foreign language. I love learning languages, but I’m not naturally talented at it. And my lack of exposure to foreign languages as a child certainly doesn’t help. At this point in my life, I am nowhere near bilingual. My Korean skills are limited, and my Spanish speaking skills have been suppressed for several years. In order to become bilingual, I realize that I need to choose one language and stick with it.

When I move next month, I’m going to be immersed in Spanish and Colombian culture, but I don’t want to completely let go of the Korean I’ve learned. Korean is a beautiful language, and I’ve put a lot of time, energy and effort into this pursuit. I’m sure I won’t forget everything, but if I don’t make a solid effort to watch Korean movies, write to friends, or find someone to speak with, I’m sure the words that I once used on a daily basis will slip through my fingers faster than a handful of sand at the beach.

But who knows, maybe there’s a Korean meet-up group in Barranquilla, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I encounter some crazy Hallyu followers who are dying to bust out their Big Bang CD collection or share their knowledge of Korean drama phrases.


What language(s) do you dream in? How does your background and experience with foreign language study contribute to your learning capabilities?


-Text and photography by Sarah Shaw @ All rights reserved.

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    May 27, 2013

    I’m preety sure most of young Koreans have experience to speak English in their dream.^^

    I think your dream shows your unconscious that on the other hand you want to go to Colombia, but on the other, you don’t wnat to leave Korea.
    I have heard that some Korea backpackers stop by Barranquilla for carnival and there are overseas branchs of Korean shipping firms in Barranquilla.
    So It’s not impossible to find someone to speak with in Korean.
    I wish you good luck.

    By the way, Your articles & affection for Korean make me remind Elizabeth Keith, Scottish engraving artist.
    In the early 20th century, She visited Korea for three months, left about 60 chromoxylograph & articles about Korea.
    I’m not sure you Know her & her book or not but I highly recommend its Korean edition for your Korean.
    It’s ‘old Korea: The land of morning calm’.
    한국어 제목은 ‘영국화가 엘리자베스 키스의 코리아 1920~1940′ 입니다.

    • Sarah Shaw
      May 28, 2013

      Thanks for the suggestion, Simon! I did not know about Elizabeth Keith, but I looked up some of her work. Great stuff.

      My dream definitely alluded to the changes happening in my life right now. I still don’t feel like I’m ready to leave Korea, but I don’t think there’s ever an exact, perfect moment for a transition. I guess that’s why we’re forced to make choices. I am really looking forward to this next stage in my life, but I think I’ll always hold onto something “Korean” within me– whatever that’s supposed to mean.

      And thanks for the tips about Koreans in Colombia–I’m sure I’ll stumble upon Koreans at some point. No matter where I go–New York, Belgium, the Tiger Leaping Gorge in China, Bohal, the Philippines, Peru, etc– I always seem to find at least one–or an entire group wearing matching Busan hiking group windbreakers. ^^
      Sarah Shaw recently posted…Last night’s dreamMy Profile

  2. Tom @ Waegook Tom
    June 6, 2013

    I like to think that you dreamed about Colombia because I was recently there. No? Wishful thinking on my part.

    I do know what you mean about the language learning. I’m not destined to become a polyglot. I was trying to figure out how to say, “where is…?” in French in my head. Then I thought I’d do a test and flip that into Korean. I couldn’t do it – it took me a fair while to think of the word 어디.

    I haven’t spoken Korean since the end of February really, but it’s still there. Make sure you keep in touch with Korean friends, and one thing I do is type FB statuses in Korean every now and again. Don’t lose what you’ve learned, even though Spanish is bound to take over.
    Tom @ Waegook Tom recently posted…Are Colombian Cities Safe?My Profile

    • Sarah Shaw
      June 6, 2013

      Haha of course that’s why I dreamt about Colombia, Tom! ;) I have noticed that you often write Facebook statuses in Korean, and sometimes I do as well. It’s a great way to practice without the stress of keeping a daily diary–even though I should probably be doing that, too.


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