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A Quiet Life
[ Issue 135 Page 7 ] Monday, November 09, 2015, 05:24:02 Kibum Park International Reporter parkkibs@kaist.ac.kr

I have a regret in my life. It's something that became a part of my personality for many years and have only just recently took steps to correct it. I regret the fact that I'm scared of talking. It baffled me why I didn't take the time earlier to think about why I am like this and didn't do anything about it.

Thinking back, there were two major factors, my upbringing and my history of screw ups. Living 17 years in a household with Korean parents teaches you many things and one of the most sacred rules you come across is learning to hold your tongue. It was very stark contrast to the more liberal attitude of Canada, the country I was living in. I wanted to live like a Canadian teen but my parents made sure I never say anything out of line. If there was any part of me left that wants to try to prove myself, there was always the chance that I would mess up, and it happened to me more than I would like. Wrong notes in piano recitals, slurred paragraphs in French speeches, and dropped props in church plays really doesn't help one's confidence.

So what do you get when you mix tongue biting and embarrassing memories? You get a little imp in the back of your head telling you to shut up. Call it what you will, sad, pathetic, unrealistic, but there exists a fear of being wrong in every situation. That fear then expands to being wrong and having that mistake cling to you for a long time. There's a reason why in surveys about phobias, public speaking ranks so very high. While a tarantula is visible and you know what happens when you're bit, saying even a few words always has the chance that you'll slip up and you don't know when and if it will hit.

Everyday life becomes hindered. I really should be asking questions in class, practicing my Korean without worrying, and letting out my full scope of my opinion in conversations. But instead I stayed quiet, avoided conversations with other Koreans, and people just awkwardly drop conversations when I give one worded answers.

Fortunately, I started to grow out of it. Quite late, but improvement is being made. A huge step that really elevated me was a humanities class in my second year about technology and government. The class heavily emphasized discussion and speaking. The professor constantly reminded us that opinions will fluctuate and that no one is wrong. I took a risk and duct taped the imp's mouth. Everything I knew and learned was let out, and it felt nice just saying whatever was on my mind. I didn't give mind-blowing speeches, I just talked.

Most people probably won’t understand this feeling, but there is something to take note here. We talk with our friends, classmates, professors, and we say what we need to say but often not what we want to say. There aren’t a lot of opportunities with a lot of verbal liberty since we’re limited by our fear of mistakes and the norm of memorizing facts and numbers. Koreans talking to foreigners and foreigners trying Korean can struggle since they may have so many questions for each other but words don’t come out the right way and they become quiet from embarrassment. When was the last time you had a class where you dived into a subject and had an open discussion? Just the feeling of speaking freely can make a person feel strong.

So make as many mistakes as you can when you’re chatting with your friend and maybe take a class where there is no right answer. Get into some debates and share your thoughts. Otherwise that imp is going to mock you for the rest of your life.

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