Charles Goldberg, one of the first Peace Corps volunteers dispatched to Korea, speaks during a welcoming reception for the volunteers at the Shilla Hotel in Seoul, Monday.
/ Korea Times Photo
by Kim Se-jeong
By Kim Se-jeong
Charles Goldberg, 64, feels at home in Korea, where he once lived for three years in the 1960s, and remembers nearly everything of his time here, including the Korean language.
A homecoming trip, organized for Peace Corps volunteers by the Korean government, was a great opportunity for him to express his love for Korea, his second home; and to showoff his well-polished Korean, which actually astonished many Korean native speakers who heard him speak. About 40 volunteers and 20 family members participated in the trip.
During an interview with The Korea Times in Seoul, Monday, Goldberg, one of the first Peace Corps volunteers dispatched to Korea, dug deep down into his well-kept memories of Korea.
He came to Korea as a volunteer in 1966. At a time when a tall, big guy with different looks was scarce in villages like Gongju in South Chungcheong Province, his presence was the talk of the town and he became a subject of curiosity, he recalled.
``They looked at me like a big bug,'' he said in Korean.
The 22-year-old taught English at Gongju High School. But he had much more to learn than to teach because ``back then, there was hardly anyone who could speak English. And I had to learn Korean to survive.'' This enabled him to establish a solid grounding in the Korean language.
In addition to the language, he learned to eat rice three meals a day, which he at one point got tired of. ``So I went to a Chinese restaurant and ordered jajangmyeon,'' which from then on became one of his favorite dishes, even now.
Koreans' smoking habit, sharing cigarettes with folks around, was an odd thing to understand at first, but was the thing the non-smoker Goldberg ended up doing eventually ― buying cigarettes and giving them to teachers.
One and a half years at Gongju High School was also when a seed for a life-long friendship was planted. Ahn Byong-man was one of the faculty members at the school whom Goldberg remembers was a few years older than himself. They have kept in touch ever since, and Goldberg congratulated Ahn on his appointment as minister of education, science and technology earlier this year.
He also taught English in Daejeon for six months and in Seoul for a year before he returned to the United States. He nurtured his interest in Korea by studying cultural anthropology at college with a focus on Korea, and that allowed a few opportunities to travel back to Korea, he said. He is now retired and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The Peace Corps, an independent U.S. federal agency, was established in 1961 with the aim to give aid to people in interested countries and to enhance understanding and culture between them and America.
It has sent approximately 190,000 volunteers to 139 countries, with nearly 2,000 coming to Korea between 1966 and 1981.