Editorial: Goodbye Say Kimchi

Have you ever had one of those times when you’re both happy and sad at the same time? That’s how I’ve felt, on and off, for the past couple of weeks. You see, I’m handing over the reigns of my Korean-English language exchange group, Say Kimchi, to new organizers. Soon – May 5th – I’ll no longer be able to say it’s my group. And that’s sad.

Say Kimchi Korean-English language exchange event at Arisu
Say Kimchi Korean-English language exchange event at Arisu

It’s been such a big part of my life since I joined the group 4 1/2 years ago, especially since I took over 3 years ago. You see, when I moved back to Toronto from Korea, I quickly found out that not only did I miss my friends and students (I expected that) but I missed Korea. I missed hearing Korean all the time so I went online and found a Meetup group that focused on Korean-English language exchange.

For six months or so, I had a blast practicing my Korean, making new friends and generally just getting to know the group. And then I was invited to join as an Assistant Organizer. My people-person personality was happy and I had the chance to host events, thereby getting to know Korean culture in Toronto a little better.

Another six months or so rolled around and the organizer at the time got busy with business trips and wedding plans, and asked me if I’d step up and be the “Acting Organizer.” The next six months were fun but frustrating as I was doing most of the work but didn’t have control of the group.

Then came the fateful moment when he asked if I would officially take over. My crazy-organized, detail-oriented self was in heaven – and would stay happy for the next two years. I met some of the most lovely, friendly and wonderful people during my time with Say Kimchi and made some lasting friendships that I would always treasure. It’s been a blast!

But all good things must come to an end. I’ve noticed that my Korean wasn’t improving because I spent all my time running the group rather than studying (mostly my fault). And that didn’t fit into my five-year plan which includes getting my Korean up to high-intermediate/pre-advanced level by 2017. So I started shopping around for a successor (or three).

Finding someone to replace me turned out to be more of a problem that I expected. Maybe I’m too honest, maybe I shouldn’t have said how much work it was, maybe I should have glossed over some of the parts… but I didn’t of course. I was very honest about the work involved. So it took about six months to find a group of three people who volunteered to step up and fill my shoes. There were some bumps along the way – people expressing interest only to fade away, some prime candidates moving away, and other Assistant Organizers stepping down. But ultimately, I’m happy with the group that will be taking over in May.

Why am I happy?

The simple answer is more free time. I’ll get my Sundays back. Well, more than just Sundays… I’ll get the many hours I used to spend on Say Kimchi back. Some of that time I can devote to my writing – both here and on my half-finished novel, Love in the Land of Morning Calm, which hasn’t seen a lot of movement recently. And some of that time I can put back into studying Korean.

I hate to say this but I’m also happy because it saves me from burning out. As much as I love Say Kimchi and have made many friends there, it can also frustrate the crap out of me. People don’t read. I’d get questions like where do we meet (see the screenshot below) or other questions where the answer is readily available. And attendance can be frustrating/annoying – people cancelling late or simply not showing up.

A screenshot of one of our language exchanges - can you see the location?
A screenshot of one of our language exchanges – can you see the location?

Why am I sad?

As much as I want to hand over the leadership and responsibility of the group, I also don’t. Crazy, eh?! But it’s been such a huge part of my life for so long that it will be hard to let go. Which is why I’ve made a promise to myself – I won’t attend for at least six-eight weeks, even as a regular member, so that I don’t try to take over. I know myself, I would. But I really want those who have stepped up and taken over the reigns of Say Kimchi to succeed and to do so, I need to let go. And the only way I know how to do that is to physically not be there.

But it will be hard! It will especially be hard to know that I won’t be a part of the group, that I won’t see all the friendly faces regularly. Like one of my friends, whom I met through Say Kimchi, said jokingly, “It’s the end of an era!”

Say Kimchi (and that's me talking) on MBC Dream Hunter
Say Kimchi (and that’s me talking) on MBC Dream Hunter


Knowing that Say Kimchi has been the matchmaker – or at least facilitated the introduction of – two married couples! In fact, I’m going to a first anniversary party this weekend for one of the couples.

The many, many friendships I’ve made with fellow members of Say Kimchi. And not just with Koreans or Canadians, but also with people from all over the world.

Having one of our members bring a TV crew who were shooting a segment of a Korean TV show on him, to Say Kimchi.

The friendships! It will be hard to say goodbye to Say Kimchi but I know the friendships I made will last. And I can smile knowing I’ve made a positive difference in the world, however small, one language exchange at a time!

Good bye Say Kimchi!

P.S. It’s the perfect place to practice your Korean (if you’re a native English speaker learning Korean) or your English (if you’re a native Korean speaker learning English) in Toronto! Join here!!

Cindy Zimmer

Live life to the fullest everyday - this is a the philosophy I try to live by and it's taken me on many adventures. I write about Korean culture from a non-Korean perspective as the editor/founder of ATK Magazine and I'm the Chair of the Board of Directors of the Toronto Korean Film Festival (TKFF). Previously, I ran a Korean-English language exchange group (in Toronto) for 3 years to stay connected to my three years living in Korea as an English teacher. I love music, film, food and sports and write about 3 of the 4.

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