Category Archives: korea

The moral dilemmas i go through everyday at school

I made a student cry today.  She didn’t cry in front of me, but her friend later came to me in the office and told me about it.

I know it’s hard for them to ask me questions and admit that they don’t understand things.  It’s just the culture.  But these girls are so economically disadvantaged already that i feel obligated as their teacher to train them so they can become more responsible.  That way, they’ll at least have a chance at getting a job after they graduate.  There is so little disciplinary action in this school; the students are in very bad shape, both in terms of attitude and work ethic.  I don’t know how they are in other classes, but in my classes, they don’t listen.  For some reason, they think that if they can’t understand what i’m saying, they might as well ignore me and chit chat.  The ones who try ask the high-level students to translate, but most give up.  I don’t have a problem with them giving up.  That’s their right, and i can’t force them to learn if they don’t want to.  But when they talk, other students who want to try can’t hear me, and as a result, most of the class gets things wrong and loses points.  And i don’t give second chances, because they should know my rules already.

This student didn’t know my policy of never accepting late work because she either didn’t listen or didn’t understand but neglected to ask for clarification.  When i refused to accept her late timed writing, she quietly walked away.  It would be unfair for me to accept her work, because i’ve been refusing all late submissions.  When her friend came to plead with me to accept it, i took it and told her i’d correct it but that i’d have to give it a zero.  I later caved and gave the student who submitted her work late a letter explaining that i’ll only take 5 points off and that she shouldn’t take it personally, because i can’t veer from my rules if i’m to be fair to everybody.  I had to mull it over for a good hour, but i eventually decided that i’m not being too unfair because this class is a bit behind, and i did accept late work the first few weeks.

I want these kids to succeed.  I really do.  They want so many things in life—they tell me these things in their journals—and if no one helps them now to become responsible citizens, they’re never gonna get those things.  I don’t understand why the teachers here protect them so much.  These girls don’t need protection; they need training.  I feel like everyone here thinks God is the answer to everything.  ‘These girls might be irresponsible and unmotivated but God will somehow help them in the end, so let’s just pray.’  I wish somebody would cooperate with me.

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If only one older Korean could prove me wrong…

I try to like most people.  I really do.  Because God knows, i have my flaws, and i should be understanding of other people’s.  But there’s one thing that irks me—probably more than it should—and that’s unsolicited advice.

I went to my grandmother’s yesterday for Chuseok, and she had some unexpected guests:  my mother’s cousin, his wife, his son, and the son’s family.  I don’t remember them from my childhood, but i think i remember the cousin and his wife (now in their late 60’s or early 70’s) from when my grandfather died.  Only i couldn’t point it out with my grandmother there, because my grandfather’s death anniversary just passed and she tends to get emotional about these things.

At several moments of the evening, i noticed the cousin (let’s call him Mr. TOK, or Typical Old Korean) surveying me with a judgmental eye, the way older Koreans always do when meeting a younger Korean for the first time, or for the first time in a long time.  Koreans are always trying to get a read on people.  That makes me uncomfortable.

An hour into their visit, Mr. TOK started dishing out random pieces of advice for me.  I didn’t catch a lot of what he said.  I speak a very particular kind of Korean—my parents’ Korean—because i’ve only ever used Korean with my parents since moving to the States.  Not that my parents’ Korean is any different from your typical educated middle-aged Korean’s Korean, but an individual’s speaking style is colored by his or her personality and way of thinking, and my parents’ particular speaking style is what i grew up on and have heard and used for the past 13 years.  This causes a lot of problems when i communicate with any other Koreans, but i’ve gotten better at opening my ears to other speaking styles since coming here to live.  This man, though—Mr. TOK—didn’t only use convoluted expressions i wasn’t used to, but he also rambled in a haughty and self-righteous manner.  And i tend to immediately tune out such people, no matter what they might be saying and how relevant it might be to my life.

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Protected: Encouragement and discipline in the classroom

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First post from my Seoul apartment

A lot has happened since i got here on the 25th—some good, more bad.  There are so many things i have trouble with when it comes to Korean culture, and i’ve already been a victim of them for the past four days.  That’s the thing:  it might just be the “culture,” but when it’s something you are so unfamiliar with, it feels like a threat.  Anything unfamiliar is a threat when encountered against your will.

If i had to pick the one thing that is making me most miserable right now, i would have to say that it’s the complete disregard for privacy.  I think i’m always so tense and tired because i know there are people monitoring me from every corner, trying to find out everything possible about me.  The administration office manager, who lives across the street from me, asked me the other day why i wasn’t home at night.  My lights were off, she said.  It was quite a nasty shock, but at least she had the decency to let me know that she can see my window.  One of the English teachers who picked me up on the day i arrived here with the other Native English Teachers has been taking care of me and helping me sort out administrative details like getting my Alien Registration Card and finding office supplies for me.  I have nothing to do with her—she’s a 3rd grade teacher and i don’t teach any 3rd graders—but she’s over 50, unmarried, lives close to me, and has nothing better to do.  Sometimes i’m touched by all the things she voluntarily does to help me get settled in, but other times, i can’t help but suspect that she only does it to get information out of me.  Every little thing i tell her, even the most mundane details, spreads through the entire school like celebrity gossip.  Lunchtime is basically catching up on everything that the entire staff found out about me the day before.  Gossip here is such a threatening invasion of your privacy, and not only do i feel uncomfortable being dissected and broadcast that way, i don’t like having to partake in it.

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Filed under korea, seoul

This is gonna be hard

It’s only been four days, and i already hate Seoul.  Where do i even start?  I’ll limit this one to the people:

1.  Middle-aged people stare or glare at me for no reason.

2.  No one wants to give directions, and those willing to don’t know how.  It’s like they can’t think like someone who doesn’t know the city very well.  One girl my age gave me the wrong directions.  Intentionally.  But i knew what she was doing, so i called her out, to which she reluctantly mumbled something like, “Oh, i think it’s that way, then….”  She probably hated me for being American.  Fucking bitch.

3.  They lack imagination here.  Either that, or people here are even more conformist and clueless about the rest of the world than i thought.  They can’t imagine that a woman’s favorite color could be grey.  A saleswoman actually questioned me for buying a grey, “men’s color” toothbrush.  I think imagination and diversity go hand in hand.  This country is so startlingly lacking in diversity that you almost can’t blame the people for being so narrow-minded.  Doesn’t mean it isn’t irritating.

4.  People here don’t know how to mind their own business.  Let’s just leave it at that.

5.  Strangers, especially the older ones, blurt out unnecessary and unwarranted comments at you as you walk past.  Ugh, reminds me of Paris.

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