Tag Archives: korean culture

To be a real teacher

I’m pretty much set on not renewing my contract next year.  And here’s why:

1.  I’m not appreciated at my school.  I work harder than any other teacher here.  I’m pretty sure i’m the only one who brings work home everyday and never gets enough sleep.  I spend countless hours planning and editing lessons to continually challenge my students while taking into account their varied abilities and interests.  More importantly, i teach because it’s always been my dream to teach.  I love what i do, and i’m grateful that i was given this opportunity.  Teaching is emotional for me.  Whatever happens at school can make or break my day; so much of my emotional well-being depends on how i do at my job.  And when you are this dedicated to your work but no one recognizes it, it just hurts.  My coworkers have no regard for my schedule and workload.  They keep piling on more work for me (unrelated to my classes) because they know how hard-working i am and that i wouldn’t refuse.

2.  This job is becoming meaningless for me.  I realized last night that i’m a trainer, not a teacher.  How do people teach EFL?  I hate not being able to talk about open-ended, thought-provoking topics with my students.  I hate that it’s a struggle just to get them to understand me.  I hate that i can’t communicate with them on an intellectual level.  I hate that they can’t express to me everything that they want.  It hurts to see them give up (i know how it feels).  I hate that they feel dumb because they can’t communicate with me, and i hate that i can’t help them improve.  Why are they not improving?  I want to teach them about the world, other people, other ways of thinking, other possibilities, but my role is to train them in a foreign language, which considerably limits how much you can do with any given topic.  I’m obviously failing at improving their English, so i feel like all i do is train them in responsibility.  And that’s exactly what i resolved to never do as a teacher.  I learned in my Youth Media class that schools are designed to produce working citizens, and that this can have a hazardous effect on a child’s personal growth.  I’m at a loss as to what to do.  I think i’ve reached this point because it’s all i can do, but i should stop.  But then how else would i grade?  I don’t like to take too many points away for bad English, because if their English is bad, that’s my fault.  When they don’t follow instructions, however, i penalize them, but i’m starting to think i shouldn’t.  All i’m doing is training them to not make mistakes in the future and to follow instructions whether they like them or not, and that’s not healthy.  It might help them in the workplace, but it’s not healthy for their creative development.

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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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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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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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