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Published: September 13th 2010
The next day I went to work and shadowed the teacher I would be replacing. He explained to me it was pretty straight forward - read the chapter in our perfect English 6-7 hours a day, ask questions, mark books and write some reports. The only downside was that there was no break in that 7 hour stretch so it was a game of adrenalin reserve sometimes. I noticed in the classes the students, who ranged in age from 6 - 15, spoke a lot of "hangul" their native tounge. I would make them stop I told myself and maybe even learn some Korean. If only it was that easy! Two of my most rambunctious students were appropriatly named 'Tiger' and 'Lion' and another one was known as 'Thunder'.
Lion and Tiger fed off each others' energy as six year olds do, and you could almost believe they really were in the wild.
Some students were very shy and refused to say a word while others chatted loud and asked me questions such as "Teacher do you like fried chicken?" According to the Korean teacher they were also noisy becauser they were discussing "look what big eyes she has" and "her hair is brown/blonde!"....They had never had a female foreign teacher so I forgive them. I also got to know how frank Koreans can be when I was told "you are pretty" and "you are short" - not something I thought I'd hear in Korea but I was standing next to a 6 foot tall girl at the time. The Koreans are famous for their directness and it's not unknown for teachers to be caled 'pig' or 'fat' or in my classes being told 'you die' without really knowing what it means. Along with the intimate questions, I learned a friend was asked by his boss on the first day "do you have a lover?", though she could've been asking for an eraser - get it 'rubber/lover'? My boss asked my a few weeks later what my 'maximum alcohol level' was. I don't think you wanna know mate.
Korean culture is very strict and revolves around the concept of face. People study so much and work so hard - children sometimes 10 hours a day, just to get ahead and be something. There are huge expectations and although this is changing I have been told a few times that the only times Koreans feel relaxed is when drinking soju, hiking or travelling overseas. They simply don't take time out which is a foreign concept to my lazy kiwi ass who can easily while away an evening watching a sunset with wine or playing wii. No wonder then that some of the world's most competitive brands such as hyundai, Samsung and Daewoo come from Korea. Even the five year olds here are so busy they have cell phones!
If students fail at school, they will not get into the top universities and at the time of year when enterance exams are on there is even an increased rate of suicides, which is sad. Much to my advantage, however, Korea believes that English is the international world language and that Korea will be a completely bilingual country soon. It seems an admirable goal but I'm not sure it will happen. English teacher though keep pouring into the country and are everywhere if you look in their native habitat -the bar at happy hour.
Korea is probably the most homogenous country I have ever been in. Coming from a country where we have immigrants from almost every corner of the globe and can get a huge range of cuisene, it seems strange to only see Korean faces, Korean food and hear Korean language. I visited Seoul recently and was surprised and refreshed to see people from Africa, America, Europe, and even a Mexican band! I was almost giddy at the cosmopolitan nature of it "look there's another one!" "where's he from?". "Oh we could speak Spanish to the Mexican band in South Korea! Imagine that" I quite enjoy places like this where I am not the only foreigner around...
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