Saturday, February 18, 2006

Teaching English in Korea 101

Well my first week of teaching has come to a close and as excited as I am to be finished a small voice in my head tells me there are still 51 to go...Oy Veh.

So what is teaching English to Korean children ranging from 8 to 13 like?
What I've realized first off is that to stay sane one has to first and foremost throw out the whole idea of implies learning. I'm not saying I don't try to teach, rather the whole system that we're working in is designed to be ineffective - much like Korea.
Seriously, I'm growing to believe that the only way this country "runs" is to be constantly creating new work by never doing the job right the first time. Perhaps the best example is in the construction methods used to build the apartment buildings that cover the landscape. The buildings are designed to be built fast with a life of about 5 years. Korea is not like Japan, that has to build with the awareness that an earthquake will likely destroy their work every few years. Korea has no such problem: perhaps they just have Japan envy.

Probably the second most important thing that I've learned is to never under any circumstances tell a Korean that they have "Japan envy". (Editor's note - at this point, Hanna kicks Matt off the computer). Well, you know there was that whole colonialism thing between 1910 and 1945, when Japan ruled Korea with an iron fist. That, and the numerous invasions from previous centuries when countless temples and relics were destroyed by Japanese invaders. As a result, the Koreans are none too fond of their neighbours to the east. On most world maps, the body of water separating the two countries is called the "Sea of Japan", but here you would never, ever say such a thing. It is simply the East Sea. Now, lying somewhere in this "East Sea" is the small uninhabited island of Dokdo, just a few rocks really. However, these rocks are hotly contested between the two countries, with both claiming sovereignty. Dokdo inspires such incredible, passionate patriotism in the children here, it's quite remarkable. At the very mention of the word, some of my more boisterous students jump up on their chairs and burst into a proud Korean anthem which claims Dokdo as theirs. In a couple classes, we got on the topic of reunification with North Korea, which led to a discussion of the atomic bomb, and inevitably to why Japan ceased its occupation of the Korean peninsula in 1945. "Nuke them again! Nuke them again!" was their shouted response. In another class, I asked them to describe their dream weekend. One 10 year old student's response: Friday - travel to Japan. Saturday - kill the Japanese emperor and dispose of his body. Sunday - return to Korea and think of an alibi.
And the kimpap - "Korean sushi" - which is, according to some Koreans I've spoken with, "just like sushi, but much better." (Thanks to my beautiful rice steamer, I've learned to make kimpap that is almost as good as the diner down the street, minus the spam and MSG).

Always she goes on about the rice steamer, but ask her to clean it and find out the truth (like a little kid with a dog, whose parents feed and and walk it). So you get the point right? Koreans are not fond of the Japanese.

Back to first week of teaching ( if I'm allowed).
As I mentioned earlier the hardest thing for me was to move beyond the idea of actually teaching the students and grasp the far more important issue. Make the parents happy. We teach at an English hogwan which put simply is a tutoring academy (there are also science, math, art, music, Korean, phys. ed, and at least a couple other kinds of hogwans). More complexly it is yet another example of the "keeping up with the Kims", a diabolical scheme which drains approximately seven billion dollars annually from the pockets of well intentioned parents (which is more than the Korean government spends on the education system in a year), while at the same time working to undermine that same underfunded public education system. Sound complicated? Think of it this way: if your neighbors send their children to three hogwans then how could send your children to any less... maybe you should send them to four...and the trend continues. The whole while the kids are learning in advance in the hogwans what they learn in the public schools, thus making public education irrelevant.
So here we are, the native English speakers brought to Korea not to teach the children English, but for the hogwan to keep up with other hogwans that also have native English speakers.
Basically I tell them to do their homework - after all, if they don't have homework, the parents aren't getting their money's worth.

1 comment:

man between hats said...

Further to your comments, I've been doing some reading in preparation for my journey to Korea. Many see the Korean peninsula in the shape of a rabbit held up by its ears. This is an image held by the Japanese. The Koreans see the map as the shape of a tiger with its back to Japan. As far as I can see, Korea resembles neither of the above. However, it resembles a tiger less than a rabbit.