The Insignificance of Westerners in Korea

I have just read this on Facebook: “Me: Hey. How are you doing today? Him: Best day of my life. Me: You won the lottery? Him: Nope. I’m breathing. He makes a good point. Every day is a good day if you’re alive and able to live it.”

I thought that was pretty cool, but I am accompanied by bitter sweet feelings this morning. On one hand, I am feeling so much better about recent happenings, and on the other I am feeling just as insignificant as I did 3 months ago. I wanted to substantiate this feeling with something that I’ve recently noticed. It happened again just this morning.

As some may have read, I am a High School teacher at a public school in South Korea. I have 3 co-teachers, meaning – that I work with 1 teacher at a time, but they change accordingly. 1 of my co-teachers, with whom I had my interview with before getting the job, seemed lovely. She picked me up at the bus terminal for the interview, and complimented me to no end. I thought she was amazingly nice, but also eccentric. I felt I should be cautious of that kind of Korean, because they usually end up being the most difficult people to work with.

Regardless, I have been here for just over 6 months now. I don’t have any concrete problems with her. We get along fine, and she isn’t high maintenance at all. I have, however, started to notice how she undermines  me at any given moment. Given that I am the English teacher, from an English speaking country and I can pronounce things correctly and correct students appropriately, one would think I would be in charge when it came to listening to and correcting English sentences that the students have constructed? No. I’ve recently started having the students create 1 sentence with the 15-20 words we learn every lesson. I then ask them for their sentences and correct them where necessary. This Korean teacher starts taking over, leaving me standing behind her. She picks the students and gives them a big “wow!” even when their sentences are “I wait bus” or “I’m like music”. She occasionally turns around, and I will correct them, but I feel utterly belittled as the English teacher when she takes full control in that manner. I have also found that, no matter where I am standing, she tends to stand right in front of me?! What is that about.

She also translates every single words that I say, and she is disregarding the English portion of the lesson just as much as the students. Many times, she cuts me off half way to start talking and translating. At the end of the day – the way that English is taught in Korea is not effective. These children are learning English by memorizing dialogues that are supposedly teaching them life and conversational skills. They are able to memorize and answer, quiet easily “Where is the bus terminal?” “It is on your right” but when asked in reality “Where is the bus terminal?” they’re utterly stumped. How is this effective?

I’ve suggested more free flowing, spontaneous speech to my other co-teacher, who is absolutely lovely, open-minded and agrees that the system of memorization isn’t cutting it. I’ve suggested choosing topics and folding them up, students will choose a topic and talk about it for 1 or 2 minutes. She agreed that that would be a good way to encourage conversation, yet the principle would like to see English being learnt. In other words, print out a lovely English dialogue, with a word list and an accompanying Powerpoint, and now the students are learning English.

And how am I to be treated with respect, as a teacher, when the faculty treat me with less respect than that of their Korean counterpart? During lunch time, I am very often the only person sitting at my table. We eat lunch in the same cafeteria as the students, and they can see the Korean teachers walking swiftly past the white teacher, to join their Korean chingus (friends, in Korean). Sometimes, they avoid my table altogether, only to sit alone at the table ahead. How are these teachers good role models to incorporate diversity, to appreciate different cultures and different races?

I just feel like they spend so much money bringing in foreign teachers – paying for their return flights, rent etc and it’s all this big show. Koreans do NOT care about English. In fact, they want everything to do with America and westernization except actually BE apart of America or any part of westernization. All over, I see people wearing shirts with English writing (A student came to school wearing a T-shirt saying “Fuck what you heard!”) they have English pencil cases, they watch Twilight and know English pop songs yet when it actually comes down to dealing with any foreigners – they want nothing to do with us.

How do I feel appreciated at work or in this country (or dramatically, in life) if this is how I spent 75% of it?

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3 thoughts on “The Insignificance of Westerners in Korea

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