Thursday, February 11, 2010


Things have calmed down here at work and are going really slow. Until March I won't be teaching any classes since the kids have a spring break before the new semester. This slow down has allowed things to run smoothly here, and with all this meantime I have begun to understand those problems I wrote about earlier.

By writing up that list I found that I can take those issues and categorize them, further allowing myself to understand both sides of the problem.

Here for you is a new list that will hopefully help myself tackle these issues in the future in a more constructive manner.

Korean Etiquette:
  1. "Being treated like I am a little girl."  The custom in Korean culture is for the "junior" to obey their "senior". Meaning don't be bothered if you are treated like a little girl by your superiors (in age). To me when my coteacher (significantly older than me) asks me questions and dotes on me like I am her young daughter, I tend to feel very taken aback by this. Especially when they are simple questions that conjure up common sense answers. One particular annoyance is when we are walking together to a room and she waits by the door then as I go through she puts her hand on my back and pushes me in the room. Instead of getting peeved about this I need to pass it off as just Korean etiquette because the reality is she isn't being harmful just playing the role she has known. And so I guess I have to play that role too as the "junior". 
  2. "People constantly asking me if I can eat Korean food even though they know I have lived here nearly 2 years. People bugging me about my food selection choices at lunch time. " I discussed this with my coteacher so that she could understand why at lunch times I tend to get a little annoyed with the "you didn't eat kimchi today" talks that go on. She explained to me that this is just the Korean way of caring for someone else. Being concerned for their well being. I tried to tell her that if she were in my country and everyday I bothered her while she ate lunch that wouldn't she get annoyed. She didn't really have a response and reminded me that people here have good intentions and don't mean any harm. It boils down to Korean etiquette because basically these folks are asking me questions because it is in their nature to care about each other. So in the future I will just consider that maybe today such and such a person when they ask me about the food they are simply curious and caring. 
This is not about Koreans being arrogant it is more about my own arrogance and pride. I don't know why but sometimes I get on this campaign that I have to defend the foreigner way of functioning. Also, since I have already one year of teaching behind me and a TEFL certificate that I feel I know a thing or two about teaching. Being proud of your teaching skills and experience is one thing, but taking it to the level of arrogance just creates problems. I have to consider that I entered this school during the final months of the semester. My coteachers had already experience nearly a full year of teaching English and so were comfortable in their teaching methods and styles. Then I came along and criticized them. I should of thought ahead and realized that they probably weren't willing to adopt new methods or techniques. If I had put aside my arrogance I would have seen ways to make things work for both sides. The following are issues from my previous list that illustrate my arrogance. 
  1. Being an English Puppet: Not having control of the class and just saying the expressions. Doing whatever they tell me to do no matter my opinion or experience. 
  2. Being told my prepared materials are not low level enough.  
  3. Knowing that there are better and more effective ways of teaching English to Korean children but having my ideas rejected and not even tried out.  
Limits and Boundaries:
There comes a point where there are things you just can't change or control. No matter how much you recognize that there is a better solution or method to something your opinion is moot, because the job has its limits. Whether it is the nature of the Korean workplace or the personality of your coteacher there are just somethings no matter how hard you try you can't win. I have come up with this saying, "You are a loser before you even start the battle." Obviously this creates frustration and anger as things build up. If one is fortunate enough to be able to talk about these limits with your coteacher than the boundaries end up feeling flexible. This is kind of how things felt at my old school. There were issues I felt I had no control to change but when talked about with my ex-coteacher there seemed to be some movement of understanding on her part. 

Also one has to consider that coteachers are also acting within limits themselves of what the Principal tells them and any other school rules they believe in.

The following illustrates issues that fall into this category. When experiencing these again I will consider that they are part of the job's "limits and boundaries."

  1.   Not having my opinion fully understood or listened to.
  2. Working hard but having all my faults be scrutinized and not balanced out towards all the good I do. 
  3. Not being told ahead of time of event changes or occurrences. Not being told about anything going on in school and the English department.   
  4. Being told to teach in “Fun and Active” way by the Principal but realizing it’s incredibly difficult with such coteachers who are not “fun and active” themselves.  
  5. Communication being difficult. I want to express my ideas but know that they will get shot down. I want to express my opinions about certain matters but know that they will not be heard.  
Lack of Training / Consulting:
It states in the Dr. GEPIK handbook (a guide to foreign teachers in Korea):
Foreign language assistant teachers are assigned to teach class with qualified Korean co-teachers.
What does qualified mean? Does this mean they are qualified to speak English or qualified to work with foreigners? What it really means is that they aren't qualified, mostly in the second part. Basically a Korean coteacher's lack of consulting and training in how to deal with people of different cultures creates issues down the line. And the same is true on the other side. Sure GEPIK teachers meet twice a year for orientation and training. But is that enough? What about checking up on foreign teachers in their workplace and consulting them and their coteachers about any problems. Instead we are plunked down at are schools and let loose. It is my opinion that Korea would retain a lot more Foreign language teachers if they took the time to make sure both parties were working well together.

Reality is that we have to deal with things on our own and most of the time this works. But in cases when opinions differ so greatly that resentment is created and "written letters of warning" are produced that it would seem solutions such as consulting would work better. We are given area coordinators, who I contacted about this and was disappointed with her lack of interest in helping.

This disappointment and burden on my shoulders is the cause for the following issues and many more. It is my hope that cities take on a more active approach in making sure their schools cooperate well with foreign teachers. *I would like to note that foreign teachers enter the job too without being really qualified so in retrospect both sides are really to blame. But, like I said, it would really help if the local government helped in this area more.

  1. Having to deal with everything on our own since there is a lack in consulting between the Korean co teacher and native teacher. 
  2. Ms. Y not communicating at all to me about the classes we teach. Her getting upset when I make a mistake in class because she didn’t tell me about their level or experience. Ms. Y ignoring my presence.
Hopefully this way of compartmentalizing the issues and differences I face at the Korean workplace will help me better tackle them in the future. Of course, the arrogance part is one thing I will have to work on personally. The rest will have to be understood and tolerated. 

However, it is my desire to focus more on the teaching and relationship with the children. Rather than spending all my time trying to figure out all the job crap. In the end, it is the joy and fulfillment I experience when seeing the children having fun learning English and creating a quality relationship with me (a foreigner) that I know this job is worth it. You too! Even if you are bogged down by cultural snafus and personal feelings draw yourself back to your students and find comfort in knowing how hard you work for  them.



  1. I applaud you for your introspection, something too few expats in Korea seem to do! However, I wouldn't be too hard on yourself for being "arrogant", it's not as if there isn't arrogance on the Korean side as well.

  2. Even though these are things you want to change, don't forget to remember how far you've come to get to this point. You should feel proud of yourself for not just reacting anymore and instead reflecting and contemplating how to make it better.

    Self-reflection like this is going to help you learn a lot more about yourself and the people around you.

  3. Hello, I'm seung-hyun. and I am a script writer at Arirang TV.
    We are looking for someone to join us on our new program called and we would like to have you participate on our show!
    Our program features information on Korean culture and much much more seen through the eyes of foreign residents living in Korea.
    The program is 5 minutes long. It will be a great opportunity to create some fun memories of your life in Korea.
    My phone number is 010-5192-5581. (If you can't reach me, my co-worker's number is 010-7174-7964)
    I will be thrilled to hear from you.

  4. Joy,

    You might want to pass on that program. 5 minutes is just enough time for them to quote you out of context and make you look foolish.

    Now, if you could have veto power over the final product, that might actually be something worthwhile.


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