Your Daily Shot of Soju: Fighting the Stupid Foreigner

“You Daily Shot of Soju” is my daily format for sharing random cultural thoughts, pictures and basically anything I want to in an easy to digest and read format. Expect to be updated Monday-Thursday, and probably once on the weekend.

Korean English Education has the Power to Piss Off Everybody:

Drunken arguments make me feel more human. They remind me what it’s like to be me.

I suppose this is what constitutes the ‘Disintegration’ phase of culture shock. I can’t be totally sure, because this phase is characterized by one questioning a culture, but questioning culture is something I did back in the States also. I guess there really is no better way to forget the mistakes of your own country than by looking at the mistakes of another country.

Regardless, I need a drink and I happen to know just the place to get one. Not my local ‘Buy the Way’ but a real bar. Tonight demands dim lighting and bar stools. So I head off, down the street to take my place at the end of a bar that has dim lighting and stools. It also has snacks and a few other randoms filling some of the other bar stools.

One man, a few seats down, looks at me and says “You Teacher.”

Well, I’m a foreigner and I’m too short to be a G.I. so that pretty much leaves teacher as the only other job I can get hired for here. This man is obviously quite refined in the art of guessing.

“What you think of Korean schools,” he asked.

Well, I was a few drinks deep and so I figured honesty was, of course, the best policy.

Honesty resulted in a few more drinks and a shouting match. So, like I said…the best policy.

It was tough to have an argument regarding education between us because I suck at Korean and he sucks at English. Try having a heated drunken argument while speaking very slowly so the person can understand you. It takes lots of the heat out. Except for those moments when you are so obviously patronizing the person with your slow speech that you would come to blows except it takes the other person 2 minutes to realize what you said.

A few of his arguments that I picked up (rewritten for your convenience):

1. Foreign teachers feel a sense of entitlement without actually earning any respect.

2. We are not trained/qualified teachers.

3. We do not understand how the schools here work and therefore have no right to complain.

4. If we don’t like the set up of the schools then we should have been more careful when signing the contract. If we weren’t careful then we should just shut up or quit.

5. Native teachers don’t spend any time on creating lessons for students.

A few of my arguments:

1. We do not understand things the school does because people rarely take the time to explain things to us.

2. The government hires teachers who are not trained and gives them pre-packaged lessons that suck, this drives away qualified teachers.

3. We don’t feel a sense of entitlement so much as we feel marginalized and simply wanted to be treated with equal respect.

4. We may have been careful when signing our contract but because it was written by a Korean there was language present that seemed right at the time that doesn’t translate over cultures i.e. “Schools Off.” Which in America means nobody comes to school, where in Korea it means teachers come to school.

5. Native English Teachers are underutilized in schools or utilized improperly.

I bet that if we were removed from the context of drunken arguments that him and I probably agreed with much of what the other was saying. Nothing that we said was really that unreasonable and, in reality, are all problems facing the Korean English education system.

But in the end I felt the need to defend my profession/friends while he felt the need to defend his country. Understandable on both counts.

In fact I think everybody in the system is pretty stupid. The government who hires us is stupid for writing a contract that leaves many foreigners feeling frustrated when it’s put into practice and for hiring teachers who are not qualified, and then wondering why students can’t speak English properly.

The schools are stupid for using its native teacher as nothing more than a walking tape recorder. For shooting down any lesson ideas that is different from the pre-packaged lessons, regardless of it’s benefit. For putting the native teachers on the fringe of English education when they should be the center of it.

The native teachers are stupid because we complain about our schools, yet we don’t take the opportunities many of us are given to become better teachers or prove our worth…we have four hours at the end of each day to kill…you’re telling me you can’t rework your pre-packaged lesson to be more beneficial, or read up on current teaching theories, or study the language? Youtube is that cool?

The only person who is totally right in this situation is me…only me.

I remember while growing up, hearing a sermon where the pastor described someone he called a ‘blockhead.’ A ‘blockhead’ is someone who, no matter how much you argue with them or what you say, won’t change their opinion because they are too rooted in their own beliefs.

Looking back, now, on that conversation that’s exactly what we were. A couple of blockheads, arguing about things neither one of us fully understood nor have any power over.



Filed under Culture, Education, Narratives, Things to Entertain You

3 responses to “Your Daily Shot of Soju: Fighting the Stupid Foreigner

  1. Hi,
    Nice blog.

    And good points here. The thing is, Korean English teachers won’t agree with you. They never agree with me, and we usually end up having two different, simultaneous conversations. I don’t think they get at all our situation, and it really doesn’t matter to them, since we have such limited roles.

    What kills me is that there’s a complete lack of interest in what actually goes on in the native speaker’s class, yet the foreigner question is on the lips of all the teachers and politicians. They’re spending thousands of dollars a month on me, yet their expectations for me are as follows:

    Me: What would you like me to teach?
    Them: English.
    Me: What are the goals?
    Them: English conversation.
    Me: Do you have any suggestions?
    Them: Have them speak English.
    Me: But do you have any suggestions of things that will work in the classroom?
    Them: Have fun and encourage them to speak English.
    Me: …
    Them: Give them candy.

    ^ That’s pretty much how the start-of-year meetings went last semester. “Shane (previous teacher) gave them candy.” Fine, whatever, it’s their country, but given that attitude I don’t like hearing about “unqualified” this, “unmotivated” that. When I see each class once or twice a month, I’m not a “teacher” I’m more of a “visitor.”

    I did a couple of half-formed entries on the issue:

  2. joemondello

    I completely agree with both of you. The system sucks because it is based on a desire to learn English which is itself only half-understood by those who harbor it. People in Korea don’t really know what they need English for, or what their kids might do with it, but it involves a mental image of either drinking coffee in New York City with a blond person or checking into a hotel in Australia, or something similarly ridiculous.
    The problem comes in attempting to translate (no pun intended) this mental image, the ice cream in New York or the hotel in Australia into concrete actions. What’s the fastest route between not speaking English and ordering a coffee in New York? Talking to a Canadian guy, of course. Just like back home, where the fastest route from mild-mannered middle school kid to guitar hero is buying a guitar and dicking around on it. It’s a classic disconnect between goal and action.
    What’s the proper response for those of us who get entangled in this depression national self-delusion, the English teachers? Disengage. When I went to high school we studied Spanish, and our teacher knew exactly what most of us were getting out of it (Mas cerveza, por favor!) The point is, the presence of foreign English teachers who don’t know how to teach can only serve as a motivation for native action, in other words, English teachers are basically a human challenge. Not every kid or adult is up to the challenge, just like not every kid in P.E. is going to be an athlete, but that’s how predominantly middle class societies educate their kids. They throw the whole pot of spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.
    Foreign English teachers of Korea are better off accepting that fact and not stressing or even thinking about their responsibilities, the respect they’re accorded, etc. It’s out of their hands.

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