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Some Ramblings

I apologize for letting this place get to quiet. It's not supposed to be just about me and my issues working and living abroad, but I feel obligated to provide some kind of stimulus.


If I were to simply blog about my professional/personal relationship experiences in Korea so far...wow. What a long, crazy entry that would be.

It took me a case of having my inexperienced yet egotistical co-teacher (Jiyeon) having an embarrassing emotional outburst for me to realize that just liking, being able to hold fun and engaging conversations and connecting on some personal level with my co-workers is pretty damn important to having a functional, successful working atmosphere. The situation was exasperated by us having to share the office-classroom, but I guess I'd been taking that for granted in my past jobs. I took for granted the experience and (relative!) open-mindedness of my partners. But the funny thing is that it may or may not have anything to do with culture-clash. Let's see...

Well, there are two issues at play when I think back. One is the heavy pride Koreans appear to have for their (D)illusions of power and success, no matter how small.

In the classroom, it amounts to a whole lot of showboating with little results. I'm not Teacher of the Year, but I tend to remember why I'm here. One of the worst classes I ever had was an open class with Jiyeon. She became so obsessed with the theatrics (let's have magnetic dolls! let's sing and dance! let's print out this and that so we don't use the markers!, etc...) that the kids didn't learn anything. First of all, the kids already knew the grammar point. Second, we did the class with the kids before hand, so then we wasted time doing it AGAIN for the spectators. We wasted time dancing over and over, singing again and again, when we could have been doing any number of more productive things. But the ILLUSION was of their eyes being opened to the possibilities of using "he" and "she" appropriately. And then the Principal threw verbal confetti at her in the teacher's meeting. And when one teacher offered criticism - HUSH!!!! IT WAS PERFECT!!! I wasn't interested in being the Principal's pet like Jiyeon is. I'd say this was the beginning of our relationship going downhill.

Others: Asking foreign teachers to sign (fully Korean and thus incomprehensible) contracts which don't actually say anything different from the primary employment contract we've already signed - it shows paper trail!!!; requesting overtime without pay because "we're family and I'm essentially your Daddy", not honoring verbal promises or requests ("Sorry. We have to reconsider what a 'working day' means...."), and any number of "power flexing" tactics. My current school's principal wanted me - a fully legal motorist - to sign some waiver protecting the school from liability. I politely laughed at them. Don't get me wrong, I want my school to look successful and good, but is it too much to ask that the school actually be successful and good?

The second issue at play is the difficulty in getting the Koreans to understand that I'm not actually Korean. I don't have a support network here. I don't have a union. I don't have a fallback plan. I can't just move in with my mom when things go south. You don't do your part = I'm up the river. The best example of them not understanding my non-Koreaness is when I get upset that I haven't been paid on time. Most of us balk at the idea of getting paid a month late, right, but my co-workers try desperately to convince me that it's okay to have a late paycheck; you will get paid - we PROMISE. And then when we say something like "How about I don't show up to work on time. You'd call me and ask, 'Where are you?' 'Don't worry - I'll come to work.' 'When? What time?' 'Hm. Eventually. I promise.' Would that conversation do it for you, Mrs. Park (who has a husband with a well-paying job and a lineage traceable to the 14th century)?" .....they get embarrassed. "But the other Korean teachers - " "I'm black American." "...." The discomfort is compounded by this recession, in which the won has only been good for fancy toilet paper.

The point, though, is that it's hard to reconcile the foreigner's position with what the domestic system can offer. If I were Korean, yeah, I'm sure that it wouldn't be so bad to get paid a month late, or even if it was, I could sympathize with the bureaucracy of My Country and say with confidence that 'it'll all work out', but....I'm not Korean. Never will be, either. However, there's much to be said for pretending.

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xcultural
"I think I'm lost"

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