Tag Archives: EFL

“I Wasn’t Secure Enough with My Self Image to Live in South Korea”

I guess I should give Buzzfeed some credit for trying to post something with depth, but this article by Ashley Perez is still doggy-paddling in the shallow end of the pool. As a personal narrative, this piece lacks self-scrutiny; there is no dynamic change in the author’s attitude or approach to life. Her solution to  her “problem” was to leave the country altogether, rather than seeking understanding and enlightening readers as to the socio-economic conditions of Korean ideals of beauty.

Ms. Perez complains that she had to leave South Korea after a year  because clothing stores made her feel fat:

And so at some point I gave up, tired of living in a culture I literally couldn’t fit into, despite my best efforts.

I would not be accepted as a true fellow Korean.

The author’s conflict comes with her claim to a Korean genetic background — she wants to be considered a true Korean (She does not clarify her Korean lineage, nor  her level of familiarity with Korean cultural traits like language.) A fair enough desire, but her “best efforts” at “fitting in” only seem to include trying on a pair of jeans in a Korean clothing store. By her logic, you can only fit into a culture if its community accepts you as unequivocally beautiful.

If that’s the only facet of a culture you care about, maybe you have no business traveling in the first place you really need to get out more.

Ms. Perez is eager to blame others for what appears to be her own lack of self confidence:

… I found it almost impossible to find anything that fit me. Whereas in the United States I’m smaller than the average woman — size 8 bottoms, medium tops, and a size 8.5 shoe — in Korea, I truly felt like a whale … Nothing will destroy your confidence faster than a store clerk shouting at you from across a crowded store, “no, no — very, very big” as you hold a dress up to your body in the mirror.

“Waaaah, this store doesn’t carry clothes to fit a small minority of its target sales demographic! That stranger I will never see again made me feel like a whale with her matter-of-fact explanation given to me in my own foreign language.”

Ms. Perez may also want to consider whether the opinions of children deserve so much priority in her self-estimations.

I was sick of my students calling me “plain face” or “tired teacher” on the days when I wore no makeup …

“Oh noes! The kids are judging my looks! Now I’ll never be a true Korean!”

Lamenting the kids’ lack of understanding when it comes to the concept of “inner beauty,” I wonder whether she bothered to make herself an example of it. I’m guessing not, since she decided to just bitch about them to Buzzfeed.

Ms. Perez closes with a Helen Lovejoy-esque appeal to “please think of the children,” and the admittedly sad truth that many will feel the need to get cosmetic surgery at some point in their lives. Still, it rings hollow after reading an entire piece devoted to her personal “hardships” buying clothes and feeling crappy about herself.

In my experience here, with many friends of various Asian ethnicities and citizenships, they are usually treated as Koreans on sight. Shopkeepers address them in Korean first, and usually speak to them assuming they are translators for their social group. This would have been a perfect way for Ms. Perez to fit in. She is just too image-obsessed to notice it. Maybe she fits in here after all!

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A Map for Non-Korean Bundang Residents

I started this map in early 2013. Many in the Bundang and Yongin area have contributed to it. It’s publicly editable so please feel free to add locations.

It’s also not limited to Bundang, so if you know good locations anywhere in Korea, please add them.

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Filed under Daily Life, Travel

In Seoul Public English Education, Everybody Loses — Again

Thanks to The Marmot’s Hole for the translation of this article.  Apparently, “students and parents preferred Korean instructors fluent in English over native speakers.”

Let’s just sidestep the issue of public education policy being left to parent and student surveys, rather than language and education experts. I kind of understand the policy decision to de-emphasize native speaking teachers as a key toward English proficiency for Korean students. Native teachers are very expensive to bring over. However, they are not the real problem. The real problem is an English education policy that mismanages personnel and fails to respect students’ needs, forcing parents to spend ever more money on the diminishing returns of a farcical hagwon industry. (Do I sound jaded and cynical, or what?)

Let’s address the elephant in the room, first. It’s apparent before you arrive in Korea that the vast majority of people TEFLing here are grossly un-qualified. Most haven’t even got a fly-by-night TEFL certification or any experience remotely related to teaching, let alone experience managing groups of children. Forget all the AIDS fear, drug testing and worries about “corrupting the youth” — most Korean kids are taught by under-qualified individuals. Yes, that included me when I worked at Avalon. (For those scoring at home, I no longer teach EFL.)

However, the wholesale sacking of mostly unqualified native teachers isn’t going to fix the problems with public English education in Seoul.  From what I can tell of friends’ and colleagues’ “work” schedules, the public EFL curriculum is a non-priority at many schools. They often go weeks without seeing a single class while student assemblies, test days and other events crowd English classes off the regular schedule. A common complaint on Facebook is, “the internet ran out of things to entertain me at work today.”

When these teachers do see the kids, it’s in groups of 30 or 40 who come once a week. Not a chance for anyone to form a rapport or give kids enough reps to justify having a native teacher on hand.

My own students describe public-school English as a one-size-fits-all failure. They lump kids together by age, not ability. This means kids who lived in Canada and can read classic novels in English sit next to kids who can’t pronounce a “z” sound or remember the days of the week. How is this helpful to either student? And remember, this is Korea, where saving face is a paramount concern woven into the fabric of the culture. Some kids will just be left behind by their own ingrained desire to avoid embarrassment. This is a public education policy that fails to respect the socio-cultural reality of 99.9 percent of students.

Dropping native English speaking teachers wholesale is also poor management of personnel assets. Yes, most are unqualified. However, for the few who are qualified and passionate about teaching, the public school setting is the only place that gives them flexibility and planning time to apply themselves properly, as well as a pay scale that respects experience and credentials.

Hagwon hiring standards, on the other hand, are bizarrely low throughout most of the industry. Teachers are replaceable cogs in a preset curriculum cleverly designed to take parents’ money. In most, any actual learning is a happy coincidence. Seoul students will now be deprived of the only qualified, enthusiastic EFL teachers and lessons they can hope to encounter. Unless …

This policy might help the hagwon industry since parents who want native speakers will still be able to demand it with their pocketbooks. Those public teachers who are qualified and enthusiastic will likely gravitate to the industry if they want to continue living in Korea.

However, unlike hagwon teachers, public teachers are used to having the flexibility in their curriculum to design effective lessons based on professional best practices: Lesson plans that integrate reading, speaking, listening and writing skills; and games to reinforce those lessons, keep kids engaged and make them think dynamically in their new language.

Hagwon parents don’t get anything like that for their money, nor do they demand it. As I’ve previously written, they demand more homework and bigger vocabulary lists, not creative lessons and teachers who make the language fun. Those bright-eyed, bushy-tailed teachers with any level of enthusiasm will become soulless TEFL zombies in most hagwons.

In the end, everybody loses. The education system will become even more dependent on hagwons and their flawed educational environments, good teachers will leave Korea or have their souls sucked out, bad teachers will proliferate the system even further, and the needs of children will continue to be ignored.  They’ll lose sleep and stress out over a bunch of classes that aren’t designed to teach them anything, for teachers who don’t care about them.

–Daniel Daugherty

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