Waegukin - living and teaching in Korea

blue dot
Jun
22
2013
Living Best-of 

On fear, travel, and coming to Korea

I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it on here, but the main reason I first came to Korea was to force myself to confront fear. Actually, this is not a particularly unusual reason; I’ve met a few people who’ve had similar epiphanies and ended up in Korea because of them.

At the time I had been working from home and living alone for nearly two years. For an introvert this can be an appealing way to arrange your life, but in the long term it’s pretty dangerous to your mental health. For me, I was fine with that for a long while, and then I wasn’t fine anymore, and things fell apart for a bit. When I pulled myself back together, I had as a key understanding that I needed to do something radical with my life; something that would shake me out of my slumber and re-introduce some risk, because I had made things perfectly safe for myself, and that had become a problem.

Shortly after that, I was looking through job advertisements in the hope of finding something different to do, and came across an ad for teaching English in Korea. It was far more “different” than what I had consciously been looking for, and I was immediately gripped by a realization; that the idea was terrifying to me, and that it was also absolutely what I needed to do, and that if I didn’t do it, my realization about what I needed to do with my life was phony, and I was just a coward. Read more

blue dot
Jun
02
2013
Teaching 

Having a good relationship with your Korean co-teachers

I shouldn’t read the threads on waygook.org, because they make me crazy. But sometimes the title of a thread will intrigue me, like “Korea’s blending of Developed and Developing values in ways that don’t mix…”, and I will dip into it, only to quickly find myself in the strange cesspool of bitterness that seems to characterize the internet postings of many foreign teachers in Korea. (That message thread, by the way, was mostly about Koreans not sticking to a single side when walking. This seems to be a theme with such postings; elaborate theories drawing on whatever the poster studied as an undergraduate, all to justify trivial irritations. A lot of pop-psych and amateur sociology. Another recent thread purported to be about cognitive dissonance in Korea, but was actually about a teacher who was unable to prevent his students from ddong chim-ing him.*) Read more

blue dot
Mar
29
2013
Culture Best-of 

English slogans of Korean cities: the complete list

Wonderfull SamCheok

As much as I love Korea, it is undeniable that all Korean cities tend to look more or less the same. They may be small, medium, or large; they may have various mountains, rivers, beaches and temples of which the locals are proud; but apart from that, there is little to separate one from the next.

If you are the administrator of a Korean city, then, how can you distinguish your city from all the others? If you answered, “By appending a random English word to the city name and using it as a slogan,” then you are not new to Korea. Read more

blue dot
Mar
24
2013
Culture 

What do South Koreans really think about North Korea?

I wrote on here once that “while North Korea and the Korean War probably still dominate Western coverage of Korea, South Koreans don’t think about either very much. They are also a little… something… about talking about those things with foreigners. I still haven’t worked out what the something is, despite thinking about it a lot.”

North Korea has been in the news a lot lately, with their missile and nuclear tests and latest threats to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire”. So I wanted to take another look at that something, and try to answer the question – how do South Koreans really feel about North Korea? Read more

blue dot
Mar
02
2013
Best-of Stories 

Apple, or, Slight rebellion off 근거리

Apple sketch

I had an argument with the 부장님 who drives me to work. It was a very Korean  argument. Neither of us disagreed with the other person; we just offered up thoughts in this disembodied way, as if we were talking about other people or abstract concepts. Everything was said by implication, but it was no less stressful than if we had been screaming. I nearly cried.

The topic was desk-warming. Or maybe it was about me talking to other people about my problems, when she thought they were her responsibility, and I should have come to her. I think it was really about the gap between Western and Korean perceptions. I’m glad we had it out. And I’m glad I managed to do it in that circuitous Korean way, and that I didn’t lose my shit or damage my reputation permanently. If nothing else, I can say that: I didn’t lose my shit. Read more

blue dot
Feb
08
2013
Best-of 

10 ways to learn Korean, and how I went with them

Korean study notes

After two and a half years in Korea, I have TOPIK level 2 Korean. I took the test a year ago, after 18 months of living in Korea, and since then my Korean hasn’t improved much. I haven’t been studying. It’s probably around TOPIK 1.8 these days, if there were such a thing. I’m going backwards…

TOPIK Level 2 means I can theoretically “discuss familiar topics employing a vocabulary of about 1,500∼2,000 words”, which sounds about right. I can make small talk with taxi drivers and communicate my needs when I need to. When I talk with a student outside of class, it is usually about half in English and half in Korean, both of us code-switching constantly. I can have a conversation in Korean with a Korean – so long as they make allowances for my abilities, put effort into deconstructing my mangled grammar, and stick to easy topics.

This puts me ahead of about ninety percent of the English teachers here, and you know what? I think it is a pretty pitiful achievement on my part. Read more

blue dot
Feb
04
2013
Teaching 

“It depends on your school…”

There is a phrase you hear a lot when you first come to Korea: “It depends on your school.” Often this is said with a shrug and the word “just” – “Ahh, it just depends on your school.”

There are aspects of the situation you will find yourself in that are just random, uncontrollable. And you have to prepare yourself for that. Read more

blue dot
Jan
27
2013
Teaching 

My favorite English Camp activity

Need an idea for a Summer/Winter English camp activity that is:

  • Good for students from second grade through high school?
  • Requires almost no preparation?
  • Will take anywhere from an hour to an entire day?
  • Students love?

Of course you do! If you are anything like me, you would almost give body parts for decent activities. This is my favorite English camp activity: making Rube Goldberg machines. Read more

blue dot
Jan
26
2013
Best-of Stories 

Remembering Yeti

Some students are charming and bright, and immediately demand your attention. Some students are deeply troubled: they show signs of OCD or parental neglect or abuse. The damaged ones are usually not much good at English – they have too much else going on in their lives to think about it. Sometimes you can help those students, if only by being available to them and being kind to them; despite the language barrier, or maybe because of it, you are outside the system enough for them to trust you.

It’s rare for a student to fall into both of those categories – to be both bright and charming, and also damaged. Actually, I can recall only one such student, and that was Yeti. Read more

blue dot
Jan
15
2013
Culture 

Are Koreans…? Part 2: abilities, sexuality, and random queries

robot haraboji

I seem to have a habit on this blog of promising posts which I never get around to delivering. This following was mostly written at the same time I wrote the first “Are Koreans…?” post, but it was Sunday night, and I put the second half aside, intending to complete it later in the week. Three months later, I’ve finally got around to finishing it.

A reminder: this was a result of me playing around with Google’s auto-search feature for the phrase, “Are Koreans…”, then attempting to answer the questions. I have tried to give researched answers where possible, and personal opinions and experiences where it is not. Any generalizations – and there are a lot of them – are just that: generalizations, which may or may not be true of any individual Korean. Read more