Waegukin - living and teaching in Korea

blue dot
Sep
05
2012
Living 

Love motel review: Yeonhwajang Yeogwan, Gujora Beach, Geoje-do

Hat rack

This is the first in what will be a series of reviews of love motels. I am  unapologetically obsessed with love motels; they’re one of my favourite things about Korea.

The conceit of this series is that, besides reviewing motels, it will give me the chance to write travelogues with whatever anecdotes and observations I might want to make, without the need to write those awful “My trip to Blahblahblah”-style blog posts. Travel in Korea as viewed through the prism of love motel exploration; I like that. Read more

blue dot
Aug
31
2012
Teaching 

Why Korean teachers teach English in Korean

I can't speak Korean

I recently read an interesting article by Sang-Keun Shin with the great title “It Cannot Be Done Alone”: The Socialization of Novice English Teachers in South Korea (abstract here, but you need a subscription or university access to read the full text).

The article looks at why young Korean English teachers, many of whom speak English very well and who have been trained in Teaching English in English (TEE, or TETE), nonetheless switch to teaching English in Korean once they get into Korean middle- and high-school classrooms.

The push to have Korean teachers teach English in English began with the revised seventh national curriculum in 2008, which emphasized learner-centered instruction, task-based lessons, and TEE. The Ministry of Education sees it as a path towards Korean teachers being able to teach without assistance from native speakers. As a native teacher in Korea, I’d previously only come across Teaching English in English in the context of foreign English teachers being phased out of Korean schools Read more

blue dot
Aug
28
2012
Best-of Stories 

Saying goodbye to my school

Goodbye message from a student

Today was my last day at my Daegu elementary school. On Sunday I move to Gyeonggi-do to teach at a tiny elementary school with less than 70 students.

Goodbyes are difficult for me. There are students and teachers here who I have become close to. I find that goodbyes can feel fraudulent, even when you truly want to be sincere. Because both of you know that despite your protestations of “Let’s stay in touch!” and “I’ll see you later!” you will never again spend much time together. Not because you don’t like each other, but because the life connections that brought you together are now gone, and when that happens the best you can hope for is to stay casually, occasionally in touch. So you strive for a tone of sincerity and authenticity, and that striving makes it insincere and inauthentic, because those things are defined by their lack of artifice.

But there is real sentiment there – it’s just hard to find the right words to express it. And it is harder when your relationship has traversed barriers of culture and language, and in the case of students, age and the strictures of Confucian relationships. Read more

blue dot
Aug
17
2012
Teaching 

Teaching English in Korea – the big guide

babo korean students having fun

Are you thinking of coming to Korea to teach English? This page aims to tell you everything you need to know to become an English teacher in Korea.

Read more

blue dot
Aug
15
2012
Culture Stories 

My co-teacher tries to teach students to be less racist

rastafarian man

This is a short anecdote illustrative of how far Korea has to go in making racial progress.

A while back, I had a co-teacher who was very progressive. She was a member of the Korean liberal teachers’ organization JeonGyoJo, which among other things works to promote gender equality and to de-emphasize the “teaching for tests” approach so prevalent in Korean schools.

This co-teacher was disturbed because whenever we taught an English class, and the textbook character Peter, who was African-American, came on screen, the students would laugh and say things like “African” and “monkey”. Read more

blue dot
Aug
13
2012
Culture 

Korean age calculator

old korean man

In Korea, everyone is 1 from the time they are born. And everyone gets a year older on New Year’s day. So your Korean age is always either one or two years older than your Western age. And yes, a baby born on New Year’s Eve can be two years old the next day, although in practice people wait awhile before they start talking about somebody’s Korean age.

Working out your Korean age can be tricky. Even more so because Koreans frequently go by the Lunar (Chinese) New Year. And that is when your head starts to hurt. It hurts even more when you try to figure out how to algebraically parse things to make a javascript Korean Age Calculator, but that is what I’ve done. So here it is – put in the relevant information and it will convert your age to Korean years, according to both the Solar and Lunar (Seollal) calendars. Have fun. Read more

blue dot
Aug
12
2012
Best-of 

Tagada rides of Korea

Woobang Land tagada

The appeal of amusement rides comes from the illusion of danger. But of course you know it is an illusion; no matter how fast or high a rollercoaster is, nor how many loops you go through, you know that you are securely harnessed to your seat.

The appeal of a tagada ride is different. With a tagada, there is no illusion of danger; they are genuinely dangerous. They may not be as fast as a rollercoaster; they don’t invert you, or drop you from great heights. Instead, they spin you and bounce you on a steeply angled disc, which doesn’t seem like much, compared to other rides. Except for this: you are not restrained, except by your own grip on a couple of bars behind your head. And in a tagada ride, there is a carnie manually operating the controls. And he is trying to bounce you out of your seat. And he is mocking you while he does it.

If he succeeds, you may go flying across the ride into other passengers. Or, if you are even more unlucky, you will go flying out the ride’s gate, or be literally bounced off the ride completely.

Korea loves the tagada ride, where they are also known as taga discos or tambourine rides. No amusement park or carnival is complete without one. Read more

blue dot
Aug
07
2012
Teaching 

Lying to your students for fun and (educational) profit

Evil Christian Santa at the Jeonju Lantern Festival

Robin Hanson relates this story of a favorite professor who challenged his students to find a single lie he included in every lecture. It’s a great technique for getting students to engage with your content, and I can’t wait to try it next semester.

A problem with English education in Korea is that it produces students with a great deal of book knowledge who are nonetheless incapable of communicating in English. This problem begins in elementary school and can continue through to adult life. There is one teacher at my school who is currently doing his PhD and reads academic articles in English, but cannot or will not speak English at all. This lack of communicative ability is not true of all students, but particularly for reticent and bookish students, it can be a big problem – the system’s focus on tests that don’t include a speaking component allows students to “study English” without ever really having to produce it.

One of my favorite techniques for overcoming this is to say things which are outrageous or provocative enough that students will activate their English just to disagree with me. It’s a technique that requires a light touch – it always has to be in fun, or you risk alienating your students. But done well it can be very successful. Read more

blue dot
Aug
06
2012
Teaching 

Public school jobs vs hagwon jobs

elementary school kids in korea

This is a supplement to the Waegukin big guide to teaching English in Korea.

There are many web pages which discuss the pros and cons of hagwon (private academy) and public school jobs. Unfortunately, they tend to discuss this as if someone interested in teaching English in Korea should carefully balance the advantages and disadvantages of each. They usually conclude by saying that hagwon jobs have some benefits, while public school jobs have different benefits, and it depends on the individual.

Don’t believe this.

Public school jobs are better than hagwon jobs.

I am going to be absolute on this. Public school jobs are just better; hagwon jobs are second-rate. Read more

blue dot
Aug
04
2012
Living 

Romanization and pronunciation of Korean names

The romanization of Korean names is pretty haphazard.

There is a well-established system for transcribing Korean words into English. It is the Revised Romanization of Korean. It is a very logical system (with a few odd quirks) and if you are familiar with it, it is very easy to know how to pronounce a Korean word from its English spelling. The problem is that if you are not familiar with it, it can make things very difficult. Read more