32 Comments

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  1. Kelsey
    Kelsey January 21, 2014 at 10:09 am . Reply

    This is so insightful. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

  2. J-Mac
    J-Mac January 21, 2014 at 5:19 pm . Reply

    I enjoyed your observations, and without getting too deep into it, I want to comment on a couple of your points. One is how Korean students therre seem to only react when theyre told to do something. Korea has always been under control by different powers up until recently, of course, you know about the Japanese annexation (not occupation) and the dictatorships of various leaders, who basically up until 15 years ago, gave up for a more democratic society. Every culture has a point its citizens strive for. For Americans, its “freedom” and “individuality,”generally. For Koreans, its power. and respect through position (like I said, I wont explain more, its a wormhole). They want to tell others what to do and not be told what to do, because they have to perform, Duty is the main driver. Theyre not taught they are individual citizens, but theyre parts of the group (the ubiquitous URI). Their social manners are taught in respect to this. Theyre taught to greet those above them, and use the respectful words, BUT generally, social manners are not really delve into, as they are concerned with themselves and their inner circles, they generally dont have regard for those outside of their groups or such, so it comes off as Socially Awkaward, in that, theyre not able to relate to other people very well ( thats the inverse result of people focusing inward). Theyre taught to not stick out too much and since they have a very small country and limited area to live, theyre always on top of each other, Because of their Confucian tradition, theyre taught there is a “correct way” to do things, but theres isnt a very specific way to do. Korean culture is very vague at best. After 13 years here, Im still not too sure EXACTLY what a Korean is supposed to be and do, but a lot of people here live that way.

    English and all foreign langauges are ways to communicate with others outside your sphere, but Korean culture is not about that at all, its the opposite. I always feel the number one problem for K-kids and K-peeps isn’t that they’re shy, its that the have these concepts of “Correct” and “Us.” Also, their nationalism works against them. If theyre the best, why should they learn another language? The Korean language is very strict and I feel quite unnatural in its modern sense (I speak Korean rather well). Korean langauge is about subservience, and the duty to the causes they have. IMO, English is much more expressive, because its a language for individual expression. English has ton of more expression than Korean does. Odd considering that, older Koreans use to brag about how many words Koreans had for colors, feelings, but in the end, not many people use those words now.

    One last thing, in Korea, being Obedient is considered good, because of the reasons said before. The words for smart and genius are used much more than clever, which really isnt the point. Modern Korean education is for the point of putting those managers in the Chaebol, so now, they need English, and I thank god for that, itll be a perpetual rolling ball of profit for the clever teachers. Because, theyre still not that good with English.

    Finally, I do very well in my classes for this reason. I bark at the kids, and I control their speech. The younger ones love to learn and sing songs, the older ones grunt a long, but Korea may have ended its dictatorship 15 years before, but itll be a dictatorship for a long long time. Smart people will take advantage of it. Korean society is already shrinking and depressed. Theres no way to fix that. Because in the end, they want these conditions for their society and education. Its a system thats always been there.

    I hope I made sense.

  3. Sharleen
    Sharleen January 22, 2014 at 6:11 am . Reply

    I’d love to read the second part to this! Very interesting piece!

  4. J-Soup
    J-Soup January 22, 2014 at 6:33 pm . Reply

    Wow, thats a hell of a response, its like part 2 of your article! So, I thank you for your time. Now, we don’t know each other, and I don’t do internet debase or arguments, but now and then Ill post something if I feel I want to contribute my thoughts, so I did. Its dangerous because I don’t feel I have to defend myself or my actions, as we are both 3rd parties to all of this.

    You are surely a writer, wow….anyway

    I cant write volumes like you and I won’t. But maybe Ill say a bit to some of your points.

    Korean society is fixable as anything can be fixed, changed, or improve, but until society itself wants to change itself, and the power structures are very strong sand still in place. The age thing, very solid. I saw it today, something ridiculous, but older vs younger. I think a lot of the changes are surface, superficial, and the biggest changes are the internet showing a lot of people how the modern world outside do it. Thats a lot of countries, but since Korea is a shame culture, I think it did a lot of what many visitors here wished they could do. It became a mirror for people to look at.

    Koreas not my 2nd home, its like my 3rd. In that time, Ive basically worked for one company, a family to be right, and they’ve kept me because even before I could speak Korean, because they knew I could understand them. I don’t have to agree with them or their ways, Im not the boss, but I showed my students/clients/etc who I was and how I lived. I didn’t pass judgement (I actually did constantly) on them, I was like this is me that is you. I let their system run as it does, and I was a light they could get English or play guitar with or whatnot. Kids always called me Hyeong by mistake, and I still get my old students and coworkers from before contacting me, they said “I never smell like a foreigner” although I really do. I didn’t say I was ever a professor or what not, but I did stay with one company 10 years, they kept me, and kept me happy, because I could “turn off the stink.” I worked very hard doing many things for them, and Im proud of what I did with the kids. My job now, a different place, is the same thing.

    I never defend myself, I have no need to mention my business, my finances, how big my member is. Now, thats theres so many foreigners here, I think thats the common internet fare here.

    Im not silly enough to think I can change anything, but I can be something to someone…its not my job to figure it out, Ill just do my job, what ever it may be, and be myself. I pay attention to the people around me. I don’t talk above them, I taught all of my classes the same way, from kinds, to Gangnam Business English. Im not above them, but I have some good ideas. Intellectual imperialism is a harsh reality to these kids, their professors and teachers have them doing some crazy stuff, but I digress.

    By the way, Ive been straight-edge all of my life, so I wouldn’t go to those bars you speak of. I agree that a lot of effects we discussed are not of Confucianism, per se, but results of the dictatorships and the lay of the land (I do think what you called the Benthamite Panopticon some how probably started during the Annexation (where tons of J-funding was poured into Korea, an extension of the Japanese empire, is what I meant)). But, Im not here to argue exact dates (I do know it was more than 15 years ago the dictatorships ended, but some do say KDJ was the first true Democratic president, although NMH was a lawyer and all of that).

    I think one language is infinitely more valuable than another because of what I have invested in it. Thats just common, isn’t it? I read once that the average Korea can use around 500 different phrases or phrasings a day, and the average American can use around 2000. Even if the numbers are inflated, it kind of makes sense. We don’t revel in the sameness, the cultural meaning and brevity of expression. I find we flip and turn words constantly, American English is quite dynamic. May I say like this: we use words to show how different/unique we are, and Koreans use words to show how alike they are. Does that make sense.

    I fear I may have already said too much, but forgive me, I have 3 languages I use daily in my head, fighting for space. Im not as articulate as some, but Im always listening.

    I did notice little insults or putdowns towards me in your volumes here, the sad part about the internet. Just because you write a lot doesn’t mean you’re right at all, nor does having a Korean wife. Ive met very educated people who are educated in all the wrong things, and sometimes common sense and awareness are more than enough as well. You wrote something, and I responded. So I thank you for your time.

  5. J-Soup
    J-Soup January 22, 2014 at 6:56 pm . Reply

    Oh and maybe one more thing. I do think the idea of the functions of “education” and “learning” are not the same at all for Koreans and us Westerners, Thats a big point. For me, Im super curious about the world. I know a lot of weird esoteric subjects, and have used some of that knowledge for my own betterment and profit. My parents saw the good in teaching me that, but I realize that the parents here don’t value that part, as much (although I have met some parent oddly who have many hobbies, and their kids do too, thats awesome!). The Socratic Method is a door leading to a another door, and so on and so forth, but here, people are not looking for doors upon doors, they want a method to get to their valued goals (good job, what have you), so by default, the KSAT has become the dictate for that. Thats their choice, because thats their societies values. I would die if I had to give up a iota of my self-expressions. I dig Geography a lot but I stump my kids and adults over and over, and thats because they dont value that. Do I look down on them because I cant fathom why they wouldnt want to go to the Greek Isles or most commonly, where is India (more get it wrong than right :) ).

    I never think English teachers are here in Korea to teach English, because like I said, language is a path to communicate with others, and thats not what Korea is about, but I think, in my own case, Im someone they want to communicate with. I think of myself as a trainer of sorts. Even now, I teach two company owners and then 3rd graders, and they all have been with me for a long time. I know what the kids parents want, I know what I can give them, and theyre competitive and can be mean, theyre K-kids, but if youre attentive, you can use that to your advantage, right? I also have great hours, btw. Not every Hagwon is the same, as you know. No way would I make my own place though. Thats just me,. Anyway…

  6. J-Soup
    J-Soup January 22, 2014 at 9:17 pm . Reply

    Thank you, I have always stayed away from Expat circles. I never find them useful, mostly.

    Luckily nowadays, theres more and more social involvement and more charity donations (not as many adoptions I hear).

    I have no idea what I would protest after 10+ years here. Donating time or money to a worthy cause, maybe. Im an only child, so I have that selfishness (in droves).

    I met a foreigner head of a business organization here to discuss life here and we both agree in Korea, alot of expats love to run around and do this and that, but the market and land! is too small. Too many big fish in a small pond, and then add every Korean trying to do the same. Alot of people trying to do something, but in the end, the Business head also said, there isnt alot of results from these people doing something here. I understand the ambition, but you have to work with ALL things within the soup that is Korea. It makes thing constricting

    But with the internet, there are avenues overseas. Thats the hope.

  7. J-Soup
    J-Soup January 22, 2014 at 9:23 pm . Reply

    Oh and the “smell like a foreigner” comment, in the US, its a insult and Id take it as that. Here, it means I get opportunites for business, etc. Cultural relativism. I think the smart person is the one who recognizes this. YMMV

  8. J-Soup
    J-Soup January 23, 2014 at 5:47 pm . Reply

    If you want to convince someone of a cause, you have to show them how it relates to them, not just what its doing. Thats sympathy. You need empathy to motivate / inspire mostly, I think.

  9. j-Soup
    j-Soup January 24, 2014 at 10:24 am . Reply

    Dude, where you intend to or not, you come across as condescending to me, when all I have been doing is stating my opinion, on this open public forum. Like I said before, I know theres a big element of bullying and snobbery to intellectualism, thats cool, but I did like the one “If I was TRULY intelligent, I would….” Me and my false intelligence. :) Also, your Orthinologist friend would clawhammer me? Im expressing my opinions, and you come back with a threat. I would say, thats not the way to debate. But I digress.

    Which of the 9 varieties of intelligence is lacking I wonder..

    Your talk of the craft brewing reminds me of the kinds of NETs we get nowadays. A bit High-Filuting for my tastes. Everyone climbing over each other, for what I feel is very little return. Everyone fights to live in Seoul (or Busan to be fair). Different strokes.

    I don’t care about it is a fine answer. Its not my bag. I don’t like jazz I like rock. Is that bad? I get off on Zeppelin much more than Miles Davis. Thats enough for me. Why does they’re need to be more?

    Isn’t life about picking and choosing? Theres only one way?

    Making the world a better place? As a teacher, I think I do that enough. Who’s to say I don’t? Not everyone in this game is a wild 20y/o or a beer connoisseur. There are others here. I reiterate, gay rights? migrant rights? What does it have to do with me? Now, immigration reform in the US, Id support, but its about 20 years too late, but Ill vote for that.. That means something to me.

    I come back because you’re nice enough to write a good response, but Im tired too now. Of course when someone says its irrelevant, it means irrelevant to me personally, unless otherwise stated. Thank you for the suggestion, but I don’t like movies per se. I prefer to get my heavy mental baggage from other avenues.

    Brain Drain happens in most conservative environments. Even my own art, I flog it outside of Korea, but I wouldn’t say if an artist “works hard” they’ll succeed, thats a small part of it. Thats a danger nowadays, i think people relegate arts to method rather than experience birthing methods. Quincy Jones said “music was waiting for God to walk into the room.”

    Theres tons of bands in Korea, even elementary kids are learning bass and drumming in hagwons now. Hongdae is full of all kinds of bands and venues now for music. Now, are they special, worth your time? Thats for you to say.

    And last of all:

    To not give back somehow, in some way, seems crass and selfish to me. Does it not strike you as crass and selfish? Especially considering that if we don’t keep moving forward, we are very likely to slide backward?)
    How do you know Im not moving forward? What is your yardstick for progression? Just because Im not into the causes of the day (pot, migrants, gay, beer) means very little in the scheme of my everyday existence. Im not here to win friends and influence people, Im here to live. You shrugged in your last signoff and now you look come off as uppity again “I would Never drink weak espresso.” IF you don’t think you do, thats ok. This your blog and you can say what you want as you want.
    Selfish? Im very selfish? Why is that bad, its what I am right now. Im not cheap, or stingy, but for my own reasons, Im selfish. You have a blue sweater, I have a red.

    Just saying man. You can respond or not, but this is my last writing. I hope you wont drop a little quip at me in the end though. I feel its not good in the spirit of idea exchange. Its not a battle, I think.

  10. J-Soup
    J-Soup January 24, 2014 at 5:42 pm . Reply

    But what I’m really doing is the same thing that those little metal fish hanging from the bells of Korean temples are supposed to remind you do: to wake people up from a sleep they don’t realize they’re trapped in.

    thnk y, sprmn. pprct yr svng m. Nc qp t th nd.

    h, nd hv wk hrt, s drnk wk cff, bt lv th tst f t nd dnt wnt t gv t p.

    gdspd, jhn glnn, p n th strtsphr, lkng dwn.

    stll dnt cr.

  11. Heather Kelly
    Heather Kelly January 25, 2014 at 3:45 am . Reply

    Great piece, Gord. I think that the issue of lack of ‘playtime’ is especially relevant. It seems to me that these kids are having their childhood stolen from them, with the result that they never really grow up. I think that this is a contributory factor to some Koreans’ inability to discuss issues that seem important to us (Westerners). This is not to say that all adult Koreans can be described this way – I’ve had many friends who were perfectly capable of arguing me ‘under the table’ – but the number who are simply unable to talk about workplace issues, and resort to either childish tantrums or silence, is disconcertingly large.

    Looking forward to the next installment!

  12. Anne
    Anne January 26, 2014 at 3:45 pm . Reply

    “I told them to look up azure, mauve, fuschia, taupe, emerald, jade… and then pointed out 99% of the time the word I heard people say in Korean was also the simplest. (빨간색, 초록색, etc.)”

    I actually asked my mother about this, and what she said was that she was my age, people commonly referred to things as “sky-colored” or “night-sky” / “navy” / “chestnut” / “jade”. And that IS how she and her friends talk. But I have also seen what you describe and so has my mother. She wonders if it’s not because people these days talk less, read less, and spend all their time texting. I’m inclined to agree. Not to split hairs, I just thought this was an interesting point you made.

    This post reminds me of a TV show I recently saw, trailing a “Gangnam mother” for a day, and the degree to which these women micromanage their children’s lives is truly suffocating, not only for the children, but the mothers themselves. It’s true that these women sacrifice a great deal, but in truth, it would be more accurate to say they suffer for the sake of their ambitions, or their fears, rather than the actual good of their children.

    Since I’ve heard some inklings from you about what the next post is going to be about, I’m just going to say this: the mother the program developers trailed admitted to being “terrified” of everyone calling her a “failure” as a mother if her child didn’t make it to a good college… even of divorce, because that “everyone” would include her husband (probably not the less because his needs have been totally ignored in this whole process of grooming the child). She admitted she barely had the strength to keep going, but she felt that if she collapsed, everything would collapse with her. That’s not a healthy attitude to take towards a nearly grown child, really. And I do think these women know it… if not their own failings, then at least they express desperation at how passive their children are, how hard it is to motivate them to keep going when motivation does not come from within. It’s a classic “they made their bed, they’re sleeping in it” case of bad parenting, I guess, but I think Korean parents could be ready for a change, if they had more confidence in themselves.

    Yeah, and sure you’re not like other foreigners I’ve met. I think that has everything to do with your attitude, though, which more expats than not seem to lack. I appreciate the thoughtful and respectful things you’ve written about this society, and hope you won’t fall into the pattern of blaming, apathy, and arrogance quite a few expats seem to follow. *ahem*

  13. John from Daejeon
    John from Daejeon January 29, 2014 at 7:45 am . Reply

    Another really great post, but I am a bit surprised you ended up expending so much effort in dealing with your troll. He lost all credibility as a supposed English teacher/trainer as soon as I saw that he has no clue about using apostrophes in writing.

  14. Roger Dupuy
    Roger Dupuy February 6, 2014 at 12:51 am . Reply

    Hi Gord. I just got done reading your original post. I was intrigued. Once I finish thinking a bit I’ll respond.

    I just wanted to say, “keep going.” Or should I say, ‘fighting!.

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