Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Politeness in Korea (Emily Post would be proud)

I know this post is out of the ordinary but something happened in school today that got me thinking and i thought i'd share it.

Do you know how polite Koreans and Korean society are?  Tonight I learned about a Korean party game where the object is to speak rudely to others.  That's it.  Be rude.  Be disrespectful.  Please take a minute to think about that.

And while you're at it, think about this too.  The Korean language has different forms of nearly every word depending on what level of person you are addressing.  Whether the person is above you (ie older than you or in a position of authority like a teacher or boss), equal to you (your same age or a coworker) or below you (younger than you or your subordinate) completely changes what you say and how you say it.  You refer to a person older than you by even one year as "older brother" or "older sister", not by their first name.  Teacher's are ALWAYS addressed as "Teacher" or "(name) Teacher".  So my kids always call me Luke Teacher or Teacher.  Never Luke.

In fact while playing that rude game, one of my students started to address me and began with "teacher" out of pure habit.  He blushed but before he could try again I told him to shut up which made everyone laugh since it was the object of the game.  But I find it very significant that even in a game designed expressly to allow rudeness, Korean kids have trouble overcoming the conditioning of both the society and the language.

Can you imagine this in America?  Especially amongst men, rude and sarcastic interactions are so routine that politeness is greeted with surprise and often concern.  In the US this game might be reversed to see who could address the others in the most polite and courteous way possible.

When you realize that manners and proper forms of address are so important to Koreans that their very language is built around them, you begin to see the advantages and disadvantages it brings.  On the plus side, it produces a very polite society.  Respectful of elders.  Not prone to demonstrations, disruptions or questioning authority.  And this is also part of it's downside.  Questioning authority can lead to either trouble or to progress and improvement.  Because it isn't comfortable or acceptable to question your social superiors here, innovation and creative thinking is stifled.

I could give examples like how this is part of the reason that a revolution in North Korea is extremely unlikely or the trouble it causes Expat works when we arrive (Being polite to my boss is one thing.  Thinking of them as my social superior is something I am NOT prepared to do).

However, ultimately the freedom to question authority is also the freedom to encourage creation and innovation.  It's up to each society to decide how much they want to embrace that freedom. And I think we can safely say which way America went on that choice.  Whether that is a good or bad thing I leave up to you to decide.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Decision made

Looking out over Jeju City from Sarabong.  I'm actually really proud of this one and think it's one of my best pictures.  What do you think?  Click on the picture to see a bigger version.

You may recall last week I was facing the rather important decision of what to do with my future.  This decision had immediate ramifications if I wanted to start a PhD program next year.  And I have reached at least a partial decision.

As both my parents and Vicky pointed out, if I'm not completely excited, fired up and thrilled to begin a PhD then now is probably not the right time to start one.  Given the time, work and career narrowing aspects of a doctorate degree, it is not something to be entered into lightly.  I certainly haven't ruled one out.  But I'm not going to frantically scramble to get the paperwork ready and spend anywhere from $500-1000 on it (GMAT fee, flight to Seoul to take the GMAT, and application fees add up fast) unless i am certain now is the right time for it.  Perhaps next year i'll feel differently.

For now I'm going to concentrate on enjoying my current experience in Korea with Vicky and start thinking about what to do when this year abroad ends.  Whenever that decision gets made (and it won't be for a while), i'll let you know.

On a lighter note, I got my new schedule for November and it is wonderful!!!!!!  My worst class is gone!  It was a phonics class that was filled with such beginners that I couldn't even give them instructions or discipline them.  Sunny agreed with me that they would be better off with a Korean teacher and changed them to another teacher.  And not only are they gone, I teach only 5 classes a day and have at least one break every day.  This last month i've been teaching about 6-7 a day.  I also get to go into work later while still leaving at the same time.  I did a celebration dance in the teachers lounge when i saw this schedule (it was the gangnam style dance for those of you who are curious).

So with a great new schedule in hand, I head into next month excited for the possibilities and looking forward to the holiday season to come.

Jeju City as the lights begin to come on

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ping Pong on Jeju

 Halla Mountain as seen from Sarabong

This week has been fairly low key.  Aside from being nicknamed The Hulk by one of my classes (because of my penchant for picking up bad students and shaking them, sometimes upside down), seeing a 2nd grade girl in one class pretend the boy in class was her dog (and he played along by taking commands to sit, play dead and attack) and going with one of my coworkers to a restaurant only to find out her Mom owns it, other than all that it's been a quiet week (actually that's a pretty normal week for me here).

Jeju's lighthouse and part of the harbor

It sounds silly but one of the things I missed about Korea was good competition in ping pong.  There are many more tables and good players over here.  There are dozens of places just in Jeju City built entirely for people to come in and play ping pong.  They rent tables, paddles, balls and even ping pong shoes to people who go there.  And people wonder why Asians are better at table tennis.  Fortunately I always did love a challenge.

Sunday was a classic example of that.  I played against a Korean hagwon teacher.  His style made him a great defender.  Getting the ball past him was very tough.  My style makes me a great offensive threat.  My grip allows me to generate huge pace from almost any angle.  So my spins and power faced his quickness and defense.  The match was almost dead even.  And it was a blast!  I haven't played someone that good in a long time and i loved every second of it.  We even played Princess Bride style for a while (hint: "I admit that you are better than me."  "Then why are you smiling?"  "Because I know something you don't know.  I am not left handed!").  Overall I thoroughly enjoyed it and i'm thankful for the opportunity to have such fun during my time here.  And next week Vicky will be joining us too :)

For now it's time to relax and enjoy the weekend.  And thanks to the Cowboys game being the noon game and being the only decent game on this weekend, I might even get some sleep Sunday night :)

A redoing of my lighthouse picture from the last update.  Which one do you like better?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Walking around Sarabong

 The Lighthouse at Sarabong, Jeju

For those of you waiting on an update, sorry it's been so long.  I've been busy and distracted the last few weeks and frankly forgot to write one.  Plus I didn't have any new pictures until recently.  But without further adieu and with no more gilding the lily, i present your new update.

The last month has been good but busy.  Both Vicky and I have constantly morphing schedules.  For the last couple weeks, the middle school students here have been studying for their midterms constantly.  So Vicky especially had a lot of classes canceled because the students wanted to use the time for test preparation.  She didn't complain.

I've had quite a few classes added to my schedule.  Some I like a lot, some less so.  But that's all part of working.

Cool looking temple on the side of Sarabong

The biggest news/decision in my life right now is figuring out if I want to apply to grad school for a PhD.  My options for next year when we finish here in July are A) start a PhD program  B) try to find a job in Texas  C) find another teaching job abroad if I haven't quite got traveling out of my system.  Now making decisions for what I will do next July/August would seem premature except the application deadlines for most PhD programs for the semester next Fall are anywhere from Dec 1 to January 1.  And getting the necessary paperwork, recommendations, essays, etc together will probably take at least a month.  So it's decision time.   Right now I'm completely neutral, not leaning towards any of them.  I'll let you know when I decide which way to go.

One funny story from school (and pardon the one bad word in this story but it wouldn't be funny if I changed it).  In one of my smarter classes, we finished a little early. Daniel (the smartest one in the class) started using the computer. It was horribly slow as usual. I sent him to Google Translate so he would have something to occupy him.  I set it to translate Korean to English.  He promptly typed something in Korean, then pointed to the computer. I glanced down at Google's English translation and saw only one word. "SHIT"

In between riotous bouts of laughter, i told him "yes it is Daniel".

Oh before I go, Vicky suggested I add a comment about our plan to save money on heating this winter.  Just as I did last year, we will be employing a combination of occasional floor heating and a hairdryer.  Why a hairdryer you ask?  Because in winter I don't care if the whole room is warm.  I only care if I'M warm.  Next time it's cold, try this experiment.  Get under a blanket, then turn a hairdryer on and blow the hot air under the blanket.  It will A) feel amazing as the waves of heat wash over you and B) keep you nice and toasty warm without the expense of heating the whole room.  But reason B is secondary to me.  I just love the way it feels :)