Archive for November, 2011

Baek-il Reflections


Traditionally, a baby reaching the age of 100 days here in Korea is cause for celebration. The celebration is called baek-il and involves, according to Wikipedia, worshipping someone called Samshin as a means of thanking her for looking after mother and her young through a difficult period in both their lives. Today is my 100th day in Korea. So far there has been no enjoying of rice cakes and wine, as is customary; and I haven’t prayed to Samshin as I don’t feel as though I’ve received a huge amount of help from her. But today is Friday, and it is payday, which somehow feels just as good. Here are a few things I’ve learnt in my time here.

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Culture Shock


I once wrote about the time I hated Korea – about a time when my every attempt to smoothly, swiftly and successfully complete something as fundamental as shopping for supplies was seemingly blocked by an invisible force working explicitly in opposition to me. I mentally – justifiably or otherwise – lay the blame at the feet of Korea. Not a person or a group of people; but a whole nation: an accumulation of its history, geography, tradition, cultures, inhabitants and everything else that constitutes the place. I hated Korea. I later realised that what I had undergone is known as culture shock. During orientation in Jeonju (which seems like years ago, now) we were warned about this – it being the second phase that every native teacher experiences while here, after the honeymoon and before two others I’ve forgotten but that might well return to haunt me one day. I sat there and sort of scoffed to myself, however: I’m a seasoned traveler; I’ve lived abroad before; and anyway, shouldn’t culture shock hit as soon as one touches down in his new surroundings, rather than a few weeks or months down the line as this guy’s claiming? I’m not the kind of guy to go around irrationally blaming people and objects for behaviour traits that a population has cultivated for thousands of years. Of course, I was wrong – as my earlier blog will testify to – and since then I’ve caught myself muttering angrily about some Korean idiosyncrasy or other simply because I’m not used to it. Here I’ll write a little about some of the more interesting and relevant ones.

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The Open Class and How Korea Gets Things Wrong


I have just performed my second open class since moving to Korea to teach. I hesitated after the first three words of this post and I was racking my brains for a more appropriate verb to use when it struck me that ‘perform’ was perfect – because on reflection the programming and practice (before) and the posing and the precision (during) make these open classes pseudo-lessons: performances. I have noticed here that a robotic predilection to avoid deviation from directions that come from above permeates the Korean education system – whether these directions are effective or not – and this manifests itself in such things as co-teachers’ biblical devotion to the elementary school textbooks. Of course I’m generalising massively, but my point is that a satisfactory open lesson does not a good teacher make, and the belief that it does is representative of some common misconceptions that I believe certain teachers, parents and head honchos hold.

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Busan Fireworks Festival


It is now two trips out of two within a month to¬† different Korean cities for festivals of light that have left Elizabeth and I wondering if our attempts at making the most of precious time off work by seeing and experiencing as much of this country as possible are really more worthwhile than nights in in front of downloaded, poor-quality English telly. The first, the Lantern Festival in Jinju, was hellish to get to but pleasant upon arrival; of the second, last weekend’s sojourn to Busan for its annual International Fireworks Festival, the opposite could almost exactly be said. However, our time there really allowed us to experience full-on and first-hand some of the delights and downsides of Korean public behaviour.

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