Monday, September 29, 2008

psycho analysis of korea

i've kind of been going through this funk. i think it's a funk from finding myself at the bottom of the pit again. at a place where life starts and new foundations begin to build. it's always hard to see the view when you don't even have a structure to stand on. it's tough, but i know that in the end, i will find myself in a place where i can look down and say, "i just did that, can life get any better?" i suppose that is always the motivation to keep driving forward regardless of whatever hardships we face. though we may not see the end of the tunnel yet, we can only imagine and hope for what that feeling will be like -- that feeling of accomplishment and validation in our abilities to persevere and overcome these obstacles and challenges.

my work as a teacher is hard. i love it, but it's definitely very challenging, especially with the language barrier, and especially since they are tweenies. some days they come in so excited to learn, other days they just want to goof off. some days they seem interested and engaged, others they are distant and bored. it's hard because their levels of english vary so much. i have some 1st graders that are more advanced than my 3rd graders. as you can imagine, it's hard to make lessons that fit with everyone. it's also hard to do the same lesson 18 times using the same jokes when i know that my co-teachers have heard them at least 4 times. despite all of this, the little progress that i do see is the most amazing thing. when i hear my girl's voices echoing down the hall of things i've taught them, it makes me so happy. when i see them make the effort to speak english whenever i pass by to catch my attention, i can't help but smile. i feel so privileged to be the one that gets to teach them English. at the same time, this excitement is also a little tarnished by my apprehensions about what i'm actually doing here. hmmm, what does that mean? well let me give you a little 4-1-1 on korea and english.

as many of you may know, korea is crazy about learning english right now. for obvious reason, english gives you a competitive edge and a little more leverage in the international market. english has become the international language. why? because we, the native english speakers come from a land of power and money. everyone else is struggling to be like us. so, over 3000 native english teachers were hired by the korean government to teach in the public schools. now, we get paid pretty well, so it's hard to complain. a great salary, free housing, and practically free lunch every day at school. our schools pay for many of our basic furnishings and appliances, so we're set when we get here. president crazy-man lee has this vision of having every student fluent in english my the time they reach high school. his master plan is to have math and science taught completely in english by the year 2012ish or 15 (can't remember the exact date). seriously now? as if korean students don't have enough stress. the average korean household spends about 14 trillion won annually on private english tutoring/after school programs. in addition to how much the government alone is spending on english education, a lot of freaking money is being paid to us native english speakers. the reason i feel so apprehensive is due to what i've seen of this country so far. the president has said that the vicious cycle of poverty that exists in korea could come as a result of the english divide (between those who can afford private tutoring and those who can't). let me tell you, there is a huge gap between the wealthy and the poor in korea, and it's wicked sad. two-thirds of s. korea's population live in seoul. everyone else lives in what is non-affectionately know as the "shee ghol" - the coutryside, the boonies. it's where the poor folk live. if it's not seoul, then it's the see ghol. there is hardly a middle class in korea, which is where the problem lies. how can a government say that teaching english will bridge the divide between the poor and the rich, when it will only separate it. i was talking to one of my friends who has a friend working outside of seoul. his friend told him that many of the students outside of seoul are incredibly poor and live with their grandparents. their parents leave them to live/work in the city to try to make a living. the resources in the schools are minimal and the level of english that the students are at in comparison to their seoul counterparts are not definitely not equal. he told me that he wanted his friend to move into the city to teach, but she didn't want to because the kids outside of the city need a lot of love. so still, the ones who are really learning english are those who can afford to pay for the private classes. but how can a government, and so many families justify spending so much money towards this venture when they can't even help their poor? the welfare system here is practically non-existent. it is so sad. my heart breaks when i see the beggars in the subway stations. they are old, poor, disabled, starving, cold people living in the tunnels of this "high-tech" city. if this is how the poor are in the city, i can't even imagine what it's like in the see ghol. i understand now what professor uriu meant about korea's "growth first ideology." growth first, that's the bottom line. to be the best at any expense, even if it's their own people. korea has had to deal with a lot of catching up, and a lot of set backs along the way, which is why i feel they are so fervent in their endeavors to be so competitive at any cost. i don't know, i may be over stepping my boundaries, and i may be just speaking out of ignorance because i really have never and will never truly understand what it means and what it is to be korean. but in my opinion, this growth first ideology is all jacked up. not just in political terms, but in social terms. korea's economic growth in such a short period has really opened the flood gates. i see it as the younger, deprived child, and now that it acquired a little success, it's painting the town red. the materialism in this country is so nuts. not to say that america is any better, but seriously, korean's are obsessed with the latest fashion, the newest and coolest toys, gadgets and gizmos. you have to get the new one, the best one, the shiny one, the one that the anorexic french models are wearing. you have to mutilate your face otherwise you won't be beautiful. here's a fact for you, did you know that 1 in every 2 women in korea have had some sort of cut, sew or prick done to their face. i honestly don't care if someone choses to augment their body, it's their choice, but what does it mean when 50% of the women in a country are drastically changing their facial features all for the sake of being "the best?"

so, i don't quite know how i got to this point. but that's just my two cents for the evening.

keep the peace, spread the love! thanks for reading.


SuJason25 said...

hj, for some reason while i was reading your post, i cant shake the feeling that something like his has happened before. its history repeating itself, i just cant figure out what history.

nonetheless, you have a knack of seeing past your role and offer a large range in ur point of view and im glad you're sharing that. u'll get over that runt, as with all ur past and future runts.

i miss you hannah johnson!!!

12FV, RFV said...

so deep. the worlds got lots of problems dont it?

Neena Dolwani said...

I guess Korea is learning from the good ol' United States of America. I feel like we have exported materialism all over the world and it will be the downfall for so many developing economies. All the wealth will be filtered up to the top in Korea just like America. Did you know 250 families own more wealth than most of the rest of the population of the WORLD? Sigh.

Jeremy Says..... said...

I heard that Korea was somewhat materialistic from my friends but I didn't know it was to that extent...I really enjoyed reading your blogs about Korea! I'm learning so much about the Korean culture from your posts! Keep 'em coming!