Earlier this year, through the star actor in my first viral video explosion, I met a lovely new friend in Korea named Janna. A photographer, blogger, teacher, as well as a fun and creative person, I knew I would love to have her write for my blog at some point. Lucky for my readers, she agreed. Here she shares 3 things which surprised her about teaching in Korea.
My own arrival to Korea in 2006 involved a lot of confusion and alienation, and I definitely required a period of time to adjust to the new way of things around me. Awkwardly asking for my mailing address and being told to use the school's address since my apartment "didn't have one" was just one of my early moments of confusion. But sometimes it's those little moments where expectations are not met where we gain insight into the culture in which we find ourselves.
Take it away, Janna...
It wasn’t long ago that I was wrapping up my life in America and headed to Asia to teach English. After completing a portion of my student teaching in China, I rhetorically thought, “How different can Korea be?” However, the answer is, “a lot”. In Korea, I’ve worked full time in a public middle school and part time at a public elementary school. Like in any country, each school has its very own unique culture. Staying away from the specific cultural differences of each school, my focus here is on the general.
1 - Slippers
|Posing with students usually results in at least one heart, and in this case, two.|
In most Asian cultures, it’s customary to take off your shoes at the entrance of household and to wear slippers inside the home. From my experience in China, we kept our shoes on in most other establishments, including schools. Therefore, I was shocked when I arrived in Korea to discover we were to wear slippers inside the school as well. I have my own shoe locker at both schools. My feet have never been so happy in a work environment! I wear comfortable slip-ons in the warm months and warm fuzzy slippers in the winter months. This brings me to my next shocker.
2 - Indoor temperatures
|Everywhere she goes, Janna makes friends with the locals.|
I arrived in Korea at the end of August. It was humid and in the low to mid 30s every day. Growing up in the southeastern part of America, this was the spring and summer norm for me. My new foreign friends were blown away when they saw me wearing jeans. I thought I could handle this weather. What I wasn’t ready for was the lack of air conditioning. In my school, the windows were open and the air conditioning was off. Students dripped in sweat after playing outside during P.E. Female teachers gathered in the small break room where a wall unit was on blast. I had an A/C control in my room, but was monitored in the office. So, if the students weren’t in the classroom or if the temperature wasn’t above a certain degrees outside, I was asked to keep it off.
Autumn came and I recovered. The weather was beautiful for a bit, and then the South Korean chill came that I had always heard about. In my school, and in most, there is no central heating. Each room has its own control, and therefore the classrooms stay fairly warm. The hallways, however, are freezing. In the dead of winter, in the warmest city in South Korea, it was -10 and all the windows were open in the hallway.
There wasn’t a day in the winter when I wasn’t teaching in my winter coat and a scarf. All the students stayed geared up in their puffy coats, bringing blankets and hot packs for their hands into the classroom. This was a big change for me but I adjusted quickly and totally forgot. People from back home commented on pictures, “Why are you wearing gloves in the classroom?” or “Why are all the children wearing huge winter coats indoors?” I had to giggle a little.
3 - Teachers’ Dinners
|An artful student account demonstrating Janna's preferred method for disciplining students.|
Over the course of a year, you can expect to attend about 5 work dinners, usually around special times like the start of the year or end of a semester. I was excited at my first dinner – free food at a really nice restaurant and a chance for me to get to know the people I saw each day. We sat around the tables crossed legged and began to feast. The food kept coming and we all kept eating. This doesn’t sound too shocking, right?
I was enjoying being part of a normal company feast, but then it happened. I was being poured a shot of soju. Everyone got quiet and a teacher of high rank stood up to make a toast. We all toasted and took the shot. Next, the Principal stood up and spoke. We took another shot. I saw the Principal and Vice Principal in the corner stand up with a bottle of whiskey. They came around to every teacher and gave them a shot to drink. The beer started flowing. At each table, I saw shot after shot being poured. I heard glasses clinking all around me. Some ladies got away with pouring Sprite in their shot glasses and snuck out early to leave the scene. This was no ordinary dinner party, so I stayed around to see what would happen next! After dinner, most of the teachers left but about 12 stumbled or took piggy back rides to another place for more food and drinks. At the end of the night, we were about 5 strong at a norebang (singing room). The next morning, my department clapped when I walked to my desk and a co-worker said, “There’s a rumor that you’re engaged to the P.E. teacher”. Laughing, I was sure all I did was sing a duet with him. I’ve tried to understand why these dinners have a tendency to get a little wild. Simply put, Korean teachers are some of the most hardworking, determined people I have ever known, working diligently from 10 to 14 hours a day. I think 4 times a year, they just need to let loose and have a chance to bond with each other.
Teaching in slippers, extreme indoor temperatures, and wild nights at faculty dinners are just the start of surprises to come your way! Whether the shockers are good or bad, you adapt, learn, and grow from all of them. Each day in Korea brings something new and wonderful.