Korean Children Aren’t Shy! And Other Observations…

Sooo…as those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while know, I’d had some problems in the past with encouraging my shy Japanese students to participate in class. Most of the time, the routine involved a lot of one-sided conversations (me) and silent, stone-faced stares (them). I’d theorized that this was due to the fact that I was a foreigner and therefore:

1. Intimidating
2. Weird
3. Difficult to Understand
4. Really, Really Scary
But then…I went to South Korea and watched my cousins teach Korean kids, (which they were super nice enough to let me do, by the way) and that blew my whole theory out of the water.

I expected that having a new foreign visitor in the classroom would cause a serious onset of shy behavior. I felt sure that my presence would cause them to clam up, refuse to answer questions and act like motionless robots. Because that’s what would happen every time one of my supervisors (the only other foreigners who ever sat in on my lessons), would stop by for a visit to one of ESL lessons in Japan.
But I was surprised to observe that the Korean children were just as loud and rambunctious as ever. Most of them ignored me or else asked me some rather blunt questions; curious but completely unafraid. Moreover, the Korean students didn’t hesitate to shout out answers, even when they weren’t certain of the correct answer. I don’t know if it was because my cousin’s had these same students every day for the past year and a half or maybe Korean culture doesn’t foster perfectionism at the same level that Japanese culture does, but whatever the reasons, the students seemed completely at ease and comfortable communicating with each other in another language. It was amazing, really.
A Few Other Interesting Observations…
  • The Students were very affectionate! Not only with each other, but with the teachers as well. This is a part of Korean culture apparently, but I found it totally bizarre that not only do the teachers kiss their students, but they kiss them on the lips! I can’t imagine that happening in Japan…or anywhere else for that matter.
  • Koreans have a completely different system for measuring age. In Korea, people turn one years old the moment they are born and they age a year each January, regardless of their actual birth dates. This means that babies who were born in December 2008 are already two years old right now! Crazy, huh? So if you teach a kindergarten class of students who are five years old by Korean standards, some of your students could be as young as three! At that stage of development, that’s a huge age range, don’t you think?
  • All the students were called by their “English names”, and not by the Korean names given to them at birth. I’ve been told that they do this in China as well, but because the school was an English-medium kindergarten, all of the students Korean names were changed to “English names”. So at school, they went by names like “Harry” or “Sally”. My cousins’ didn’t even know these children’s real names! The situation became funny in that some of the parents picked out rather weird names for the child, like “Mighty” for example, or “Dash” and sometimes one of their students would randomly decide they didn’t like their name and one day decide to change it (and this was completely allowed!)

I wasn’t sure how I felt about the name-change system. It was done so that the teachers would have an easier time pronouncing and remembering the student’s names, but I would find the presumption that I wouldn’t remember a Korean name, sort of insulting. Plus, changing their names is sort of akin to erasing their culture, or saying that it’s not ‘good enough’ or ‘proper’ for school, and that English names are better.

I don’t know, I suppose I’m being too sensitive and over analyzing that one. According to my cousins’ the children and everyone else involved really love the idea.

Anyways, I’m definitely considering teaching English in South Korea in the future.

Apparently, with my teaching experience and certificate, I might have a good shot at getting a job teaching at the University level, which would be an amazing experience and resume builder. All that’s required is a BA! And they provide you with free housing…Not a bad deal, huh?
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