- Jeju Island School Field trip
- Beyond Qualifications: contextualizing the foreign English teaching experience
- My feelings on the media that either says that the DPRK is a dangerous threat, or that the DPRK is not a big deal and it’s a situation most South Koreans are numb to
- A continuation of my “not-a-30/30″ poetry series
- Not even gonna call this part of 30/30 cause that would be lying
soblesse on Beyond Qualifications: context… “I think Shaw… on Beyond Qualifications: context… . on Beyond Qualifications: context… soblesse on 2nd time leaving Adía (@GoodIdeaAdia) on Not even gonna call this part…
I post this as an foreign English teacher working and living in Korea. I post this as a Korean-American adoptee and as a recipient of a privileged government teaching contract. I post this out of my love for education as the practice of liberation and from a desire to see us all grow. I don’t want to address directly address Korean media coverage of the topic, like MBC, as it’s in a language and context I am unfamiliar with. Rather I seek to create dialogue around why anti-foreign English teacher sentiment exists and how we as foreigners not just suffer but benefit from the systems that create these viewpoints.
I believe that the perspective of English teachers in Korea as under-qualified is a fair and valid statement—not about us as individuals (I have met many a foreign English teacher here who is overqualified), but about the way that English education by foreigners is implemented systematically in Korea. Furthermore I do not believe blame solely lies in hagwons or hiring practices, but rather lies in a structure of privilege of which English is just one branch and of which we, as U.S. citizens and English speakers, all certainly benefit from.
First we must admit to ourselves that overall our credentials and training pales in comparison to any Korean-certified teacher (this could even be said when comparing credentialed teachers in America to credentialed teachers in Korea, but that is another discussion). We must admit that our opinions and judgments of the Korea education system are equally unfounded and generally based on a set of limited personal experiences. We must admit that we have no chips on the table, that ultimately it is not our future children who will live, learn, and grow in the Korean education system.
But we are important to the Korean education system, I hear many cry. So let’s say we are qualified. Let’s say our English fluency and bachelor’s degrees do translate to effective teaching pedagogy. Let’s say we provide a global (re:American) approach to education and culture that Koreans couldn’t possibly possess. Still a larger question looms: why is there a need for English education and who is reaping the rewards?
In today’s world English functions as a filter. Some of us have access to English fluency as birthright, while others are left struggling in the margins. One need not even look beyond the borders of our country to see how English is a marker for inclusion and exclusion, the haves and have-nots. English means economic opportunity, access to some of the top Universities in the world, political power, not getting stared at while walking down the street, the difference between being labeled as friend or enemy of the state. Simply put, English is access.
English functions in similar ways in Korea as well. Many of my students study English for even more hours than their Korean. It is rigorously tested on school entrance exams regardless of its relevancy to the field of study. A lack or mastery of English can make a break a student’s academic goals, and it appears this trend will only continue as the Korean University entrance exam expands to include a listening portion.
There are very real economic benefits to speaking English, but we as foreign English teachers experience these benefits in very specific and unique ways. Like it or not, qualified or not, we get jobs, tutoring opportunities, a plane ticket to and from Korea, and shorter work hours with more vacation time than any Korean teacher I’ve heard of. We have the hearts of the Korean people and institutions of power opened to us through homestays and free or discounted language programs. And we have the ability to leave it all when it is no longer meeting our needs and return to a life back home. Our lifestyle is a far cry from the way other immigrants have come to Korea and how Koreans have come to America. Here, more often than not, our pay scales don’t reflect our qualifications or talent, but our privilege. And that money is coming out of Korean pockets to pay for Korean futures.
English education in Korea is unjust. Not because foreign teachers in Korea face slanted media coverage. Not because Korean education policy stresses long hours of English acquisition and testing. But because there is a world system of privilege that benefits those who speak English and marginalizes those who don’t. I find youth often have the sharpest sense of fairness—as one of my students put it “why do I have to learn English, I am Korean.” This is the “why” behind why we as foreign English teachers are viewed as under-qualified. This is the “why” behind the unbalanced media coverage, the misdirected anger, the misunderstandings between us and our Korean peers.
Perhaps most importantly, this “why” is the elephant in the room when it comes to discussing Korea’s educational policy shift from foreign English teachers to Korean English teachers. The Korean government’s goals are not to create ethnic purity on the peninsula or to ignore the economic and political impacts of globalization on the Korean people. It is a move to create a relevant teaching force, one that understands the pressures and intricacies of learning English in a Korean context. It is a move to provide a permanent, trained staff that can serve the needs of a population subject to an unjust global language system. It is a move towards self-determination by the Korean people. We as foreign English teachers should support these shifts, learn from them, and take these lessons back home with us. We should listen to understand the context we have been thrown into, not jump to defend our sense of self-worth whenever the system we are working in is criticized. The Korean people deserve this much.
My feelings on the media that either says that the DPRK is a dangerous threat, or that the DPRK is not a big deal and it’s a situation most South Koreans are numb to
There has been a lot of media hype about the tensions on the Korean Peninsula. While much of the media has covered the fear we should be feeling, some writers have been taking the “bold” stance of speaking about a perceived lack of concern that South Koreans have of an attack from the North. In most cases it is explained that the ever-persistent presence of threats, pressures, and remembered and experienced violence has numbed the South Korean people to the situation. But I don’t think that the only human response to dehumanizing situations is numbness. There is a life that happens as well. A way in which a moment of pain becomes transcendence and helps us understand our humanity and how we are connected to the universe.
One does not worry
when life has been spent listening to men who speak only missile,
a life of flame and moments of wreath
One prays for the green
that hands coax from dirt
until skin resembles earth
Economists call it a miracle
when cities hide their roots in polymer sheets and give
these: the same lessons a border teaches
“I’m sorry” the first words I hear
from the taxi driver
the women who sells me my garlic
when Corea is carved from me by my tongue’s sharp consonants
Maybe fast food and internet in the sky will home this place
maybe simulated bombing runs and brinkmanship will home this place
it was never the plastic that was calling me back,
but something between breath and bloodletting
like the dirt of this city for my hands
“being second generation is such a tightrope between the “homeland” and here”
—my sister on the similarities between the adoptee and 2nd generation refugee experiences
There is power when language vibrates my throat ugly
An adoptee advocate tells the Korean government
She will address them in English by choice
As English was never a choice she was given
The margins of me are a tide that pulls everything out
My throat ugly when language vibrates with power
A Corean student asks me why he must learn English
My answers blossom like Japanese cherry trees on Corean soil
the 18 years of ESL classes
I never had to take
Vine with my vocal chords and wither
If you ask me why I came back here
I can tell you:
I am living somewhere between those two stanzas
Home as much a culling
as that which is reaped
Just saw Olympus Had Fallen I wanna go buy a gun and kill every fucking Asian
—tweet about the new movie Olympus Has Fallen which features a group of North Korean villains attempting to take over the White House
War rhetoric spills from his mouth
Like a piece of gristle he grew tired of chewing
Irony is when I wonder
If he paid his taxes last year
Government’s got ways to make some wishes come true
Somewhere in the Pacific men yell into wires and metal moves
Headlines: military “exercise”
I wonder if the finger over the button
tingles like a war vet’s missing limb
When did headlines stop horrifying?
What would it take for them to horrify again?
Words don’t communicate so well any more
The way repetition seems to amputate us
from the feeling a thousand families wake up to
We, a country that’s always preferred the eraser
to anything that might strain our fidgeting eyes
Special thanks to Denise Jolly for encouraging me to write this. Check out her work at: http://www.denisejollyspoken.com/
The following two-part poem is a found poem derived from the texts of two newspaper articles-one from Tahoe, California and one from Korea-both places I am trying to navigate as home. I wanted a story that would be covered in both disparate places and would be reflective of my experiences with how I am being constructed and am constructing myself as a Korean American male. I choose the Virginia Tech Shooting.
Tahoe: Being Seen as a Precipice
where our cliffs lie
offer quiet violence as plan for exposed violence
so all strangers are red flags
a young man
becomes a house tipping over in time
behavior is raised like a stiff drink
at a social boiling point
playwriting an anger to solve our problems
with what they did
and so damn old-fashioned
for us, seen as a precipice
a part of us
they want to know
we: edge madness
gun quiet before the snap
a part of us
they never want to learn
the part of us human
writing desire into new history
Korea: Consider Leaving [again]
consider leaving if
home is all riot and fallout and
is to discover damage in the aftershocks
consider leaving if
time over there
so anxious to be Korean
horrified to hear Korean
to go out, to move in Korean
consider leaving if
others worry about programs and classes
and you worry about studying
since as a man
you are not the child you hope to be
consider leaving if
yesterday in a nightmare
community was percussion
and the parts of you: all silence
like ethnic in the U.S. should be
not shock or one act of tragedy
a safe fall
a home we emerge from each day
Been cooking a lot lately. Inspired by Jacques Pepin (thank you for the cookbook aunt and uncle!), Corean markets, adoptee farmers, and the love I have for all the friends/family that are open enough to try my creations.