Thursday, August 22, 2013

Dating in Korea II

Pure attraction, emotional connections, and "love," many times, isn't enough in Korea.  As Americans, we have the mentality that when we want something, we try to get it, no matter how difficult it can be, and many of us apply that principle to dating.  Numerous love stories in American movies are about couples who overcame a series of extremely difficult obstacles in order to be together.  I've never realized how much the notion of 'overcoming obstacles' is ingrained into American society until coming to Korea, a society where that thought process is significantly less prevalent.

For example, the first lady that I dated here in Korea and I had numerous what she called "barriers."  Despite having a strong mutual attraction, we never became "official."  Koreans are normally rather quick to attach that status onto their relationships.  But that wasn't the case with us.  I was an American.  Her English wasn't fluent.  She was buddhist, while I was a christian.  She was so afraid that her parents wouldn't approve of her dating a foreigner that she didn't tell them about me.  She was afraid of how other Koreans would perceive her, especially the people that were close to her.  Because of those things, she never officially became my girlfriend, despite secretly dating for over six months.

Koreans place an extremely high value on their reputations within their communities.  Doing something to cause others to view them less than honorably is one of the worst things that they can do.  This particular motivation cannot be understated in their decision making process, and it is especially true when they choose their potential spouses.  That is a huge reason why Koreans seem to be less likely to allow their infatuation to overcome their logic when selecting potential partners.

At one point, the first lady that I dated, who was fluent in Chinese, casually and jokingly suggested that we both quit our jobs in Korea, and move to China.  She didn't come across as one who would grow a wild hair, but looking back objectively, I believe she saw that as one way it would work.

In Korea, the compatibility of a couple seems to have to be more than emotional and physical.  The connection has to be circumstantially logical.  For example, the parents have to approve of the relationship.  The husband has to have the right job.  The couple must look good and upstanding before other members of society.  Those, and numerous other factors have to be logically acceptable, before two people can start dating.

My current girlfriend and I became a couple rather quickly.  We are a fit, because we are both christians.  Our mutual faith enables us to have a similar world view, and we seem to understand each other's motives in various situations.  I value her advice.  Despite the fact that our tastes are different, our growth as people, and as a couple, comes from the same place, the Bible.  Moreover, her English is fluent, as she lived and went to school in Canada for several years.  Because I am a christian, her mother approves of the fact that we are dating.  Our faith is a strong commonality that we have that makes our relationship a fit.  For many christian Koreans, that can be enough to make a relationship possible.

Many logical factors can come into play in a Korean's decision to not date a person, despite being infatuated, especially with a foreigner, among them being the fact that the westerner will eventually return to their home country, while the Korean is faced with a dilemma of whether or not to go with his/her partner, or even to stay together for that matter.  For example, my former coworker, who is a westerner, and her Korean boyfriend broke up because she told him that she is definitely going home to the States once her contract with her school is finished.

Americans, many times, date simply because there is a strong mutual infatuation.  And as they do so, and get to know each other, the circumstantial logistics are taken into consideration, or even confronted when they have to be.  Many times, those circumstantial logistics are ignored or overlooked if the physical and emotional connection is strong enough.  (It doesn't seem to be a coincidence that most of the divorces in America are because of finances.)

The notion that most Americans believe that "love" is enough is a reason why the courtship/engagement process in America tends to last a lot longer than it does in Korea.  I find that, generally speaking, Americans get married at a younger age, but do so at a later stage in the relationship.  Most of my American friends were married soon after graduating from college, but they dated and were engaged to their wives for three, four, or even five years before getting married.  And many of those that didn't graduate college tend to get married soon after high school.

The inverse seems to be true with Koreans.  Koreans get married at an older age, but do so at an earlier stage in the relationship than most Americans.  Koreans seem to be so career and educationally driven that for many of them, dating seems to be lower in their priorities.

If a Korean couple is of age, and are settled in their careers, they seem get married at an early stage in the relationship, by American standards, because everything is a fit.  So why not, and why wait?  I have heard of Korean couples agreeing to get married after dating for a few months, but I find that most couples here wait around a year, before discussing it.

Some of my friends at home have children around the age that I am teaching, so when coming to Korea, I was expecting to interact with parents who were close to my age, but that isn't the case.  The parents of the children that I teach are a lot older than I am.

Is one culture's mindset superior than the other?  They both have their strengths and weaknesses.  Americans, many times, overlook obvious red flags when dating, because they are together on the sole basis of attraction.  Many times, American divorces are because of the fact that logical circumstancial differences become too difficult.

Many times, Koreans can have a tendency to weigh logical circumstances too heavily in choosing who to go into a relationship with, when love and chemistry should be more of a factor.  Divorce doesn't seem to be as prevalent here as it is in America.  But unfaithfulness is every bit as such, and prostitution is significantly more prevalent and accepted here than it is in America.  That is certainly evidence of weaknesses in the marriage and family culture.

Upon coming to Korea, I thought that men are men, and women are women, so dating worldwide is universal, and as the old saying goes, "love is the universal language."  I find that to not be the case.  Attraction is universal.  Emotional connections and chemistry are universal.  But certain dating customs are not, and different aspects of relationships seem to be emphasized more by different cultures. 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

My School and the Korean Education System

I feel like I have settled in quite nicely in my new school.  I am currently teaching for what's called an after-school program.  My previous school was a hogwan.  As I may have mentioned before, after Korean kids finish their regular schooling for the day, it isn't common for them to go to baseball practice, or dance class like many American kids do.  Korean parents pay money to send their children to specialized private academies where their kids receive additional schooling.

Korean society is so competitive, and it seems to be extremely important for parents to enable their children to get into the best universities.  There seems to be less top tier universities in Korea than there are in countries like the United States and England.  On top of that, the importance of education in Korean society cannot be understated.  For a combination of these two reasons, Korean parents send their children to these hogwans.  A large number of them pay huge sums of money for their children to attend them.  There are hogwans of all different types.

There are music hogwans, math hogwans, Chinese hogwans, and  computer hogwans, among others.  But English hogwans seem to be the most numerous and prominent.    

My previous school in Gwangju was one of these English hogwans where parents pay a rather large rate for their children to attend, and this school had a total enrollment of around 1,000 students.  The hogwan industry in Korea is enormous, and huge sums of money is made here by successful hogwan owners.

I heard stories of certain parents taking second jobs to enable their children to attend, and it is fairly safe to assume that this is not an uncommon practice throughout Korea.

It is, no doubt, a "keep up with the Joneses" mentality here when it comes to education, and the stakes are extremely high.  If a parent sends his/her child to a hogwan with a great reputation, and that kid is seen to have an advantage in school and in test taking, then other parents feel almost forced to send their children to something similar, so their children will not fall behind in the race to get into a top tiered university.

My previous hogwan's focus in its marketing was that it will enable the children to have higher test scores on these high school and university entrance tests.  In many advertisements, it had a long list of names of students who went through the curriculum, and scored highly on these exams.

Apparently, there are a lot of academies in Korea that are very similar to my former employer, because as my Korean friend explained, scores on these entrance exams are increasing, making it increasingly difficult for these top tiered universities in Korea to select the best students, so now, they have made their entrance exams even more difficult, and thus, applying even more pressure to these students.

Again, in my current teaching job, which is my second in Korea, I work for what is called an after-school program.   My workplace is a public elementary school, and I have an office there, but I am not an employee of that school.  My employer is a private company contracted out by the school board to give access to an effective English curriculum to children of parents who don't want to pay high rates to send their children to a hogwan.

I knew about the job opening for my current employer before leaving my previous school, and I asked my boss about after-school programs such as mine, and although he did recommend me as an employee, he didn't recommend them as an employer.  I now understand why, because my current employer is a direct competitor of my former.  

I teach around 150 students, and my employer has contracts with around thirty public schools like mine in the greater Seoul metropolitan area, so like my previous boss, my current one is doing rather well financially.

I only work around six hours a day, sometimes less, and the atmosphere is really laid back.  My superiors are in a central office somewhere in Seoul, and I rarely come in contact with them.  I am free to do things the way that I feel is best for me and the kids.  So my job is highly desirable among foreign teachers in Korea.

I teach elementary school students ranging in grade levels from the first grade to sixth grade.  They are every bit as awesome as my previous students.  Generally speaking, their level as English speakers is considerably lower than those that I taught at my previous job, but they make up for it with their wonderful attitudes, and their desire to learn.

A story about my first grade class:

For some reason, my students, especially my first and second graders, respond extremely well to role-play exercises, where they act out various scenarios in English.  They love it, and it seems to be really effective in teaching the concepts that the books are introducing.

Each grade level that I teach has two classes, one for the more advanced students of that age, and one for those of a lower level, in terms of speaking.

One particular lesson for my lower-level first graders was to teach my students the following dialogue.  "You can borrow my _____."

"Really?! Thank you very much."

"You are welcome."

I introduced the text, and taught the children how to properly pronounce it, and as soon as they were able to say it, they were lining up at the front of the classroom.  I didn't even have to prompt them.  They were orderly, and in line with props in hand.  "Teacher, you can borrow my pencil case."

I would act surprised, smile, and respond with, "Really?! Thank you very much."

"You are welcome."

The next student would be next in line.  "You can borrow my scissors."

"Really?! Thank you very much."

"You are welcome."

And then the next student, "You can borrow my book bag."

"Really?! Thank you very much."

And as it would go on, they would start handing me whatever they could get their hands on.  "You can borrow my umbrella."

"You can borrow my shoe."

"You can borrow my (sweaty) baseball cap."

I would respond sarcastically, "Really?! Thank you very much."

"You're welcome."

It's kind of funny that this was the most enthusiastic these kids were for a lesson.  It may not be a big deal, but I was really encouraged by that.  Maybe when they are older, they will see a foreigner in need, remember this particular lesson, and be inclined to say, "Hello.  You can borrow my ____."

Although my job is rather laid back, I take my position as a teacher, authority figure, and role model seriously.  I want them to remember me positively when they become older.  I want to lay a foundation for them to possibly become fluent English speakers.  I do not want to them to be at a disadvantage.  And as an authority figure in their lives, I feel it is my responsibility to be a moral example for them.  I want to be a contributor of not only their success as Korean citizens, but I also want to contribute to their development possibly as people of integrity, so I am highly motivated as a teacher.