Elwood 5566

Beach Bum Teachers

Posted in bathhouse Ballads, Comparative, Education, Westerners by 노강호 on July 2, 2010

I took a walk around Keimyung University, Daegu,  and  passed a couple of  plastic professors one of whom wore a three piece suit and the other, white trousers, jacket and a Panama hat. True there were a few casually dressed waygukins kicking about but I assume these to be students so as not to spoil my myopic view of the world.

Keimyung is a beautiful campus and supposedly, one of the ten most attractive campuses in Korea. I was lucky enough to have attended Essex University in the UK, and indeed own a house only 15 minutes walk from the campus. As a first year student in halls of residence, my room looked out over Wivenhoe Park which was the subject and title for John Constable’s 1816 painting. I never really appreciated the importance of beautiful surroundings and university campus life until I subsequently studied in London where the University probably owned one tree – everything else being brick and tarmac.

For a year, this was my view as I ate breakfast

Swanning about in a boater or three piece suit with a dickie bow, even if you’re professorship is plastic, is so much more sophisticated with a beautiful campus as a backdrop. True, Oxford and Cambridge aren’t set in beautifully rural settings but the sense of the numinous imparted by ancient architecture is just as effective and maybe more so.

Keimyung traditional architecture and the distant city

Traditional and modern typify Keimyung campus

Two miles down the road from Keimyung, in Song-So, there are no boaters or dickie-bows. When you’re teaching in a haggwon a three piece suit is an overstatement. Around Song-So’s haggwons the predominate form of dress for teachers is casual  and hence cargo shorts, shorts, flip flops, vests and all manner of clothing suitable to a Thai beach, building site or the set of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, are common.

Traditional architecture

Now, I come from Britain where the weather is notoriously shitty and where you can generally wear the same type of  clothing  all year. The same thickness of jeans material will  suffice throughout the year but may be a little warm in summer but the need for three types of clothing, basically, winter, summer and spring/autumn, as in Korea, is not necessary. However, in many parts of  Canada and Australia, and definitely the USA, the summer temperatures and even precipitation are not a lot different to that of Korea. I used to play in a military band and have marched through Calgary, Canada, in a temperature of 44 degrees and I wore full ceremonial uniform and not a pair or cargo shorts and flip flops. I remember Washington DC being very uncomfortable and air conditioning, something of a domestic rarity in the UK, was a necessity. What I didn’t see however, were Americans or Canadians going to work, certainly not professional work, dressed like beach bums.

I get annoyed seeing westerners going into schools dressed like they’re on vacation and see it as a form of racism and symptomatic of cultural ignorance. In my high school, and in haggwons in which I have taught, the dress code, set by co-workers, certainly wasn’t beach wear. Eighteen months ago, we hired a Canadian gyopo (교포).  He had never lived or worked in Korea and spoke little Korean but would turn up for work wearing torn jeans which he wore so far past his hips his boxers were constantly on display. Meanwhile, his hems were worn away from having been constantly walked on. Dressing like a shit-bag puts immense pressure on haggwon bosses and while some, like bosses everywhere, are tossers and deserve it, many are decent and well meaning. Neither is it fair on Korean co-workers  when foreign staff dress for a beach party while they dress, like professionals,  for work.

If I were employing a waygukin, I’d certainly want to see a photo and I’d probably want to ask: what they would intend to wear to school? If they can get themselves to school via the shower and shaver, and if they piss it up every evening? But then I’m inclined to fascism! Easier, I’d probably employ waygukin’s with professional teaching qualifications beyond the month long TEFL, ESL certificate and who’d actually had real jobs to both  check out references and as a means of assuming they will be acquainted with what to wear to work, and how to behave in work. You read so many gripes about westerners not being treated fairly and while a lot are genuine, many will be the result of waygukins who treat working in Korea as part of a backpacking holiday. It is disrespectful, even racist to treat your host culture with less consideration than you would you own culture, regardless of your personal opinions,  more so when there is little or no difference between them in terms of work place etiquette and its associated expectations.

Creative Commons License
© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

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One Response

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  1. thesupplanter said, on July 2, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    I completely agree. I’m always shocked when I go to the infrequent training sessions in my district (some which I occasionally take), at the state of dress of some of the teachers. T-shirts, hooded tops, flip-flops, shorts, football shirts (for fuck’s sake) …

    In these sessions, they will generally spend most of the allotted time complaining about their co-teachers, schedules, lack of respect, etc, and I just end up thinking – ‘looking at you, I don’t give a fuck what you think; you look unprofessional.’ I can’t see why on earth they imagine their smartly dressed Korean colleagues would think any different.

    Frankly, if you just wear smart trousers and a collared shirt you save yourself a whole lot of hassle in Korea. But then this is actually not any different to when I was back in England; many of the ‘teachers’ in Korea seem to be unaware that teaching is a profession – and in a professional job there is a uniform, it doesn’t matter what country you’re in. Fortunately in teaching, unless you’re in a private school, it’s fairly relaxed – smart trousers and open necked collared shirt. Not difficult or expensive to do.

    I’m amazed that there’s even a debate here, but go to Dave’s ESL and people are blathering on about wearing jeans and t-shirts, tattoos and long hair … Christ, just look the part and even if you are a crap teacher you’ll get away with it far more than the guy who dresses for a nightclub.


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