Beach Bum Teachers
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.
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.
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.
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.
© Nick Elwood 2010 Creative Commons Licence.