Elwood 5566

EPIK Helped Kill the Korean Experience

Posted in 'Westernization' of Korea, bathhouse Ballads, Education, podcasts, Westerners by 노강호 on April 29, 2011

Podcast 80

Here’s the problem! You’ve lived in Korea three months and you think you know all about it! Now that you’ve got used to being stared at, know the difference between makalli and soju, think you have an understanding of the Korean psyche and culture and have possibly been initiated by the annual waygukin pilgrimage to the Boring  Boroyeong (mud festival), Korea has suddenly become mundane, ordinary and predictable.

has Korea becoming boring?

I know the feeling. There are numerous things which can possibly terminate ones Korean experience or at least quickly lead to the honeymoon being over: these include, the internet, a mobile phone, English speaking westerners and ones ability to read and speak Korean.

If you want to preserve that feeling of amazement you experienced during your initial weeks in Korea you have to avoid taking any interest in learning to speak, read or write Korean and while you can use computers to play games and download music, you must shun search engines and any blog related to Korea. Avoiding foreigners, or at least limiting how many you know, is crucial but relatively easy as most are too busy pretending  they’ve been in Korea for the last twenty years and are adept at blanking you even if you’re sat under their very noses.

Yeah, but nothing like we used to be…(courtesy of Roketship.com

The famous Chicago School sociologist, Robert Park used to advise his students to ‘go out and get the seats of your pants dirty’ and not too long ago that was the only way you could learn anything about Korea. You wanted to learn about Korea, and then you had to go to Korea. You wanted to learn Korean, you had to go out and find someone to talk to; you wanted to learn how to make kimchi or do taekwondo, you had to go out and find Koreans willing to help you. Today, you can do it all from the comfort of your ‘one-room.’ The online oracle provides extensive resources on every facet of Korean culture so much so that you can learn more today about Korea from a computer in backwater Britain or a rural American retreat than you could gleam living here for a year before the invasion of the internet. And for every foreigner arriving on Korean soil a corresponding blog is birthed to swell the already bloated Klogosphere.

Learning Korean is the quickest way to sully your relationship with Korea. I’m not really happy living anywhere in the world where I don’t have to make an effort to learn what is going on around me because it is easier to get the information I upload.  Back in Britain, I live in a constant state of depression and on a daily basis am subject to a plethora of information that I really don’t want to process and which by its very nature is unhealthy. You don’t have to seek information out, it finds you and worse the bulk of it is rubbish.  If it’s broadcast in daylight hours or is front page ‘news’ it’s very often shit and I have no interest in the intrigues concerning the latest plastic protégés from Pop Idol, the dumb ass contestants selected for Big Brother, the Royal Spongers, Football or the plots of stupid soaps.



It’s fantastic when I go back home as I have no idea who new celebrities are and besides, many will have disappeared by the end of the year. I lived in Germany between 1976-1986 and was telly-less and beside gaining black-belt in taekwon-do, when I came home to headlines announcing, ’Who Shot JR,’ had to ask who he was.  A great wadge of what constitutes ‘news’ is newsless shite which cascades into your brain like spam. If people treated that organ the complexity of which potentially separates us from lower primates as they do their computers, with upgrades, antivirus and spam devices, society would be much nicer. Do you lower your firewall, terminate you anti-virus facilities and start downloading everything on-line? Of course not! But that’s what many of us do with our brains and much of it can’t be avoided.

Living in a country where you do not speak the language fluently is one step away from living in a mountain temple. It’s shocking I had to be told there had been a tsunami in Japan and an earthquake in New Zealand and natural disasters don’t depress me like manmade ones; but on the other hand my brain hasn’t been polluted with rubbish about royal weddings or the obnoxious habits of celebrities.

And you can certainly give vent to your creative juices. For the last few years I’ve had to construct an understanding of the world beyond my little nirvana from fragmented ‘evidence.’ Like an historian of ancient history, I piece together a narrative constructed from isolated words I’ve understood or images I’ve seen. When I originally saw a clip of what I now know was the Japanese tsunami  (the TV was in a restaurant and there was no audio),  I thought it was a graphic from the 24 hour Starcraft channel. I could certainly go online and access information but choose not to as once you open yourself to external content it quickly overwhelms you. Ignorance really is enjoyable and I am infinitely calmer in my little bubble than I would be by allowing the worlds ‘dirty realities to rape my noggin.

EPIK killed the experience

Not only would fluency in Korean make it possible to be spammed and hacked, but it would take all the fun out of life’s little excursions. I remember the time when most restaurants lacked English translations and often had no pictures.  Ordering meals by pointing was fun; bus terminals with no English! That was a challenge. By all means, learn Korean to order a pizza or tell the taxi driver where to take you but much more than this will quickly curdle your Korean sojourn. Okay! I do speak a fair amount of Korean and put much effort into learning it but you either have to be very gifted at languages or have been here for a long time to actually be able to speak fluently. So, unable to understand anything but bits and bobs from the fast paced gabble of Korean TV and conversations overheard, living in Korea equips you with one enormous firewall. Not one mega byte of unwanted information enters my brain’s processing center uninvited or unprocessed.

Obviously then, the internet has to be shunned though it’s useful in emergencies and for smoothing out potential problems. However, using it to research where you should go, how to get there, what to expect and equipping you with opinions before you’ve even decided where to go is a little like substituting reading the back page of a book for actually reading the book itself.  And the problem with computer technology is that it permits you to lead almost identically the same life as you would have had back home. Yes, even now I am doing exactly the same as I would be doing back in the UK, basically sitting at a computer screen and most of the entertainment it provides in the form of music and film is identical. So vast are the tomes of information on Korea that very little remains mysterious, bizarre or strange. Information technology has helped demystify the Korean experience and severely shortens its potential to engage or entertain us.

Mobile phones are just as bad and owning one simply means that every waygukin you meet gets added to your address book and as they do your social life begins to develop which disproportionately involves fellow westerners. Most westerners, though there will be exceptions, only need a mobile so they can chat with their western mates and book trips to ESL tourist destinations.

As for the waygukin effect, blame it on EPIK! The sharp increase in the number of English speaking foreigners now living in Korea has helped destroy the intense interest Koreans once held in us. I knew more westerners in the area in which I live, ten years ago when they were a handful, than I do now, despite their comprising a small army. At one time, seeing a westerner was so rare you stopped and talked. Today, there are not only more westerners but more westerners married to Koreans or with a Korean boyfriend or girlfriend. There are even western children in some of my local Korean middle schools. And I know it’s mean, but whenever I meet an EPIK teacher I silently curse because it is predominantly their invasion which has turned us from objects of fascination and intrigue into ones boring, mundane and general. We were special until EPIK arrived and now one has been stationed in every school, coffee shop and burger bar; there isn’t s single student who has never met a foreigner.


The Costa del Sol? No! Korea. Boroyeong, waygooked to boredom

Knowing a couple of fellow countrymen, or women, is good for your mental health but getting pally with hordes of them is a bad idea. When ever foreigners hook up in droves you can guarantee the conversation will become anti-Korean and gravitate towards how crappy it is working in Korea, which for many it is but those of us with good bosses or plastic professorships don’t want reminding. Technology and the EPIK invasion now means Korea attracts ESL tourists seeking the Korean package experience. Many waygukin now come here not to experience Korea and its culture, but to basically do exactly the same sort of things that can be done on the Costa del Sol. With a pack of mates in your mobile address book, all waygukin, it won’t be too long before you’re either returning home or looking for another location to provide you that ‘unique’ experience.

Creative Commons License

© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.


10 Responses

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  1. Bianca the Skydiver said, on April 30, 2011 at 7:55 am

    I’ve gone the other way and after 6 years on-off living in Korea I’ve gone to the UK for the often thankless task of public school teaching.
    I simply seethe whenever I turn on the TV but at least the UK has an outdoor culture which Korea lacks for the most part. How much grass does Seoul have for example? A little pubic tuft outside City Hall and that’s about it.
    EPIK sabotages any best efforts so what is one to do? Some of my best/ most interesting times in Korea have been when I’ve just headed off at random.Yes, there’s a whole different set of suspiciousness and distrust, but it’s like going to a museum. You shouldn’t have to like everything, if you can walk away vitally interested in 2-3 things you’ve done ok
    You should check out Yusong Oncheon mid-country if you haven’t already, they’ve got outside pools.

    • Nick said, on May 1, 2011 at 1:10 pm

      Oh, my God. How are your doing? Haven’t you been assaulted or driven crazy? I left that to come here and I dread going back to it!

      • Bianca the Skydiver said, on May 1, 2011 at 6:01 pm

        I’ve been tempted to head-butt the odd student if anything. English beer and spring are pretty acceptable though. Probably limit being out late in most places but.

  2. prestigeekorea said, on April 30, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    While I may have greeted a fellow foreigner on the street 8 years ago, I now avoid making eye contact and simply proceed along without acknowledging them.

    I can only guess that this happens because as you mentioned, due to the migratory nature of the ESL teacher in Korea, making bonds with other foreigners is often a fruitless exercise.

    It’s also partly because I lack some kind of common bond with these transitory ESL tourists who all seem to be engaged in some kind of ‘package Korea’ experience where they go to the mud fest, DMZ tour, world DJ festival, a weekend at Haeundae Beach, a night of exotic live octopus and soju with the requisite Facebook picture posts. When all is said and done, the expression ‘been there, done that’ sums it up best.

    • Nick said, on May 1, 2011 at 1:01 pm

      ‘ESL tourist’ – except you don’t even need an ESL qualification. I too adopted the same stance, ie. ignoring them, but I decided to say hello even if they don’t ‘to want to talk. I now make a habit of frightening waygukin, It’s easy for me as I’m male, humongous, ex army and ex taekwondo so I simply say, ‘hello,’ and if there is no response, add, ‘wanker.!’

  3. Bianca the Skydiver said, on April 30, 2011 at 3:36 pm

    Never understood the idea of ticking things off a list when it comes to Korea because they wouldn’t mean anything to anyone outside Korea. Soju ain’t no firewater, Korean girls wear 3-piece swimsuits (!!), a mud festival sounds like lame old people stuff etc etc. But yes, the sojourning-type teachers are responsible for keeping wages down as Korea laps them up. I dunno, some are fine aren’t they? As long as they aren’t claiming they make 10 million a month, aren’t hipsters, don’t look ex-con, scheister etc.

  4. thesupplanter said, on May 1, 2011 at 7:01 am

    If, as it seems, the EPIK program is winding down, then in a few years time your wish may become reality – but will the uniqueness return? Well, of course not, but the wages will be lower and the opportunities to pick up work fewer.

    ‘Socializing in a pack of westerners isn’t really what you came here for and with waygukin as your only friends it won’t be long until you either returning home or looking for another location to provide you that unique experience.’

    Actually, I’d disagree with that. Lots of foreigners come over here and explicitly have no intention of getting to know anything beyond English speaking Korean women. This goes for long-termers too.

    • Nick said, on May 1, 2011 at 12:54 pm

      Yea, I agree. I was in a good mood and didn’t want to be nasty about the majority of western twats that I see. I don’t have much faith in people – which is why the world is fucked up with starvation and weapons sales.

  5. LaNae said, on May 21, 2011 at 3:33 am

    Hello Nick. I find this blog post really interesting. I am planning on coming over next year to teach in S. Korea preferably Daegu. The funny thing is, I’m not interested in hanging out with westerners all the time. My goal it take make some Korean friends and actually learn about the country. I’ve lived in Mexico where they were very little westerners and I enjoyed myself (until violence broke out). I hope the current ESL teachers do not or have not ruined us people who are not coming to Korea as ‘ESL Tourist”.

    BTW, I love your blog! I appreciate all the information.

    • Nick said, on May 22, 2011 at 1:56 am

      Thanks for you comments. Need to know anything, just let me know.

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