Elwood 5566

Images of Innocence (6) Annie

Posted in Comparative, Education, Images of Innocence, vodcast by 노강호 on June 30, 2011

Annie, one of my students, is about to go to high school. She often finishes her evening studies at a study room (돗서실), at 1 or 2 am after which she walks home. Feeling unsafe, she has recently bought a whistle. I wouldn’t want to underplay the fears of Korean kids walking home late at night but the streets are far safer than in even the smallest UK towns. I wouldn’t let an unaccompanied girl, or boy,  into town on any evening of the week back in the UK and only an idiot parent would allow someone her age to be in town past 10 pm. You can read about my experiences of British streets in Scumland UK. Needless to say, even I feel unsafe on a British street at anything past 7 pm after which they rapidly degenerate.

It’s difficult explaining to those who have never experienced Korean life, how crucial and central education is in the Korean mindset. Streets are buzzing with students going from one place of study to another on everyday of the week, from the early hours until past midnight. Several years ago, the government made it illegal for private academies to teach students past 10 pm but it has changed little. Many schools still seem to operate and parents can always employ a tutor who can visit the home or have the student come to them. Wherever you are in Korea, ‘education’ in one form or another, is always apparent.

A Korean study room

A multitude of schools exists teaching every subject: maths, social studies, English,  Chinese, hanja, art; there are schools of music, taekwondo, kendo, hapkido, ballroom dancing, ballet; study rooms and places that offer student support. And all the time brightly coloured mini buses are ferrying kids between their homes and schools. Yes, there are flaws with the Korean system; kids sleep at their desk, they often look drained, they suffer stress and constantly face a barrage of exams by which they are ranked. There are many things I would change about the Korean system but, for all its flaws it is more effective than British education where around 50% of students don’t even achieve 5 A-C grades in core subjects. And I would argue that while British education largely provides kids a holiday in comparison with their Korean peers, it is British teachers who are stressed and abused. Korean teachers have their problems, but having to constantly battle bad students and worse, anti-intellectual attitudes, which are ingrained in British society, isn’t one of them.

Unlike Britain and the USA, there is a consensus in Korea about the importance of education and whether you are the lowest paid worker or a company CEO, the goals and expectations for your children, in terms of learning, are the same; good grades and entry to a good university. I have one friend in the UK who came from one of the worst housing estates in the country. When he gained a place at university in the 1970’s, his family disowned him. Education in the UK, and attitudes towards it are still influenced and articulated by class.

Yes, I know all about the flaws of Korean education, but I’ve also taught main stream in the UK for over ten years and it was a hideous experience. Every class in the UK is polluted by a couple of scum students, bred and conditioned by scum parents and their effect on the learning process has been catastrophic. (see, Scenes From the Battleground) Unless you are lucky enough to be in a top set or selective school, most British classrooms and schools have geared themselves to accommodate the scum and it is the decent kids, the majority, who suffer. Anyway, was I ranting???

Over to Annie…

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© 林東哲 2011 Creative Commons Licence.


Cultural Clashes – March 25th – 2001 (Korean Accounts 2000-2001)

Posted in customs, Education, Korean Accounts Part 1 by 노강호 on March 25, 2001

I am still giving Ji-won a lesson on a Saturday evening. His father, Pak Jun Hee  is the same age as I and so we have a very good relationship. A new teacher, Lisa, had arrived from the UK and we decided to take her out to their restaurant and during the course of the evening Ji-won asked her age, Koreans always want to know your age. Lisa, who is possibly nearing retirement, was visibly offended and tried to explain that this was a rude question. Of course, asking ones age is a necessity for Koreans as they need to ascertain where to place you within a hierarchical structure and to address you both in terms of behaviour and language. In order for Koreans to form relationships with westerners, especially ones who fall outside their own peer group, they have to invent relationships in order to ratify a friendship. So for Ji-won, I am his teacher, for Ryo Hyu-sun (료휴선), I am his older brother and I have to refer to him as ‘dong seng’ (동생) and correspondingly, he has to refer to me as ‘hyong je’ (형재). When I thank Ryo Hyu-sun (료휴선) I have to use informal style language whereas towards me he uses formal language which is used from a junior to  a senior. When I thank him I will say ‘komapda’ while he will thank me by saying ‘khamsa hamnida’ (감사합니다). Needless to say such linguistic etiquette makes learning the language all the more difficult.

Ji-won  is a keen student who at the moment is going to school from 7am until 9pm. He will stick to this regime for the next two years. Last week there were classes at Di Dim Dol hakwon which started at 11.15 in the evening. It amazes me how we moan about child exploitation in the west and yet Korean children lead such hideously pressured lives. A fifteen year old boy jumped out of a tower block here last week, and died all because his maths teacher had been disappointed with his ‘average’ maths score.

At the restaurant Ji-won and I sat talking for several hours and then his father came over with some soju and sashimi. Pak Jun Hee  often brings sashimi and I think he considers this a treat for me – which it is. However, while I enjoy sushi (초밥), which is small slices of fish on a small ball of vinegared rice, Korean sashimi I am not so keen on. This is a full platter of various cuts of raw fish and the skill of a sashimi chef is dependant on how long he can keep the fish alive as he is slicing off its flesh. As with Korean barbecues, this fish is eaten with a variety leaves, garlic cloves, the Korean equivalent of wasabi (고추 냉이) and red pepper paste (고추장). One places a small selection of fish in a leaf and adds the other ingredients, wraps it and then eats it. Among Korean friends it is quite acceptable to place food, by way of hand, into you someone else’s mouth.  Pak Jun Hee made a massive ball, of sashimi, and mostly fish, which I could only just fit in my mouth and I very nearly puked. I can take a little raw fish but not half a pound of a cold, raw seafood cocktail. Lim Sun-hee, who is Pak Jun Hee’s wife could see I was a little distressed but I pretended it was the heat of the wasabi and everyone laughed. Koreans find it very amusing when you find their food too spicy. The ball was so big I couldn’t just swallow it so I was forced to chew that cold flesh into swallow-able portions. Pak Jun Hee’s has invited me to go to Pusan with him on August 23rd, which is his family’s ancestors’ day. Then he will go to his family tomb on the mountain and pay respects to his dead relatives. It is a very private affair and I am quite privileged.

I have taken a short break from taekwon do as I have had constant problems with my left hamstring. I think I need to strengthen it as stretching weakens the muscle and maybe it needs a little building up. I have started some special exercises which I do in the lunchtimes before I go to the mokyoktang.

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©Bathhouse Ballads –  努江虎 – 노강호 2012 Creative Commons Licence.