Friday, January 11, 2013

Growing pains for foreign academics in South Korea

On January 7, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article titled "In South Korea, Foreign Professors Can Have a Hard Time Fitting In."
It all began well enough. Michael Foster joined his wife, a South Korean, in Seoul in 2010 with a new doctorate in English literature and a three-year, tenure-track contract at prestigious Korea University. His aim was to build a life in a country that seemed increasingly cosmopolitan and vibrant. Two years later, Mr. Foster, an American, has abandoned his job and is involved in a bitter dispute with his former employer.

Now back in New York with his wife, he says that he felt unwelcome at the university from the start, and that his relationship with faculty members and others deteriorated over time. He says he was even accused of racism by one of his students. "One of the students in evaluations said that I insulted Korea," he recalls. "The student said, 'If America is so much better, you should go back.'"
In addition to intolerance of foreign criticism, Korea also has hot and humid summers and very fast internet. Is it really so difficult for people coming to Korea - especially foreign professors - not to know these things? As for what set the students off,
Mr. Foster, the former professor at Korea University, thinks the student's accusation of racism against him began when he referred to homophobia in Korean culture during a course on the history of romance.
While it's likely a knee jerk response on the part of the students, the professor may have been projecting contemporary homophobia into the past; as Richard Rutt pointed out in the late 1950s, in the past things were a little more complex.

The article also tries to understand where the negative attitudes that foreign professors face come from:
Distrust of foreigners is a nationwide issue and must be put in context, says Paul Z. Jambor, an assistant professor in English for academic purposes at Korea University. "It likely stems out of the Japanese colonial period, in which one of the main aims of the Japanese armed forces was to eradicate Korean culture and the Korean spirit."
I didn't realize the Japanese armed forces were in charge of cultural policy in Korea. Snide remarks aside, that policy changed during the 35 years after annexation (which explains things like the publication of Korean language newspapers like the Donga Ilbo between 1920 and 1940 and the ability of language scholars to work on a Korean dictionary and standardize Korean orthograpy), though standard media depictions of that era tend to avoid complexity and reduce it to 'they tried to destroy our culture.'

And if it stems from the colonial period, how does that explain the Choryang Waegwan? This was a walled off compound built for Japanese traders and diplomats in 1678 which had a stone slab out front with rules such as "Whoever violates the boundary (wall) shall be punished with death" - a warning which was aimed at Koreans (and was even upheld after the walls came down in the late 1870s, when three Korean women were beheaded for having sneaked into the compound). At that time westerners were perceived as 'barbarians' who might infect morally upright, 'more Confucian than China' Koreans with their 'filthy' religion and "plunder our property and violate women at will," so this distrust of foreigners predates the colonial period, as I've noted before. When you're aware of this history, wanting to give HIV tests to every foreigner visiting Korea for the 1988 Olympics or developing English teaching robots so children don't have to interact with potentially 'unclean' foreigners starts to make a great deal of sense.  The article continues:
Donald C. Bellomy, an American who teaches history at Sogang University, in Seoul, says foreign professors who want to work in South Korea must be prepared to adapt to a culture that has not always been welcoming toward outsiders, "and for good reason." The culture is, however, "in some respects more open than one would expect, given its history."
That depends whether we're talking about 'history' as presented in the media and textbooks, or history as in 'actual facts.' Several years ago Andrei Lankov wrote an article which is mostly reproduced at the Marmot's Hole in which he debunked the idea that Korea has been invaded constantly and victimized by outsiders:
Rather than being a country with a uniquely turbulent history, Korea actually was a country which enjoyed stability undreamed of in most other parts of the world! 
If you do the math, the first 500 years of the Joseon dynasty featured three years of war during the Hideyoshi invasions (1592-3, 1598) and two Manchu invasions in 1627 and 1636. Needless to say, 5 years of large scale war out of 500 hardly compares to most countries in Europe during that same time period. But then, when it comes to nationalism, it's not what is true, but rather what one believes is true, which matters.

29 comments:

wetcasements said...

"Some of them have complained to the news media that most faculty meetings are conducted in Korean, and documents written only in that language."

I've been doing this a lot lately, so let me throw out the standard disclaimer -- South Korea could do a lot more to make foreigners who they hire as professionals feel comfortable, no doubt.

That said, would an American university that hires a young Korean professor to teach Korean language or literature in their Asian studies department conduct their department meetings in Korean and English?

Of course not.

They key is having some sort of faculty liaison who can help out and mentor foreign profs.

Living abroad has all sorts of challenges, and it sounds like there's a lot more to this story (he was invited to an ethics review meeting but quit instead?).

The larger problem IMO is Korea's (and Asia's, for that matter) lax relationship with intellectual property and the huge amount of casual plagiarism that goes on. An academic is only going to go as far as her research and publications take her, and if you live in a country where you can't be assured that your own work won't be stolen and reproduced why would you come here in the first place?

Same goes for software design. Why do it here when you can actually make money doing it in America or Europe?

Joseph J. Steinberg said...

On the visiting academic issue, how about some polling of the relatively small sample instead of an anecdote? And, on the level of anecdotes, how do professors in China or Taiwan or Japan feel?

On the invasion issue, there might be some terminological problems here. There's an amazing database, the Correlates of War (www.correlatesofwar.org/), whose bank of scholars have endeavored for a decade or more to catalog every aspect of any war in human history so that academics can crunch data easily. So far, most of the datasets only reach back to 1806. It's a very laborious process of verifying facts.

But, invasion or war are only two possible terms for military action. There's what's called a militarized interstate dispute (MID), or a war between two states causing less than 1000 deaths. There are non-state, intra-state, and extra-state conflicts. For instance, China under Mao was one of the most egregious nations on earth with over a 1000 MIDS and wars, and then in 1976, it's as if China turned pacifist. Most of those MIDS though literally involved little more than two border guards firing shots, or fishing vessels in the South China Sea. Until the COW database extends farther back it's not possible to know how many more of these MIDS can be recovered from primary sources. But it's possible Korea in some political form has experienced far more military action in the form of MIDS than we currently can verify. The moral and ideological issue is, is a border incident as traumatic as an invasion? Is one death as horrendous as 1000+?

Michael Foster said...

The negative student comment--one amidst dozens of positive comments, including "you're the best professor at Korea university"--was really a smokescreen that KU rose to hide the fact that they were embezzling money from me, asking my assistant to spy on me (and forcing her to quit when she refused), as well as other distasteful activities. Sadly, David did not mention any of these more alarming issues.

And, to clear the record: I quit because KU stopped paying me, not because I feared an ethics committee.

As for the obsession with keeping meetings in Korean--that's really a minor issue. Why not also keep instruction in Korean as well? I would support that fully. South Korea is clearly not ready to invite foreign talent into its universities.

Michael Foster said...

On the homophobia issue: I want to make it clear that I was referring to modern Korea and the fact that (at that time, in 2010), gay pride parade participants wore masks and I could not find a single gay Korean willing to talk in my class about the experience of being gay in Korea.

I'm not so incompetent a historian as to be as anachronistic as you assume.

the wanderer said...

"South Korea could do a lot more to make foreigners who they hire as professionals feel comfortable, no doubt."

"But...."

No 'buts', they could do more to help foreign professionals in the country. I feel that if they cannot take it upon themselves to do what's right in helping those professionals in the country (like issues with our apartments: making sure we have lights, water, beds, etc) we should contractually obligate them to do so (instead of just leaving us to fend on our own when by contract we are supposed to live in a clean, maintained apartment). As compromise, they should contractually obligate us to learn the language in order to keep our job, since all of this boils down to language barrier.If we know the language, we can better communicate our problems to them, things that they shouldn't do to us so that in the future they won't do that. They should only be mentors to us for so long.

Ben said...

Gary Kennedy wrote a good article on this topic in 2010.
"Foreign profs face obstacles in Korea," JoongAng Daily, Aug. 30, 2010 at http://koreajoongangdaily.joinsmsn.com/news/article/article.aspx?aid=2925275

H. Jeffery Hodges did a post on the article on his Gypsy Scholarship blog. He mentions some of his own experiences, such as the difficulty foreign profs have obtaining tenure:

"Once, I even had a tenure position as Assistant Professor (조교수, i.e., Jo Gyo Su) that was altered to a contract job as Visiting Professor (초빙교수, i.e., Cho Bing Gyo Su) when the university decided that no foreigner could hold tenure. I was informed that the Korean National Assembly had passed a law stipulating that limitation on foreigners, a 'fact' that I doubted but decided not to contest at the time because I had a wife and two young children to support and couldn't run the risk of suffering penury."
http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/2010/09/gary-kennedy-on-obstacles-faced-by.html

wetcasements said...

Mr. Foster, thanks again for taking the time to respond and best of luck with everything.

"I could not find a single gay Korean willing to talk in my class about the experience of being gay in Korea"

I'm not going to excuse homophobia in South Korea, but I'll be blunt and say this was a huge blunder. Asking a group of Korean college kids to self-identify as gay and talk about their experience was a huge mistake (speaking as someone who has lived here over four years and made some huge mistakes). Cultural misunderstanding is one thing, but not realizing just how different (and if you prefer, backwards) things are here re: gay rights could have been avoided.

"they could do more to help foreign professionals in the country"

Just a data-point. I'm an ESL teacher on an E-1 visa with no hopes of ever being tenure track beyond keeping my boss happy and signing two-year contract extensions. My job title is "Assistant Professor" but I would never call myself that personally (professors have PhD's, IMO). That said, I've had all the help in the world when it comes to these issues. Granted, I'm in a small department so maybe that helps. Also, I actively study Korean (although it still isn't that great).

"I was informed that the Korean National Assembly had passed a law stipulating that limitation on foreigners"

Again, this is anecdote but I know some tenure-track "real" foreign professors here. Thing is, they're almost always hard-science types. South Korea really wants a Nobel prize, and they aren't going to get it by fostering young Shakespeare scholars or Joseon-era historians. I think it's worth taking a step back and realizing the plain facts that a foreign nuclear physics professor at KAIST is probably being treated a lot better than someone brought over to teach English literature or history.

Hell, I'm prepared to speak out of my ass and say that if someone has the academical chops to publish quality humanities scholarship in English and Korean they're more than likely going to end up in the States anyhow. American universities still pay the best, by far, and offer lots of flexibility for tenured faculty to do semesters abroad for research and so on.

"they should contractually obligate us to learn the language in order to keep our job, since all of this boil"

Foreign graduate students do have to maintain certain TOPIK scores to keep their scholarships. Again, I guess this might make sense at times for college professors but if KAIST brings a hard science guy over to lecture they're probably not going to expect him to take night classes in Korean. That would be insulting.

But the whole KAIST-English only thing has been problematic in and of itself.

Michael Foster said...

wetcasements, you seem like a nice guy but you've just gotten so many facts wrong I don't know where to start.

"I think it's worth taking a step back and realizing the plain facts that a foreign nuclear physics professor at KAIST is probably being treated a lot better than someone brought over to teach English literature or history."

Yet some of the most high profile problems with foreign faculty have come from KAIST--two prominent foreign professors have been chased out due to "cultural misunderstandings".

"American universities still pay the best, by far, and offer lots of flexibility for tenured faculty to do semesters abroad for research and so on."

No. I was being paid more at Korea University (about 82 million won per year) than I was offered at an American university (about $60,000). Especially when you factor in taxes.

As for your belief that "gay rights could have been avoided"...I approached the Korea University newspaper for gay students and asked them in an email if anyone would like to speak in my class. They said no.

Would you also advise those gay Koreans fighting for gay rights for themselves that gay rights is best avoided?

Michael Foster said...

I just looked it up--KAIST ran out Robert Laughlin for "not understanding Korean culture", and Laughlin won the Nobel prize in 1998. There goes that theory, wetcasements!

Kamiza said...

While I sympathize with Mr. Foster, this entire issue sounds like a very large amount of cultural understanding--to be exact, a total lack of cultural understanding, research, and accommodation, on the part of the foreign professors. Could they have chosen a culture more opposite to Western culture? I think not. Culture shock is not the thing you feel when you first get off the boat in a new place; it is the deep resentment resulting from utter confusion in regard to a place that you suddenly start to realize is entirely different from your home culture. As for Korea, the differences are pervasive.

Many foreign teachers move to a place where they are illiterate and unable to communicate--please note that Koreans have been speaking Korean for quite a long time now, and that ain't gonna change anytime soon--and, being illiterate and mute, how then might someone proceed to penetrate a culture to truly learn its in's and out's so that one might be equipped with the knowledge and understanding to function and thrive in a totally foreign culture? Classrooms around the world look the same; the students who sit in the seats are very different.

Many teachers from Western cultures have been coming to Korea thinking the place is something akin to an American colony. Their line of reasoning in choosing Korea usually goes something like this--even though most will never openly admit to (or even ever realize) being so pathetically ethnocentric: "Oh yeah, everyone speaks English there and they love the US and they all want to live in the US or Canada and they want to travel to the US and Canada and it is the Korean dream to go to "Mi-Gook" ("Beautiful Country") America and they will do anything to be US citizens and they love US pop-culture and they just can't get enough of us. Their cities are utra-modern and everyone goes to Starbucks and English is practically a second language. They want to learn all about our culture and way of life because their whole society is based on Werstern culture and we have done so much for them and us being there to teach them about Western culture and language will help them be so modern [read: "Western/ North American" with a strong hint of "White Mans Burden"] and it should be no problem at all for me to adjust to life there . . ." Sounds pretty stupid, doesn't it????? It is.

Problem: People are packing their bags and heading to the airport to come to Korea as I write this with these thoughts in their heads. This is happening right now. Korea is Korea. It is an extremely complex place with an extremely complex and complicated social system--and I REALLY mean this. (It is to the extent that other North-East Asians I have known are baffled as well. Even my Japanese friends tell me, "I don't get it here; these people are really different.")

Teachers can whine and cry about Korea's need to accommodate their foreign staff--and rest assured, they always will whine and cry. The simple fact of the matter is you [not addressed to Mr. Foster, but "you" used in its plural sense for all whiney foreign teachers in Korea] ain't in Kansas no more, and you best be swimming lest you find yourself hopelessly sinking. This is Korea and they play things the Korean way, no matter how "fair," "unfair," "right," or "wrong" [wow, there are four culturally-relative term I hear a lot] it all seems to be.

[My helmet and body armor are on. Here comes the storm. Bottle #1: "They shouldn't invite foreign teachers if they can't accommodate them (in terms of culture, language, food, and housing." Here it comes . .

wetcasements said...

"I approached the Korea University newspaper for gay students and asked them in an email if anyone would like to speak in my class. They said no."

So you White-Knighted and failed.

You didn't do your homework, sorry. You failed to understand your own cultural context, sorry.

Michael Foster said...

"White-Knighted"

...and you're an English teacher? Oh dear.

My only real complaint is that Korea University broke the law in failing to pay me--I don't think any of the other issues being brought up (discussing gay rights in Korea, what the word for "America" is in Korean, or the supposed culture clash of foreigners in American universities) are worth discussing.

The facts are:

1. KU failed to pay me.
2. KU slandered me.
3. Korean law is too weak to protect me.

All the other stuff you guys are talking about frankly aren't worth discussing.

Michael Foster said...

"Many teachers from Western cultures have been coming to Korea thinking the place is something akin to an American colony. Their line of reasoning in choosing Korea usually goes something like this--even though most will never openly admit to (or even ever realize) being so pathetically ethnocentric: "Oh yeah, everyone speaks English there and they love the US and they all want to live in the US or Canada and they want to travel to the US and Canada and it is the Korean dream to go to "Mi-Gook" ("Beautiful Country") America and they will do anything to be US citizens and they love US pop-culture and they just can't get enough of us. Their cities are utra-modern and everyone goes to Starbucks and English is practically a second language."

This is absurd. In my years in Korea I never met a single person who thought this way. I sure as hell didn't. After living in Finland and the UK and spending 8 years in Europe, I fully expected South Korea to be as different as possible.

Michael Foster said...

It's so disappointing to see this discussion devolve into one of "Korea is different." Yeah, I know.

1. Queer studies has been taught FOR YEARS at Korea University and a Korean-born Korean-educated Korean colleague of mine was the one who suggested I try to bring a gay Korean into the class to discuss homosexual life in Korea. Would you like her email address so you can tell her she doesn't understand Korean culture?

2. I asked the CHE to shed light on this story not only to protect foreign professors, but also to bring light to the rampant corruption in Korean universities that is hurting Koreans themselves. I saw two people get hired because of personal connections in my department. I saw my assistant and two other very promising students ignored (and, in my assistant's case, forced to quit academia altogether) because of the corruption in the university.

This is not an issue of culture. This is not an issue of foreigners failing to adapt. This is an issue of people in power abusing their power to strangle people beneath them. That is the story that I wanted told.

It's thoroughly disappointing that this conversation cannot occur amongst the foreigners in Korea without it turning into a Korea-bashing vs. Korea-apologetics diatribe that is so full of holes of logic, petty attacks, and poor language as to render the discussion completely unproductive.

K said...

That's too bad, man. Frankly, I think that foreigners who come to Korea UNDERestimate the degree to which many Koreans DO want to live in the US. It was certainly a goal of many of my university students. And American (or Americanized) culture is pervasive, but it is often filtered through Korean culture to the point of being unrecognizable. Koreans have a hard time getting used to the idea of using first names in English, even if they speak English. They have a hard time respecting minority rights, even as they learn about that in western cultures and agree it is a good thing. And they have a hard time understanding why foreigners might have a hard time not getting paid, even as they learn about the importance of things like the rule of law.

The anecdotal condemnation of a student reminds me of a hagwon in Bundang back in the day where I had to tutor a couple of kids who had been raised in New Zealand. The younger one had even picked up a Kiwi accent and was a pleasure to teach; we read Roald Dahl together. The older one had just shut himself in his room and played video games and moped about missing Korea. I once had a unit in a text that asked us to talk about sports and I suggested that, based on attendance and coverage, the most popular sport in Korea was baseball, not soccer. This was right after the 2002 World Cup when Korea tricked itself into thinking it was a dominant soccer country, despite low attendance at K-League games and the low level of prominence of its stars internationally. Well, the kid went home and told his parents I hated Korea. The parents used this as a pretext to not pay for 20 hours of private lessons, and came in together to yell at my boss. I never got the money. Thanks, Korea!

The person who said that now is the wrong time to raise gay rights should just stay in Korea forever, they obviously aren't wanted back home.

Ben said...

I recall university students telling me about gay actor Hong Seok-cheon visiting their university to speak about homosexuality in Korea. They appreciated the talk and said the audience was packed and it was a great success.

Mr. Hong has apparently been doing quite well as a gay activist:

South Korean actor throws open closet door: After a brutal reaction to his coming out, Hong Seok-cheon decided to fight back. Slowly, especially from the young, he and other gays gained more acceptance. John M. Glionna, March 05, 2012, LA Times, http://articles.latimes.com/2012/mar/05/world/la-fg-south-korea-gay-activist-20120306

Kamiza said...

-Finland, UK, Europe = "Western" countries

"to protect foreign professors" (hmmm)

-"All the other stuff you guys are talking about frankly aren't worth discussing." = the problem (culturally as well as grammatically)

-"to bring light to the rampant corruption in Korean universities that is hurting Koreans themselves" : How noble of you to take this burden upon yourself. Have your efforts made any significant changes in the way Korean universities function?

-"I saw two people get hired because of personal connections in my department."= :-) Welcome to Korea :-) [ain't like the US, is it . . .]

-"This is not an issue of foreigners failing to adapt" = hmmmmm [If you were to change the word "foreigners" to its singular form, this statement would be 100% wrong.]

-"Korean law is too weak to protect me." : Now you are starting to understand the situation in Korea my friend.


Michael: I am not trying to get down on you here. I am trying to help you step back to take a slightly more objective view of the situation in regard to culture and the possibility that you may have made some uninformed decisions that later proved disadvantageous. I do not pretend to know anything at all about your particular dispute with Korea University. Having read many of the commments over at CHE, I do think the culture issue is something significant that you may have initially overlooked. Do you not feel the same? Looking back, is there any way that you could have approached the gay student issue more tactfully and/or effectively, especially given KU's history of Christian (Korean Christian mind you) top administrators, or maybe even the fact that the school has at least eight different Christian (once again, Korean Christian) student associations/unions?

One more thing: You may want to familiarize yourself with South Korean laws regarding defamation, especially cases having to do with individuals intentionally bringing unfavorable attention (true or untrue)in the media to powerful companies and/or institutions.

humesbastard said...

As a social science type, not a humanities butterfly. My notion of fiction is an essay in which five people write about Hamlet, and then the author crunches how many times each pronoun is used. This butterfly discussion is so annoying, so trite. It's the same anecdotes every day, whether done sober or drunk. There's no statistical analysis, no comparison, and far too much empathy. "Please understand me!"

No, please give me a reason not to punt your worthless ass out on the street! I have limited funds, and you are not worth it. What are going to do for me?"

Michael Foster said...

I really, really wish the gay issue wasn't so prominent in the CHE article. That happened over a year ago and was a non-issue until I started clamoring about the fact that my colleague was spying on me and the university was taking money out of my paycheck that I had not consented to.

Only after that did they raise red flags about my teaching. The gay issue was not a big issue for KU--it was a convenient smoke screen to distract attention away from the corruption of the university.

Sadly, it seems the smoke screen was quite effective.

Michael Foster said...

I showed my (Korean) wife this thread. Her response:

"They think Koreans can't talk about gay rights? How insulting. We're more advanced than you think. Gay issues are talked about all the time on talk shows and in the media. wetcasements and Kamiza clearly do not understand Korean culture."

Chion said...

As an exchange student at Korea University in 2010 I took two courses with professor Foster, whom I found to be most knowledgeable and dedicated to instilling critical thinking in his students. It saddens me to hear his current troubles, but it certainly does not surprise me in the least.

Professor Foster had a penchant for expressing his critical views on the university, faculty, students, and Korea in the classroom–a trait I found both admirable and quixotic. But however valid the criticism was at times, it was a habit that was bound to rub some people in the wrong way. Combine this rather uncompromising and bellicose attitude with the academic culture in Korea (call it feudal, Confucian, corrupt, or whatever) and it is not hard to see how it would end up in a grand disaster with all the accompanying collateral damage (e.g. the assistant).

So I have my reservations on framing this story as a specifically Korean ill with an evil Korean university administration and the brave foreign professor (Prometheus defied the Gods!). Certainly Korean universities can do much more to make foreign faculty feel at home and academic standards (as far as I can tell from my experience) hardly deserve the name, but I doubt that any university administration in any country would be very amused with junior faculty offering continuous criticism, nor would the professor have made many friends if he were Korean rather than American. Having said that, a lot of Western universities probably would have been a lot more subtle in their methods of getting rid of people (simply ending a temporary contract) and a lot more deft in avoiding any P.R. fall out.

In any case professor, I wish you the best of luck and hope things will be better for you in 2013.

On the history thing. Though it is true that things were pretty calm for most of the time during the Choson period, you would overlook the fact that people predominantly find their grievances in recent history. You can hardly deny that the last 150 years were a pretty horrible time with lots of reasons for the Koreans to feel distrustful of the Japanese, the Americans, and indeed themselves as well.

Iwazaru said...

Mr. Foster. I'd like to communicate with you via email about this issue. You can contact me at 3wmseoul@gmail.com

Best,
JMR

Michael Foster said...

While I should thank Chion for his compliments, I want to remind everyone yet again that the content of my classes had caused absolutely no controversy or difficulty with the native faculty. In fact, I had cleared just about every discussion of Korean culture with my head of department at the time to confirm that my criticisms would be acceptable. I was given complete permission to speak freely; my head of department clearly said, "this is a democratic country and you have freedom of speech." She (Jowon Yoon) went so far as to encourage me to do a class on the history of nationalism in English literature, with a focus on how nationalism was an issue in Korea.

Again, the problems between Korea University and me began when one of the professors began spying on me. It had absolutely nothing to do with the content of my classes or student feedback. That was a smoke screen.

I think it's very sad that there is so much scrutiny being put on the content of my classes--which was completely legal--and so little scrutiny on the illegal embezzlement that Korea University condoned.

I am completely confused at this response. I had thought there was a real interest in shedding light on corruption in Korean society.

Melissa Brown said...

Whether or not Koreans are conservative does not matter, I seriously doubt it sense their young people come and go with a great deal of freedom. Even so, there is nothing wrong with going against the flow. Do they have to emulate us in every way? I should think not. They do not owe Anericans an explanation for anything they do. Besides only fifty years ago, (roughly) Blacks might be lynched (in the South) just because someone felt like it. We need to get our own "house" in order. We certainly have no moral authority. We just "think" we do. I am dying to go live in a foreign country. And I look forward to having Koreans ask me about all things African American ( and to snicker at my voluminous breasts). If they let me stay, I will continue learning Han..mal and all of the other features of contemporary life. Wish me luck.

seogyeong choi said...

ten years ago when i registered a institute to learn english, i had to endure the teacher's speaking ill of korea whole time. any student couldn't protest or complain. now i am glade to hear that now a days students not only talk back but also expel such annoying and under qualified teachers. what will you do if you are a client who payed money to learn a forien language but all the instructor says in class is nothing but judging you country?

Joseph said...

I taught there for a few months of a 1 year contract. I found Seoul to be fun and interesting, but wasn't there long enough to understand it.

What I did understand was that they were holding out 1/3 of my paycheck each pay period. They had different reasons each time. They also took money out of the bank account they helped me set up. In 10 weeks they stole thousands from me.

I asked them about it, I brought in my contract and showed them what I was supposed to get paid. They told me the contract was in English, so it was nonbinding. They also questioned my 'native speaking' skills and called me in day after day to hound me about my classes. It was nuts.

So one night, the day after pay day, I hopped a jet to San Fran. Good riddance. The midnight run I think they call it. I didn't feel guilty because supposedly I wasn't under contract anyway, I had never signed a Korean version of the contract. So under their stated 'rules' I was free to go.

Shit I would have left earlier except that they held on to my passport from the moment I got there until about 10 days before I left. I think I trumped up some hooey about the American Consulate needing to see my passport or something, or needing it to go visit a friend in Busan...hard to remember. It was a chore getting it back though.

The only real solid thing I learned about Korea was that authority trumps law. I do believe Professor Foster learned the same thing. Rock the boat, and they'll fuck with you and there's nothing you can do about it.

It's similar in the US, but here there's always that possibility that someone will get pissed and sue their faces off.

Note: I'm an attorney now. I know our legal system is fucked up, but when it works oh god watch out. It's that fear that keeps the local systems in line...[gotta end on a Star Wars quote]

Joseph said...

To seogyeong choi: It's true man, American academics are highly critical of Korean culture. They might not apologize for it, but I will. Western education teaches the student to be highly critical of EVERYTHING. You should hear how we talk about the US. We are the worst country in the world, hands down. No contest. We need to improve in every major facet.

So when we see things in Korea we criticize. Most Westerners don't even understand how sensitive Koreans can be about it because we hear it so much about ourselves.

"The United States has the worst combination of culture, government and health of any nation in the history of the world. The world would be better if they were wiped off the planet."

Our academic response? "Yeah? You might be right, let's talk about that."

Kamiza said...

And Joseph and Michael must understand that all people are not U.S. Americans. Seo Gyeong Choi is making a very good point here.

seogyeong choi said...

TO Joseph. Westerners are critical of EVERYTHING? It is not true at all. In addition, it is irrelevant issue here. although Westerners can be little bit more critical than Asians, I never see westerners who are bluntly critical in front of their boss. General human behavior. Issue of power game. Westerners just start to learn that Korea starts to be not their colony any more and some Koreans can be their bosses.