Monday, July 6, 2009

Reasons Why I Like Koreans:

Maybe this mostly applies to my new coworkers. Anyone wondering about the different between working for a public school or a private school? A public school is less work, more vacation and... this is a big one... you are the ONLY FOREIGNER working there! This may sound like a bad thing to some, but believe me, it has been nothing short of paradise- no clashing personalities, no stupid complaining about "how much work I have to do allllll the time" (you came here to work, dummy) and the Korean teachers at my new school have been nothing short of wonderful since I first arrived! I just love them.

So maybe that's what inspired me to write this post. I've been feeling the love of the Korean community for the past few weeks and it's got me thinking about exactly what I'm going to miss when I'm back in Canada- because when you're here, you take everything for granted. The grass is always greener, yadda yadda yadda.

Here are the top ten things I like most about the Korean people:

1. They tell you when you're looking good, and they're honest about how you can make yourself look better. This may sound shallow, but to Koreans, you have to talk the talk before you walk the walk. That means my Korean friends will truthfully answer questions like "Is this zit noticable?" or "Should I get contact lenses?" or "Are my legs too fat to get away with this skirt?"

I know, I know, that sounds really shallow. But these are things you're always wondering anyway, and Canadians are too damn polite, even with their closest friends, to tell the complete truth. With Koreans, no guesswork is necessary. You know when you're looking good, and you know when it's time to get magic straight one more time.

2. If older Korean women like you, they are not content until they're sure you are absolutely and completely full of food. They will tsk tsk at your breakfast of yoghurt and granola, they will fill your desk drawers with candy that you will never eat, they will fuss over you like you're their white daughter (and often will call you by that name... maybe not white, but definitely daughter...). And you know what? It's nice to be fussed over when you live in a country extremely far from the ones who would normally fuss over you. With no mommies or aunties around, a caring adjuma is a most welcome part of your life.

3. If older Korean men like you, they will also call you their daughter, but instead of food they will try to make you drink soju until you pass out. Like my vice principal. "Janine teacher, you are so very beautiful. Drink some soju.", and so on. Which leads me to my next point:

4. They tell you you're beautiful at every possible chance they get. They announce your beauty at teacher's meetings, your students want their picture taken with you (as do their mom's), they say "Oh, teacher. Your face is so small and your hair is golden." Seriously, my self esteem has never looked so good.

5. Your high school students have, more often than not, never met a foreigner before. When you walk into the classroom, they applaud you. They cheer. They give you dance recitals in class and say, "Teacher, I have a very important question. Who is the most beautiful girl in the class?" As if I would ever answer that! But these are just some of the common questions that Koreans ask every day. Do you have a boyfriend? Is he Korean? Do you think our uniforms are ugly? Who has the smallest face?

6. Koreans know how to eat. Like kings. And they do it at every possible chance, with as many people as possible. My visa was taking forever, but no worries: first we eat a magnificent lunch and THEN we get the visa. Clearly, I need to get my priorities straight. At staff parties, the soju flows freely, as does the meakju (beer), plum wine and makoli (carbonated rice wine). The food is unending. A feast to end all feasts. I love the way Koreans eat, whether as a family or just with their friends.

7. Koreans love all things luxurious. They shop at big department stores, drive nice cars and enjoy eating steak. They laugh at my frugality. And, more often than not, they are amazingly generous and make sure I want for nothing. Can't afford to go out this weekend? I'll buy the pitchers. And don't worry about taxi fare because I have a fancy car.

8. Koreans turn every sporting event into a high school musical. I hate sports, but I love the dance moves, different songs and cheers and, most of all, the colour coordination. This means I can enjoy baseball and soccer on a new level. Thanks, Korea.

9. I really love that my students are respectful and are hard workers. They don't even know about drugs, they don't drink til they're twenty and they know that if they don't get good grades they will fail at life (at least, that's what Korean adults tell them). My school is an all girls school and I love to see them taking on leadership roles and engaging in school politics. At the end of the day they clean my coffee cup for God sakes! They are go getters and they're going to be super successful. And they think I'm interesting. Aw.

10. When I was travelling through SE Asia, I kept thinking about the manners and ethics the Korean people hold dear. Theft is a nonissue, violent crime is rare, and people don't ever rip you off because you're a foreigner. I've lost my phone several times, my camera twice and my wallet once. On every occasion, someone has gone to great lengths to return my things to me.

These are just a FEW of the things I love about Koreans. Don't ever listen to disgruntled foreigners who say Koreans are bad people. Every country has bad people, but not every country has the amount of honest, hardworking people that Korea has.


Anonymous said...

good stuff. sadly, some of them come to america and assimilate too well.

Anonymous said...

btw, welcome back from your vacation.

Henrique said...

Hi Janine. I just found your blog by searching on Google. I'm from Brazil, but I've been living in Korea since last year, and 2 weeks I'll be moving to Suwon, Yeongtong-dong. Is it near where you live? Take a look at my blog (even though it's mostly in Portuguese). See you.

Janinel said...

Hi Henrique! I don't speak Portuguese, but I enjoy your blog's pictures and videos- haha.

I gather you're a student? Will you be going to Kyung Hee University? I live in Yeongtong- all you need to know is to go to Now Bar or the park if you want to meet the other foreigners :)

Adeel said...

Excellent post. Korean hospitality ranges from amusingly overbearing to incredible, over-the-top.

This business about small faces is new to me.

John from Daejeon said...

I don't know how your kids have never seen a foreigner before as most have surely been to English hagwons while in elementary and middle school.

For the most part crime here is swept under the rug and not reported--a lot like the suicide rate unless those killing themselves are ex-presidents or actors. My first month here was hell as every night from 1:00 am (when they arrived home from work) to 5:00 am (when they left for work--they must have slept at work) my newlywed neighbors had the loudest knockdown, drag out fights I'd ever heard. At first I thought I should call the police, but I figured other Korean neighbors would call the police, but they never did until it was too late. One finally called when he heard the young man pleading for his life and saw blood seeping out from under their door.

After beating him nightly for a month, it seems that she become totally unhinged and stabbed him to death because he had lied to her about his financial situation in life before their marriage. It took the police quite some time to even get the door open. I feel that I should have done more, and I would have had I still been back home in the states, but all of my Korean co-workers said that I should just leave it alone and buy some earplugs or something when I first brought it up to them. Arrggghh. It still haunts me to this day that I should have done more, but the reality is is that I wouldn't have been given much attention to by the police in the first place as I am a foreigner.

Also, it sounds like you definitely teach at one of the better schools. I didn't know at first that there are very different levels to the types of education that the students receive in this country (there are many private high schools as well as public high schools). Those in the top tier of students will go either to the big three universities or will study at quality institutions abroad. Others will go into second-tier schools, then third, and so on until you reach the bottom tier—the tier that finds its occupants working the more menial jobs at gas stations pumping gas, at the end of grocery store aisles hawking laundry detergent, or with boxes of fruit and vegetables on the sides of streets without the proper permits. Those all-important university entrance exams pretty much dictate which tier you will belong to for the rest of your life.

I didn't even know South Korea had a problem with missing children until I saw them listed on my electric bill. Teaching at the same poor neighborhood hagwon for three years has also opened my eyes first-hand to seeing kids slip through the cracks and end up on the streets and even seeing one of my best middle school students prostituting herself for money to seem better off than she is. That's not even getting into trying to help those who suffer from mental problems that we can't help because it might cause the parents to lose face as their kids would no longer be perfect.

While this country really has a lot more to offer than most of the world realizes, it does have its share of problems as well.

Janinel said...

True enough, I used to hear someone getting beaten every night in my first apartment, but was told not to get myself involved, and several of my friends were attacked by a deranged teenage boy last year.

Still, the violent (killings) crime rate is much, much lower than you would find elsewhere. I feel safe walking about at night.

John from Daejeon said...

A lot of it is still under, or un-, reported. Just this past week a serial rapist was finally caught after several years of committing his vile acts and well after he committed over a hundred rapes (sometimes striking the same victims more than once), yet the people in those neighborhoods were never even told about the danger. Also, in the last few years some foreign women have also been victimized by rapists while here and haven't had the same type of support from the law that they would get back home--as if they brought it upon themselves for leaving their windows unlocked.

Back in the 1980's, after the worst mass killing attributed to one lone gunman (a police officer) in history, guns were made much harder to obtain here in South Korea which is a good thing. But it still pays to keep on your toes and to keep your veranda/balcony windows secure if you live close to, or on, the ground floor. It seems that that rapist liked entering through unsecured windows and out of the view of CCTV.