But you can see my students. I love them with all my heart. They absolutely look after me. I don't want to forget my colleagues--my fellow teachers always care about my best interests. I know many foreigners complain about treatment. I have had bad experiences, but I am very happy here. I am feeling like a teacher. This is a renewal of a spirit I enjoyed prior to leaving teaching in 2006 to attempt finishing my dissertation--an attempt that failed. Working full-time has slowed my writing down to hours a week rather than per day. I think it's acceptable. I am willing to be patient with finishing my novel. However, I yearn for Time To Write. I think I could finish in 6 months without work. But it ain't gonna happen.
I thought it would be fun to show the link because it will give you a good idea just how immersed I am in Korean daily life and language. No English to speak of except for me. The myth about English in Korea shattered my first week in Korea. I have been thinking a lot about this: what it means to speak with others. Everyday language--and I am thinking about Ordinary Language here, you know, what does it mean to say something, to say what you mean, etc--everyday language is completely different for me in Korea.
I want to post about this in a manner suiting the topic. Later today, maybe tonight. For example, I am called a native speaker here. Of course, native is regarding English itself, not me-speaking-English but the idea that I come from there, there being the place they speak English everyday. This is nothing ordinary: it is a highly developed since of how English works in a presumed wealthy global culture with abundant opportunity. English language is seen as part of the endeavor to succees in a capitalist culture. Believe you me, English is here in Korea. It's all over the place. It's a more self-aware sense of English than most English speakers possess. Now, when I look at a Korean student--my high school students, for example--and witness their anxiety regarding English education, I realize I am witness to a communal dread about the future of Korea and Korean citizens, their individual dread about their future and their families' futures. The students may not be mature enough to say it this way, but their shoulders are already familiar with this cultural weight. They began carrying the burden when their mothers, and sometimes fathers, offerred their first 잔소리 regarding The Future, tying IT to Education and, inevitably for the middle class here, to English.
Of course, English is a global language or we might say English has been in the process of becoming global for some time. After all, it is hard to deny that it has long been the most acceptable for of global imperialism and the white power structure. In this respect, the term native speaker just doesn't suit me, for me, as a means to describe me. Nevertheless, it does suit the perspective Koreans inhabit regarding an approach to learning and using English. I feel that, regardless what Korean might call me, I should reject the modifier "native" and simply speak with others. I think I should attempt through teaching English--mechanics, grammar, vocabulary, et al--attempt to simply find a means to speak with others about what needs to be communicated. I should also attempt, if not succeed, to speak the Korean language.
I will doubtless get into the classroom politics discourse here: I abhor white folks who demand English Only environments. In Korea, we really do have what a bilingual culture. (We do in the US, as well, no matter what the politicians and guardians of the white power structure say.) I listen to native speaker teachers proclaim with pride that they "insist" their classrooms are English Only. Who are they kidding? Do they believe the students think in English? Don't they understand the value of using both languages to learn the other? For some, though, teaching is about power. We all know fellow teachers who aren't in it for the vocation but are in it for the authority and the claim to wisdom. Many capitalist entrepreneurs teach. They find profit in their lessons as they work FOR others rather than WITH them. I don't really know how the exchange works in every instance, but I do see capitalism at work in the sense that out of the exchanges those teachers participate in the classroom the value of their own self-worth grows. And this is often regardless of their students' successes of failures.
Inevitably, I'll have to address hagwon culture and the foreigners who flock to make cash working day and night "teaching" English. I really don't have much to say about folks who come here to teach at hagwons (for-profit "Academies.") I simply cannot think about hagwons without thinking about the market and culture of Education here. I am opposed to hagwon culture for many reasons. This does not mean I am opposed to hagwon teachers. SO, you know, I am reticent to speak about hagwon teachers because I don't want folks to think I am saying "You are a bad teacher." I am sure that good teachers exist in the hagwons in Korea. Nevertheless, I refuse to teach in the Private Education Industry in Korea. They are the death of community and public education. They instituionalize education in a manner suiting standardization of ideas in an attempt to make culture monolithic and linear. Hagwon culture also represents the death of critical thinking.
I wouldn't have come to Seoul unless I was able to teach in the public schools.
Look at my school's home page. Imagine flying to Seoul. After your 15 hour flight, you are picked up by a young man who drives you to your new school. And not more than 90 minutes after your arrival, your job begins. You simply cease being the teacher and writer, whatever I was, and begin a new daily life. I really felt no break until December 19th. An important day for me for two reasons: first, I met Praise Lee; second, Winter Break began. From September 5, 2008, until December 19th, 2008, I encountered a continuous renewal of attempting to get by in a place where my everyday language did not (and still doesn not) work.
Many people who travel here, live with their foreign coworkers. Most hagwons put foreigners up in apartment bulidings where their coworkers live. My situation is different. Most of the public school teachers I know live by themselves and are fortunate if they have foreign neighbors. Our schools find us places to live near work.
I have wanted to come to Korea for some time, so I was very happy to learn that I wasn't going to live with foreigners. I want to learn as much as possible about the culture and language. I am not exaggerating though when I tell you that I did not have a conversation for two weeks after arrival. I live in a neighborhood where no foreigners live. I like it; I hate it. I had no phone for 60 days, so I wandered the streets of my new home yearning to talk.
...time to work...
More later. I just wanted to get some points out for a more detailed discussion:
- what happened to my everyday languge? (I think the answer is Nothing happened to it, it is not English and never has been.)
- what is wrong with Private Education Industry and why "Native Speakers" should radicalize it, alter it, or simply refuse to support it?
- what does it mean that English is a global language? (Koreans are so focused on "accent." Korean English teachers like to talk about "accent" and I get many questions from teachers and students alike about appropriate "accents." I'd like to reflect on what they mean a bit more thoroughly, but I always ask, "what accent do you think is the correct one and why?" I believe English is everyone's language and we are afforded an opportunity here to either betray the cultural imperialism usually accompanying ESL education by freeing it from the rigors of the American English-British English binary.)