In college I was interested in both Korea and TESOL, and knew before my senior year that I wanted to come here and teach. I read everything about the Korean EFL industry I could, though since I went to a mid-sized school in rural Pennsylvania with few journals on the subject and even fewer Koreans, much of what I was read came from the internet. An interesting source of information and insight, though, was and is the great number of dissertations done by Masters and Ph.D. candidates. Since Koreans did come to my university to study TESOL, and came to nearby Pitt and Penn State in even larger numbers, their dissertations were not only useful for their bibliographies but also for what the authors had to say about both Korea and the US.
One in particular stood out, probably because I knew the author. Passages of it stood out so much that when I visited my alma mater this summer I copied them down for use in a "Why do expats in Korea complain so much?" post that I never got around to finishing. It's a dissertation titled Extra consciousness : role of anxiety in the self-concepts of South Korean students in the U.S. from a cultural perspective written by Dr. Jungwan Yang. Part of the book talks about Korean students' experiences learning English both in Korea and overseas, and also the difficulties they've faced while studying in the US. I'm not interested in debating the responses or what they reveal to me---maybe I'll save that for a dissertation of my own---but will rather copy and paste a few excerpts of that section before moving on to the point of this post. The author interviewed a number of Korean students at the university---most were in the TESOL program---and included some of their responses. From "Minji" (pg 109):
After some meetings she cried at the native speaker students' unfavorable attitude to her because
"In Malay, they are Asian, but in here, there are Whites, Blacks...I am just shrinking. In small community, Asian is not many, so Americans watch me, which makes me feeling bad. I wonder why they are watching me. I am daunted of myself."
From the next page:
As another unique point she tried to understand her 'unkind' native speaking American people. She made an effort to find similarity between their negative attitudes toward her and her experience in South Korea about other foreigners: "I looked at foreigners in Korea, too... There must be some parts that I misunderstood... I find that first; I must participate in their communication by myself. At first, I wanted them approaching to me. I thought they hesitated in approaching to me because of me, Asian. But I find that Americans are unnatural to meet new person. So, I think that I need to start talking and approach to them first."
And page 111:
If I go back to Korea, I might not come back again to America. America is like a fantastic amusement park, which seems interesting when seeing that from outside, but actually, entering inside of that, finally I found that there are few things that I can enjoy. Outside is pretty, inside is nothing, different from my expectation."
And my, um, "favorite" respondent "Myungho" (page 123):
There is a limitation in relationships with American classmates. They have no Heart...I don't have any expectations of my American classmates. I prefer Internationals from the same Asian cultural background...It's not comfortable to Be around with Americans. They are too proud, and arrogant. Their smile and Kindness to strangers is good, but theirs are superficial.
The dissertation didn't include transcripts or the original Korean, but I suspect the heart Americans lack is "정," a *cough* uniquely Korean concept of compassion and feeling. The Joshing Gnome has an interesting and critical five-part treatment of that here. Anyway, back to Myungho, who in addition to having "the second highest anxiety score" also said that ""studying in the U.S. college is easier than in Korea." On pages 148-9 is this little episode:
Myungho totally withdrew from classroom participation when his South Korean identity was neglected, claiming that:
My history teacher explained about histories of China and Korea. She lectured Chinese history for almost whole class time. Before 5 minutes left to finish the class, she commented that Korea and China are similar. If there is one thing different, Korean people eat fish for their protein. I was dumbfounded at her ignorance of Korean history. I would like to raise my hand and to point out her wrong knowledge, but I didn't, because I felt that Korea is not important part in her history time.
Their and the author's perception of how Korea was being presented turns up in another significant passage on pages 217-8:
In other words, teachers' methods can make second language learners silenced rather than encouraged by their active participation, which can be found in MInji and Myungho's experiences when their teachers made inappropriate comments about Korea and its cultural / political relations: "Korean culture imitates Chinese"; "We, the U.S. should have attacked North Korea first than Iraq," which are totally based on the U.S.' subjective perspective. In fact, while reading many books realted to Korean history and culture, working on this study, I found many books about Korea written in English are out of date and depend on old information. For example, the Culture and Customs of Korea (Clark, 2000) uses old pictures taken in 1960s or 1970s in order to introduce Korean culture such as the 'traditional costume' (p. 109) or 'middle school students transplating rice seedlings in rows' (p. 122) which are so obsolete. No one can find those scenes today. In spite of the fact that this book was written relatively recently, I wonder why the author depended on stale information. This tendency is not limited to just a few books, but many about Korea written in English. That's why most teachers in the U.S. are stuck on old or inappropriate information of Korea. I think that for Westerners, the image of South Korea stops at the Korean War in 1950, and they don't want to see the current South Korea.
That's a very loaded paragraph, and indeed throughout the whole book I objected to much of what was both said by the students and argued by the author of the dissertation, even back in 2004 when I read it and observed her defense of it. When I revisited these passages this past summer the posts about hypersensitive Koreans and complaining expats---done by Roboseyo, Ask a Korean!, and others---were fresh in my mind. And I was only a week or so removed from school meetings on the topic of trying to fire me based on things I had written on this blog and in the local media. To keep my words brief here, I'll just write that I often feel exhausted by Koreans' need to dictate what information and opinions on Korea are quote-unquote correct and what are not, and all that process entails. In large part I understand why; though the topic merits a big ol' post I'm not prepared to do, so I'll just say I don't think I'd ever have the patience to be a professional Koreanist, knowing how uphill a battle I as a foreign scholar would have.
I was curious about the book she mentioned by name, so I took a look through Clark's Culture and Customs of Korea. I didn't read it, because honestly I find those types of overviews really tedious, but I did find the passages she was talking about. I even photographed some of the objectionable pictures, though a problem with my memory card means they're not available now. (You can find part of the book online here via Google Books.) However I can say with confidence that nothing from the photographs or the passages would be out of place in Jeollanam-do. To write that "No one can find those scenes today" is just plain wrong, and a line like "they don't want to see the current South Korea" is presumptuous, judgemental, and indicative of way more bias and maladjustment than she'd probably admit. I'll even be so bold as to write that perhaps some of the younger generation are not only ashamed of Korea's agrarian past, but for various reasons look down their nose at the less-developed regions outside of Seoul. In fact, rural life has become so foreign and strange to young people that it's the basis of a popular fish-out-of-water TV comedy show, 패밀리가 떴다.
Incidentally, in case you're wondering Clark's book focuses much on Chungcheongnam-do's Geumsan county, Boksu-myeon in particular. Readers who have passed through there can testify to its appearance and to how representative it is to Korea outside of major cities. But let's not forget, there are makeshift gardens planted across the street from Gwangju's City Hall, so let's not pretend South Korea isn't a land of contrasts.
Anyway, I looked around at some of the other books on Korea my school library had. I'll grant that the bulk were about the Korean War, and there were few if any written in the past ten years. But one book in particular caught my eye . . . basically because it was right next to Clark's! I'll bet if Dr. Yang had read it she would have included lots of "9823j9arawejfoi" and ㅅㅂ in her paper. It's titled Korean Patterns and is written by Paul S. Crane, who it turns out has some associations to the missionaries who settled in the Jeollanam-do area in the early 20th century. Anyway, the library's particular edition is from 1978, but as Gusts of Popular Feeling points out, the book is now considered valuable not for what it teaches about Korean culture, but what it reveals about the biases of Western. And there are some doozies! I'll leave it up to you to decide how many of them still hold some truth. From page 89:
In matters of state, the feeling has been that any intelligent man was as good as any other in deciding the future of the nation or the public welfare. An elementary school teacher usually feels quite confident that he could fill in for a college professor, and many young men feel that they could assume the duties of an ambassador.
Fortunately, with the development of more trained people in various fields, there is beginning to be an awareness that trained people can indeed perform more effectively than untrained people.
From page 64:
Although it is now being discouraged, some men still take care of their bodily functions along the street in view of the passing crowds. A woman, on the other hand, is not supposed to be seen in public, and thus must hide someplace to relieve herself. Public facilities are usually not segregated. Children may be observed relieving themselves whenever and wherever the urge strikes them. This practice leads to heavy infestations with hookworms.
From page 68:
Korean men are certainly not asexual. However, men do travel, socialize, and enjoy the company of other men. This does not mean that they are homosexual. A group of men friends go out together to wine shops, cabarets, or kisaeng (기생) houses where they are entertained by trained females. These women, whether kisaeng or barmaids are free and easy, and most uninhibited. They sit close to one at meals putting dainties into one's mouth at a feast, and caress their partners freely. These women exist as the socially acceptable means for all premarital and extramarital relations.
Not to frequent their company is considered by most Korean men to be missing one of the gentlemanly joys of Korea. To go outside this area of easy conquest is criminal and foolish. One, of course, would marry only a virgin. Virginity is often certified before the wedding by the bridegroom's womenfolk. An ageing kisaeng may graduate to being owner or manager of a kisaeng house. A fortunate kisaeng may become the "little wife" of a wealthy patron. Far too often, however, many of these women resort to suicide once their not-so-youthful charms can non longer compete with the new crop coming along.
From page 130:
Racially mixed infants fathered by foreign troops create a problem in a country which has a very strong sense of race. Racially mixed children have little hope of full acceptance in Korean society. Their probable future is in prostitution for the girls and crime for the boys. Many have been saved from this future by being adopted into homes abroad. Black eyes and black hair are considered the only true beauty in Korean society.
And from page 139, under the section "The Westerner Working in Korea":
The Westerner working in Korea needs to keep certain philosophic principles in mind. First, a Westerner can never become a Korean. He will never be completely accepted by Koreans as a "person." He may be accepted by a small group of people who look to him for leadership or benefits.