Archive for the 'culture shock' Category

Korea to replace TOEFL, SAT tests…

From Brian in Jeollanamdo:

If you were the Minister of Education and your country consistently ranked among the worst at English standardized tests in the world, in spite of students spending thousands of dollars each for years or decades studying exclusively for them, what would you do? You’d scrap the test, of course. 

Man, talk about shooting yourself in both feet.  Way to go, Korea, way to go.  Good luck getting your kids into schools abroad.  Oh, wait, maybe that’s not such a great idea anyway, considering that almost half of them quit/flunk out of schools abroad anyway.  Maybe you should just stick with buying residency in foreign countries or having your children adopted by American families, both so that you can qualify to send them to an international school in Korea.  For a country that puts so much emphasis on preparing for tests, it amazes me that they do so abysmally.

Oh man, it just keeps getting better.


This is a post from July 18th that got lost in my masses of drafts.  It’s a bit out of date, but entertaining, I think:

As Marc said yesterday, “Life with [me] is always an adventure…”. Yesterday was no exception.

I got off work at 11, because my co-teacher had to go to Gwangju to pick his son up from high school (public schools have small dormitories here for students who don’t live conveniently close), so I came back to the apartment and finished my lesson plans for the camp I work a week from now, and then Marc and I picked something off the tourist map for Jindo and headed there on a bus, after dealing with the stationmaster, who I suspect sees me as a bit of a moron because I can’t read their bus schedule.

We headed to Namdoseokseong, a 13th century fortress that still has all of its walls intact, and a reconstruction of a couple of the buildings inside. The neatest part, to me, is that people still live almost entirely inside the walls, in the village. There were only 3-4 houses that were outside the walls. What was even neater was that the old roads and stone irrigation ditches were still there and still being used, virtually unchanged. I’m pretty sure that none of the houses inside were original, but many of them used the traditional stone/mud/thatch construction that was used for most of Korean history, so it was virtually the same as it would have been. Don’t worry, I will post photos soon.

Where the nuts part starts is actually when we LEFT the fort.

So, we had checked when the next bus left the station before we left, and then figured we’d track how long it took us to get there the first time, and then just add that to the new departure time, to figure out when to catch the bus back. By our calculations, it should have come around 5:15, so we got to the bus stop around 5. A few minutes after we got there, three old women were dropped off at the bus stop by a tractor, so we assumed that was a good sign that we were at least somewhat right about the timing. Nope. 5:15 passed. 5:30 passed. Around 5:30 the women were picked up by a car. That was disheartening. Around 5:50 I tried to talk to some old men who were just sitting around one of the buildings about having them call a taxi. They said, basically, “bus in 10 minutes!”. So I went back to the bus stop, since they seemed to think that it was better just to wait. Around this time, I decided to explore the tidal flats behind the bus stop. While chasing a crab around, I took a wrong step, sunk ankle-deep into the mud, and lost my shoe. I then had to dig around in the mud for my shoe, resulting in one muddy arm and one muddy leg (the other leg wasn’t exactly clean either). I rinsed myself off in an only slightly cleaner stream, and then found a utility sink to rinse off the dirty water. We waited around 20 minutes after I had talked to the old men. No bus. By that time, the men had disappeared. Around 6:30, two cars worth of Koreans pull up, get out of the car with a camera and tripod, and gesture towards us. We assume they want us to take a photo of them in front of the fort, so I agree. As it turns out, they want us IN the picture. Foreigners here are a bit of a spectacle, so this is not the first time I have been grabbed to be in a random photo. It’s a bit demeaning, but whatever. So we let them have us in their weird family/friend photo, and then since we did THEM a favor I asked them to call us a taxi, since their 8 year old son spoke some English. They gladly called, and the taxi finally came around 7:00 and we were back in Jindo around 7:30ish.

I am often entertained by this sort of zaniness that is so pervasive in Korea, though sometimes, such as that day, I do find it more on the frustrating end of the spectrum.  Makes life an adventure though, as Marc found out while he was here.  You have to be very flexible here in Korea, or you’ll go crazy.  It’s something I thought I was good at in the US, but Korea takes it to a whole new level, and I’m still adjusting, two months in.

Here’s a photo from the bus ride there that day:

“Fan Death”

While he was here, Marc and I came up with a phrase that we say whenever we discover something very odd about Koreans/Korean culture (typically some belief or another, typically an ignorant one):  “Fan Death”

Koreans believe that if you have a fan on and the windows closed, you will die, because fans “steal your air”.  There are even warnings on the boxes, and they all have timers with a maximum of 3 hours.  They also believe that if a pet is left alone with a fan in the room, that it will explode.  Not just suffocate (as they believe humans do), but spontaneously explode.  It’s absolutely absurd, and at the same time rather humorous.  Thus, when something similarly odd about Korea comes up, we both look at eachother and say “Fan Death”.  It’s an inside joke, and one that won’t get much use now that he isn’t here, but it does make me chuckle.

Generally, I am very accepting of odd cultural beliefs, but the Koreans have several (such as the examples I just gave) that just reek of plain old ignorance, and so I can’t help but laugh.


And because I hate making posts that don’t contain a photo, here, have a visual-overload one from Marc and I’s visit to Cheongpyeongsa temple in Gangwondo:

Sometimes I think that monks must be into psychedelics…

Egalitarianism? What’s that?

From Learning to Think Korean: A Guide to Living and Working in Korea by Robert Kohls:

One of the most difficult relationships for Americans to adjust to in Korea is that of master and servant.  Korean servants are unequivocally inferior to their employers, and it is embarrassing to the servants and offensive to Koreans of higher rank to treat them in any way as equal, to introduce servants, for instance, to your higher-ranking guests.  It has been 80 years since servants were common in American middle-class households.  The mere idea of servants is foreign to us, which, combined with our egalitarian impulses, makes it hard for us to order them to do something instead of asking them if they would please do it.  If you speak Korean, the imperative to surmount your egalitarianism is reinforced because the language demands that you talk down to servants as inferiors.

Replace the word “servant” with “teacher”, and you have how I often feel.

One thing that Marc remarked on while he was here is that Koreans don’t really have words for “Please”, “Excuse me”, or “Sorry”.  Technically, they do, but nobody uses them.  My Korean phrase books and cultural etiquette books say that not only should you not bother learning them, but that you will make Koreans feel awkward if you do use them.  Similarly, when asking for something from someone who you can’t immediately and positively identify as more important than you, the Korean phrase to do so (주사ㅛ, I believe) translates pretty much to “Give X to me.”, rather than what we would consider more polite – something along the lines of “I’d like X, please.”.  When I read that excerpt above, my mind went immediately to these two linguistic examples.

Honestly, these linguistic features are very indicative of Korean culture, I feel.  Cultural attitudes can often be found written into languages, and Korean is no exception.  In French, you have the “Tu” and “Vous” forms:  the familiar and the formal.  In Korean, there is a whole different way of talking to someone, and it’s not based on the familiar/formal model, it’s based on “how much higher in status am I than you?”.  A slip up is not merely a grammatical mistake but a potential insult.

I recently found out that one of the reasons that my supervisor has been pissy with me is that I have stopped referring to her as “[Name] Chang-ak San Nim”, which means “[Name] Supervisor” and instead have just been calling her by her last name.  This degree of formality is very alien to us informal Americans, and it has been a major adjustment for me, especially since I am often seen as relatively informal, even insolent, back in the relaxed USA.  I am slowly learning that the way to get things here is not only to stand your ground, as I am very used to doing, but also to be overly, sickeningly sweet, and make it look like you are trying hard to work with them.

I am enjoying this book, and you can likely expect more excerpts from it in the future.


Sorry for taking so long, but I’ve been working and I don’t have reliable internet yet.

My first few days here were hard.  The culture shock was pretty heavy, even for me.  I have traveled a lot, but Asia is, well, non-Western, and it’s a much bigger shock than I had anticipated.  At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it here, but the place is growing on me.  So, take some of the negative things I said at the beginning with a grain of salt.  It was more frustration than anything, I think.

In other news, I’m able to eat more western food than I thought I would, here.  I found yogurt, so in the morning I have yogurt, sausage patties, and eggs.  It’s a bit protein-heavy, but I get tired during the day.  My students are very tiring, as they are quite ill-behaved.  Korean food is mostly carbs and vegetables, with a small amount of pork or fish as a side dish.  It’s good, but not very conducive to keeping me awake.

In other news, it’s almost June and I just turned on my heat.   It gets down to about 55-60 at night (last night my thermometer said 14˚C).  Before this, I had slept with my windows open, to allow some air circulation, but 60 is a bit chilly for that.  Unfortunately, the heating is done through water pipes in the floor.  While it’s very nice when you’re sitting on the floor, or walking/standing, it takes awhile to dissipate into the air.  I’m sure I’ll get used to it eventually.  One thing that I’m having trouble with is remembering to turn on the water heater in the morning.  You see, when you have the heat on, it’s *on*, kind of how a stove is on until you turn it off.  It doesn’t turn off when things get warm (well, the floor heat does, but not the water), so if you’re not careful, you’ll go through heating oil pretty fast.  So, if you’re not using hot water, you turn the heater off.  But, it takes about 10-15 minutes to get up to temperature, once turned on, so you have to plan your showers accordingly.  All but this morning I have forgotten to turn it on.  Sometimes I get in the bathroom, turn the water on, and then stand there for three or four minutes before remembering why it’s not hot yet.  I have made myself a note, that I have taped to the door between the main room, where my bed is, and the rest of the apartment (the kitchen, bathroom, entryway, small second room).  I keep that door closed at night, to limit the sounds from the rest of the apartment (pipes, etc), so in the morning, it’s the first thing I see.  My morning routine is such:


  • 1. Boil water.  Since the water is not generally good to drink here, I boil a pot of water in the morning and put it in the fridge.  I use that to brush my teeth, wash my face, etc.  I use bottled water to drink
  • 2. Turn on hot water.
  • 3. Put boiled water in fridge.
  • 4. Turn off stove gas line.  (I also have a note about this on my door.  I’m so worried about leaving the apartment with the gas on.)
  • 5. Turn off hot water.


Sometime today I’ll do a video walkthrough of my apartment, and stick it up in the podcast section.  My apartment isn’t bad, but it certainly has “character”.


January 2021

Blog Stats

  • 53,525 hits