Sunday, November 28, 2010

Korean culture in the classroom

I attended this presentation this past weekend at Kotesol about Korean culture and how to work with it in the classroom.  It was done by a second generation Korean-American, so he knew the fancy Korean words for loss of face or high school test.  Except, when it came to Korean culture I don't think he really knew what he was talking about.  He was telling us this story about how a class gave him a terrible interim evaluation, when he thought everything in the class was fine.  They said he was rude or something like that.  Instead of looking at himself and taking the advice for what it was, he confronted the students and sounds like he made a scene.   And I'm sure he got even worse evaluations at the end of the semester. 

In Korea, confrontation is such a big no-no.  Like bad, bad, bad.  If it is done, it has to be done with the upmost delicacy and in a such a way that no one loses face.  Think a win-win situation, not a win-lose one.  I don't think I'm skilled enough in the Korean social etiquette to even attempt this and I'm quite shocked that the presenter would think confronting his students like this was a good idea. 

He did have some good points about how in Korea, it's the teacher who has to work hard to make a connection with the students, whereas in other countries, the students will just accept you into the family without much effort of your own.  And that students are scared to appear either stupid, or too smart in front of their teacher or peers because of the whole shame/loss of face thing. 

Something that was omitted from the session that would have been most helpful to include is the positive aspects of Korean culture that you could work with in the class.  The one that most easily comes to my mind is the group dynamic thing they've got going on.  Back in the West, students are quite happy to be given a worksheet or something and told to do it. Or prepare an individual presentation.  In fact, many would much rather prefer this alone stuff to doing it in a group. 

Here in Korea, it's the opposite: people love doing things in a group or with a friend.  This works out in my class in that I'll rarely do activities that involve being alone.  Even with book work, or grammar exercises I'll tell the students to put their pencil down and read the sentences with correct answers with their partners.  And in games, I'll never let students go alone but put them in groups of 2-4.  This also helps overcome the shame factor because you appear stupid or smart with other people, so it's not so terrible!

No comments: