Sunsangnim is back, well, sort of...

Thu Oct 7, 2004

For the past two weeks I’ve been teaching a class for two hours every morning at a school up the street. It was convenient and I needed the money. Full-time job prospects are not looking great right now, but I do have my name on a subbing list at a fairly good school in downtown Vancouver. “But out here, in the perimeter, out here we are stoned immaculate…doo dee doo dee doo…” That’s such a great Doors song. The perimeter I’m referring to is Canadian suburbia. The school I teach at in the mornings is located in a mall (along with just about every other business in the suburbs) and is rather ill-equipped. I have a strong dislike for malls. The washrooms are located behind the scenes down some long labyrinthine corridors and one morning last week one of the maintenance staff locked me in. I had to bang on the door for a while until somebody let me out.

Ironically, it’s a Korean school, that is to say, all the students are Korean. The “Won Jang Nim”, or as he calls himself, “president” did not bother to interview me, in fact the only question he asked me was “Do you drink beer?” which is of course, a reasonable question in any Korean company. The students, all in their twenties, are an unmotivated bunch, who would sooner play golf at the local country club than spend a sunny morning learning a language they don’t really like. They speak Korean a lot and sneak off for smoke breaks more than is necessary, in fact some of them pretend they need the washroom, then just stand outside smoking. Such juvenile behaviour, while amusing, is something which I have recently been advised to curb immediately. I freely admit I’m not an authoritative figure, and I thought I could treat these guys like adults, but unfortunately, this hasn’t worked so far. A polite request to pay attention and speak in English only for their own benefit has no effect whatsoever. My supervisor sat me down yesterday and told me, and I paraphrase a bit, he wants me to be a “cocky bastard” who “oozes charisma”. He said the inevitable student-teacher power struggle must result in one or other of the parties seizing it, and that the students will not voluntarily give it up. They need to be controlled, they respect a strong leader, that’s what they’re used to in Korea, etc. etc. It was pretty good advice actually and I’ve tried being more of a hard-ass with some limited success. Some of the hardcore apathists still scowl and mutter angrily in Korean under their breath, but when I ask them what is wrong they say “nothing”. One student expressed his anger artistically. I had an activity that involved drawing a face. He drew a mohawked, ridiculously over-pierced punk giving the finger, saying “fuck you” and had “you’re going to die” written on his shirt. I suspect that most of them are pissed off they ended up in godforsaken Coquitlam, which I must admit, is quite boring to most young people, let alone ESL students who come to Canada to party and get away from their over-restrictive parents. Yes, indeed, classic symptoms of culture-shock. All very fascinating stuff from a socio-cultural point of view. It’s interesting, because now it’s the students that are experiencing culture shock, not me. In Korea I would leave the school and be immersed in an incomprehensible foreign culture and it would bring me down a bit sometimes. Now my students have that problem, not me. I get to leave the classroom and continue to function quite normally. Now I have to inspire these guys to learn the chosen language of the world’s economic superpowers and encourage them to soak in a bit of Canadian culture instead of hanging out in their little Korean bubbles. Easier said than done of course and there are so many intersecting social, psychological and anthropological issues to consider when trying to be a successful teacher. Anyways, for the most part I’m enjoying working with these guys, and quite appreciate the challenge. I do, after all, need to work on my leadership skills.

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