Many teachers are very interested in you.

Tomorrow is our first official club day at school and, as most PS teachers will know, there are also teachers' clubs.

Today on the way to school, I ran into a teacher who I've had a lot of trouble with in the past. Nothing overt -- she's always very polite. But she struggles with the concept that I'm not in Korea solely to teach English. I mean, I am in Korea to work as an English teacher. But teaching English is not why God put me on this earth. She has a lot of trouble understanding why I don't want to spend hours of my free time giving free English lessons, and doesn't seem to realize that requesting such things (and persisting to ask, even after having been politely declined) is pretty fucking rude.

There's a big stereotype about that characteristic in Koreans, but I can honestly say, other than brief encounters with randoms who basically just instantly suggested I should teach them English upon being introduced, and who I obviously avoided afterward, she's the only one I've really had this ongoing struggle with. Most people seem to realize that teaching English is my job, and I probably don't want to do it outside of work hours. Let alone for free. Unless it's volunteer work, obviously.

But there she was today. Now, club day is a day when the teachers are supposed to be able to finish work early and enjoy themselves, either by participating in various activities or by going home a bit early. I usually choose the latter, although do occasionally join the "coffee drinking" club to catch up with the teachers I don't get to see that often.

Well. I'm sure you can see where this is going.

Apparently, a lot of the teachers are very interested in learning English, and also are very interested in me, so she wondered if I wouldn't start an English club. In which I would not be a participant, but a.... well, a teacher. Making lesson plans and doing extra work. As far as I know, no other teachers are expected to spend their club day in this way. And the way I see it, being interested in me, and interested in English, are two different things. Are they not?

I went with the most polite response to this I could think of, which was that if they were interested in me, they should join the "coffee drinking" club, because I often attend, and they would have ample opportunity to get to know me then.

She frowned. Oh, I see...

You know what? It's not even the extra prep time or the idea of teaching a club that bothers me. I would, for example, be very excited to lead a baking club, where I could teach the other teachers how to make Western style baked goods. That sounds like a hell of a good time to me, despite the fact that it would probably take a lot more prep than just conducting an adult English lesson, which I have done thousands of times before, and for which I already have the materials prepared and on hand.

It's just that notion of me = English that annoys me. Or me = English lessons, rather.

If you're interested in me, talk to me in the cafeteria at lunch time. Approach me at hwaeshik. Stop by and drink coffee in my office. The same as you would for any other teacher. We don't need to be starting any clubs in order to get to know the foreign teacher.

Once Busan decided to run something past me -- a good friend of his (female, Korean) was dating a foreign guy. Everything seemed to be going fine, until she started asking him for help with her university English assignments. About the third or fourth time it happened, he bugged out and dumped her. Busan was puzzled -- his friend was a good person who would never have been dating him only for his English.

I sat across the table from him visibly cringing: "You just can't do that to foreigners...."

It's not that it happens all the time. It's just that, no matter how long you're here, it still really stings when it does. When you agree to that coffee date with your new friend, and you're so excited to have made a new friend, and within minutes of being seated at the table, they haul out their textbook. Or when you're invited to dinner, and you think, how nice to spend some time in a family home, and as soon as you've got your shoes off, the parents are barking at the children to go and get their English books so the native speaker can review their pronunciation. Or when you constantly have to find polite ways to explain that, you're not an asshole, but it's just if you agreed to help every single person who ever asked you to assist with something English related, you'd never have a chance to live any kind of a life.

The last thing you want is to mingle any kind of relationship with your English speaking capabilities, let alone your primary relationship.

So I just smiled and said, "You can tell the other teachers that any time they want to, they are completely welcome to come to my office and drink coffee with me."

I'm really not expecting that to happen.


ダンちゃん said...

Great post. As you say, it's not even necessarily that you get asked often, but that it makes you feel like you are just a representative of the language you speak rather than a human being. I still feel rather bad about flat out refusing to teach English to a person who lives in the same dorm as me, but it was literally the first thing out of his mouth when we met. You speak English, I want to learn English, look how much we have in common! Let's be 'friends'!

baekgom84 said...

I always found this kind of situation tricky to navigate. On the one hand, it seems only reasonable that Koreans who have friends who are native speakers might enlist their help every once in a while, given that English is so (some might say unnecessarily) important in modern Korean society. In many ways, being born as a native English speaker is as fortunate as being born into a wealthy family, so I try not to take my status as a native English speaker for granted.

On the other hand, it's sometimes hard to shake the feeling that maybe you're being used, particularly when a not-all-that-close friend contacts you out of the blue, and exchanges a handful of hurried pleasantries before casually mentioning that they have an English assignment/test coming up, and would you possibly be so kind as to give them a hand? Honestly I really don't mind most of the time, but sometimes I've agreed to check a friend's work, only to be sent pages and pages of almost incomprehensible stuff, which can take ages to properly correct.

I guess for me, it comes down to how well I know the person, how reasonable the request is, and how likely I think they'd be to return a favour of a similar nature.

Anonymity said...

I really did simply give up on trying to meet Koreans outside of work, simply because nearly everyone I met really just wanted an English tutor, either for themselves or their children. I've lived in several other countries as well, and while this sort of thing has happened to me elsewhere, it never happened as often as in Korea.

Foreigner Joy said...

This post deserves a gold medal for pointing out the painful truth of life in Korea.

Also once you agree to such things you get sucked into this sort of English-teaching hell.

Good post!

Korean Punk Professor said...

When I was in the army in Korea, people were constantly begging me for English lessons. The officers were pestering me for "tutoring" until I told them it wouldn't do them much good.

Some of the 사병 asked me (nicely) to teach them "Conversational English" during off-hours, so I did. The lessons went something like this:

How to answer the telephone:
"Yo, what the fuck d'you want?"

If someone says something in English you don't understand:
"What? Get the fuck outta here!" immediately followed by: "Suck my dick, FuckFace."

I had the whole 부대 speaking English in no time.

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