I know foreigners in Korea have really mixed feelings about this kind of thing, but the thing to remember is that the kids themselves are not doing this of their own initiative -- they have no choice. So the idea of anyone getting pissy with them really bugs me. It's their homework.
I personally don't mind it. I like to have the chance to have a bit of a chat with students who aren't my own, but I did give my co-teacher this bit of advice: Please tell the students to remember that most of the foreigners they meet will not be tourists. Most of them will probably be living in Korea. I also said, tell the kids to remember that there are other kinds of foreigners in Korea besides Westerners. I told her to try to steer the students away from any questions that center around only Korea or what foreigners think of Korea, or to try to make them more interesting and personal than the usual. I said, every single time I'm stopped by a kid doing one of these assignments (as well as a lot of the times anyone out in public decides to strike up a random conversation), I'm always asked these questions:
- How long have you been in Korea?
- What do you think of Korea?
- Do you like Korean food?
- When are you leaving Korea?
- What do you think of Korean culture?
- Do you miss your family?
- What do you like about Korea?
- Can you say something in Korean?
- Why did you come to Korea?
- What's the best thing about Korea?
These are the kinds of questions that I think will really help the students learn more about how foreigners relate to Korea, that will help them to engage in a real conversation, however slow, nervous and stunted, with foreigners.
My kids are so low level that I know this is asking a lot, but I know how creative they are and how they can make it work when they really want to. They have a lot of interesting things to say, if they are just given that little extra push to go outside of the box.
I also told her that the students should try to be as polite as possible when approaching foreigners. I've already warned them all numerous times about how, "Hey!" can come across as extremely rude, and that, "Excuse me," or, in the case that they are addressing me, simply, "Teacher!" is much better. But on Monday I'll make out a list of phrases that could help them in navigating the conversation in a polite way. She's more worried about foreigners being upset about the students wanting to record them (part of the assignment) and so I told her they just need to be sure to ask permission before everything: "Excuse me, may I speak to you for a moment? Would you mind if I record you? Thank you so much for your time."
Shit like that.
But the real point of making this post is to say this: If you happen to be approached by a teenage raggamuffin in Seoul this summer vacation, please be kind. Speak slowly and help them as much as you can. Most of them are fine with me, but they haven't had much experience at all with foreigners or speaking English outside of that. For most of them, just going to Seoul will be a big event. A lot of them are really going to be dreading having to do this. A lot. So please be kind, not only to mine, but to all of the students who are put in this position. Remember that they are someone's students, just like your own, and try not to get annoyed, and to be forgiving of their mistakes. The idea of one of my boys getting reamed out by some grumpy foreigner really makes my heart ache. So let's all agree not to ever do that to someone else's kids, hey?
Do you have any other advice I should pass along to my kids? Let me know in the comments.