The visa reform issue: Personal lives.

I've decided to revamp my nearly-always-fatal-in-the-end-benefit-of-the-doubt approach toward the artist formerly known as the horrible teacher, because I really like her kids, and because a lot of things can get lost in translation, and because mostly I really hate being angry. So if someone's going to be a fixture in my life, I usually force myself to just get the fuck over whatever issues I may have with the person and find the best in them. Because there's enough in this world to get genuinely angry about not to go around making trouble for yourself where there doesn't necessarily have to be any. Right? Right.

Attitude checks, kiddies. They're for the best. I don't always know or understand as much as I think I do. In fact, I rarely do. And knowing that is the most important thing.

I guess I'm just frustrated that she's not coming along as quickly as I think she ought to with considering me "normal" or competent or whatever. But we have time, and I guess in some ways she's made progress. I really need to just cool my fucking jets.

Tonight I was there for absolute ages, which I've decided not to let bother me anymore. Her mother cooked us dinner again, and it was gorgeous -- I lap it up every time I have the chance to eat a home-cooked meal here in Korea, because restaurant food (although generally the same fare) really can't compare. Afterward, the girls and I went for a small walk around the neighborhood to get ice cream (green tea and raspberry for me -- lush). Yelin, the little one, suddenly burst into tears during dinner because Yejin, the older one, said she didn't have a birthday party not because she doesn't like them, like me, but because she doesn't have any friends. In the end, I got her to stop crying by asking if she was "jinjah" crying, which made her bust out laughing in the middle, and then managed to convince her to stop pouting by simply saying, "Yelin.... Yelin.... Yelin.... Yelin.... Yelin..................... Yelin." Kids are easy. If only adult conflicts could be solved so easily.

Yejin made the mistake of asking me to assign her homework. So now she had to read and take notes on one BBC article a week (since she wants to be a diplomat) to prepare for discussion, and write one opinion article or persuasive essay, since opinion writing is the weakest aspect of the Korean education system that's highly utilized in the Western system (since she wants to attend a Western university). I told her she should be careful what she asked for, from now on. She agreed.

Yelin, on the other hand, was tearing her hair out at the prospect of writing book reviews. She's the creative type. So I told her, fuck it like (not in so many or, rather, such words, but...) -- just write a story. About what? About anything. You miss Jaebeom? Yes! Well, then. Next week I want a story about how Jaebeom comes back to Korea and rejoins 2pm. Okay! Okay, then. All set.

While we were at the ice cream shop, the girls working behind the counter were asking the girls about me, if I was their English teacher. They answered in the affirmative. This makes me nervous. Because, technically, what I'm doing is illegal. Or rather it's in a legal gray area. I'm not being paid, so they aren't technically privates, but if someone were to suggest that I was, I don't suppose them not having much proof would make a whole lot of difference. Chris in South Korea has been dealing a lot lately with the concept of visa reform, and this is another aspect of that that I haven't really seen anyone address, which is that I have to be extremely careful about my interactions with Koreans, considering the fact that many technically legal acts could be easily twisted around and used against me, threatening my job and my very presence in this country, should someone decide (for whatever reason) to do so.

I feel really limited in how I can be seen interacting with Koreans, which is a huge fucking shame. I am someone who takes a genuine interest in both my life and career here in Korea, as well as Korea itself. This means that I have the desire to learn Korean, to have Korean friends, and to interact with Korean families. However, being seen doing language exchange (or even flat out just studying Korean) in a coffee shop too often could be misconstrued as teaching privates. Being seen out in the neighborhood with two Korean children will almost always be misconstrued as teaching privates. Being seen going in and out of a Korean household on a regular basis looks like teaching privates.

What am I supposed to do? Korea wants Native English teachers who understand Korean culture, who care about their jobs and are invested in this country. But they also want to slap on the threat of being kicked out for getting too close. So, hypothetically, I get the boot for trying to learn Korean and spending time with a Korean family (a far better way to "understand Korean culture" than viewing slides about kimchi at a week-long orientation, if you ask me), and they bring in another beer-guzzling frat boy who couldn't find South Korea on a map a week ago to replace me. Then, they turn around and complain about having incompetent teachers who don't understand or care about Korean culture, or the children, and blame the whole damn thing on foreigners.

And if you think I'm being paranoid or hyperbolic with this argument, keep in mind that I've been told straight out at meetings with my district not to study Korean with Koreans, or be seen meeting with a Korean in one place too often, because people will "misunderstand". I've been told straight out by the head of my district not to study Korean. Do you get that? Do you understand what that felt like?

So, I suppose I'm supposed to spend all my time innocently cavorting around with other foreigners so that nobody "misunderstands" anything, but at the same time, I'm expected to put in the lion's share of the effort to be functional in a culture that is foreign to me. Without spending any visible or regular time with people who are from that culture.


What was that about seeing the best and checking attitudes? Oh, yeah...


Anonymous said...

And now you know why beer guzzling frat boys are the happiest English teachers in Korea. They don't give a shit about any of that.

Usually the thinking behind the not learning Korean thing is just so you don't get "lazy" and use Korean in class. If they wanted someone to speak Korean in class, they could hire a Korea, after all. If you don't speak Korean at all, the students can't get lazy either. Threatening you with the possibility of deportation is a nice way to accomplish that. Very clever.

Do you actually know anyone whose been deported for hanging out in a coffee shop with a Korean friend? Or for doing a genuine language exchange?

I'm no Picasso said...

Actually, what she was doing was giving a thinly-veiled warning against teaching privates and claiming they were "language exchange". She told us at the same meeting not to do drugs. Which is just embarrassing. I asked why the people they had hired and put in their schools needed to be told such a thing, and was told that it was because another native speaking teacher had been caught for drugs somewhere else. I wonder if they sit all the Korean teachers down and tell them not to molest a student every time that happens anywhere in Korea.

And no, of course I don't. But if they want to enter into this rhetoric and use it to tell me how I should or should not conduct my free time in this country, then we'll enter into it.

Gomushin Girl said...

Unless they search your bank records and find regular deposits from non-authorized sources, you're unlikely to be caught even if you *are* teaching privates. Unless there are either witnesses to somebody handing you a big ol' white envelope of cash or notes in your bankbook that Ms Kim is transferring a mysterious 500,000 won to your account once a month . . . well, really, it's not worth Immigration's time and effort to track you down. Drug use and massive take-downs of poor Nepali and Pakistani laborers who overstayed their visas are sexier, better press. Unless somebody is out to get you, personally, you're fine.
It also means you're fine if you're just hanging out with Koreans. No matter how creepy/evil some random admin person or coteacher is about the whole drugs/private tutoring/defiling Korean women bit, there's absolutely nothing suspicious or problematic about language exchanges. And really, most Koreans, including ice cream ladies, won't care even if the girls run around telling everyone you're their teacher.
My own personal experience is that if there's a woman like your horrible teacher, no amount of time or any event will make her realize your basic, common humanity. Thank goodness such people are rare, but there's still enough of them out there to annoy.
Love the blog!

I'm no Picasso said...

Just to clear something up, I'm not afraid I'm *actually* going to get deported. I'm dealing with the fact that I've heard from more than one source of authority that *I* have to take responsibility for *their* laws and limit my life in this country, so that I'm not accused of doing something that I'm not doing, because if that happens, then my school will lose both face and their weoneomin. I'm dealing with what I've been told and how the executive levels are handling these issues -- not what actually goes on.

Do I do langauge exchange with Koreans? Yes. Do I meet Korean friends regularly in public places? Yes. Do I teach another teacher's children at a regular time every week? Yes. Am I worried about it? Not really. Except that nagging feeling in the very back of my mind that tells me I'm doing something that somehow, someday, in some way I haven't conceived of could end up coming back to bite me in the ass. And that's wrong. Because that's the impression they've set out to give us -- that we are somehow responsible for not even *looking* guilty, no matter what restrictions that may put on our lives and livelihoods here.

Thanks Gomushin Girl. And thank goodness for that indeed. I don't think I could handle anymore than one of them at a time without giving into hysterics.

Anonymous said...

For the record, the caught drug person was in our district. Also, although shes gone now, I sympathize with the superintendent or whatever she was. The mid level managers were thrown into this relationship with native teachers without their consent. We're here because of some 2MB campaign promise. I'm sure that the managers for school districts weren't praying every night for busloads of snot-nosed westerners to come deliver their schools from a dearth of understanding of western pop songs.

--Seobu Coward

I'm no Picasso said...

For the record, I'm not a snot nosed Westerner and I was thrown into a situation where my employer had the audacity to judge me based on my background and because of THEIR poor hiring practices. They hired someone who came into this country and, as a public school teacher, engaged with illegal substances. Maybe I should be asking them why I'm forced to work with such people, considering it was their decision to bring that person into this country and into their schools. I, however, didn't do drugs. I made no choice whatsoever that affected the outcome of that situation. So why am I the one being spoken to like a child and judged as a potential criminal because of my culture?

Furthermore, I'm not praying every night to step in a classroom full of hormonal, over-stressed, under-slept, occasionally angry, occasionally belligerent, occasionally fucking huge teenage boys. But that's part of my job. So I do it and accept it with grace.