If you didn't know, now you know.

So. Two things happened in the after school class today:

1. A student said "보지" right in front of my fucking face for a laugh in front of his friends.


2. Two other students named the superhero they were designing to practice our "can" lesson "외국인 근로자".

Now. With regards to the first one, these guys really honest-to-god did not mean any offense. They are good boys. And when I asked them to stay after to come to the teachers' office with me, they were genuinely confused. As evidenced by the fact that they explained several times to both me and my co-teacher that it was just "재미" -- for fun. I showed the paper to my co-teacher and explained the situation. She didn't need any leading or prompting at all -- she knew straight away what the problem was. The fact was, I needed her to help me explain it to the students.

They said that they had even realized I might take offense, because I'm not 외국인 근로자 (a foreign worker), which does go to show the bias that exists in Korea about Western foreigners versus other kinds. They used the expression because it was a nickname for one of their friends in another after school class, because he looks Southeast Asian. My co-teacher just turned to them and said, "She is a foreign worker. She is a foreigner. It's not okay to say something like this as a joke, either to her or to other people. Not about foreign teachers, and not about other foreign workers. Do you understand why she's upset?" She went on to lecture them about how they were making a bad impression about Koreans, that Koreans don't welcome foreigners, and how that's embarrassing to Korea.

The students took it really to heart. I don't think that's something they've probably ever thought about before, but they're not the type to just forget it. This is why addressing these situations is important. I knew they didn't mean to do anything wrong, and I didn't want them to feel like they were in Big Trouble, but at the same time, they need to have it explained to them on a level other than the foreign teacher just taking something the wrong way.

The other kid, on the other hand....

I honestly don't know who said it first. And I admitted as much to my co-teacher. But what I do know is that, when I heard the word and turned around, Jooyeong was the one who looked me straight in the eye and repeated it. And laughed.

As far as I understand it, 보지 translates pretty directly to "pussy". I didn't shout at him when he said. I didn't get angry. I simply said, I know what that word means and after class, we are going to the teachers' office and you are going to repeat it to a Korean teacher. He laughed and pretended to beg. He thought I was fucking kidding.

It wasn't so funny once we got to the office. The other two students stood well away from him, in case the Korean teacher happened to misunderstand and think they were in any way involved with what he had done.

This one, I wasn't going to explain for him. I just looked at him and said, "Go ahead. Repeat the word that you said during class."

He stared at me with wide eyes.

"Go on. Say it."

My co-teacher started nagging at him in Korean to repeat whatever he had said. I told him, "If you could say it to me, why can't you say it to her? We are both teachers...." At this point, he made a huge mistake. He started to lie. First he said that he had said "개새끼". I laughed -- nope, not that one. He changed it to "미친". Even my co-teacher laughed at that one -- as if I would drag his ass to the office for that. Then he got creative: He explained that he and his friends has innocently been playing "rock, paper, scissors" ("가위 바위 ") a bit too loudly, and suddenly I had just gotten really angry for no reason at all.

Now I was fucking mad. I looked him straight in the eye. Are you joking right now? Are you serious? You think that teacher is going to believe you over me? Are you really trying to do this right now?

Co-teacher translated, but was becoming a bit confused as to what was going on. I wrote the word down, in Korean, on a scrap of paper and handed it to her. Her eyes got huge. At that point, I mostly couldn't catch what she was saying. A lot of things about how dare you say this word in front of a teacher, and a few choice words of her own. She also told him that it may not seem like it, but I understand everything very well in Korean. I can hear everything. She showed him the scrap of paper where I had written in Korean. You see this? She even writes in Korean. What a stupid little bastard, to think he could get away with something like that in front of our foreign teacher. That's when the tears started. She reamed him for another good solid five minutes straight, and then turned and looked at me. I told Jooyeong to look at me and then explained as simply as I could: "Jooyeong.... if you were in a room full of people who spoke English, and they were making jokes about you in English and you couldn't understand, and everyone was laughing at you, how would you feel?" The sniffling turned into full on sobs at that point.

I realize it was a bit strong. But this wasn't just for Jooyeong. This was for the entire class, and even for the entire grade, who haven't met me yet. Maybe for the entire rest of their lives when they encounter other foreigners. It's not okay to try to make a fool out of someone because they are different from you, or because they may not understand what's going on. It has nothing to do with foreigners, even -- any kind of person who is at a disadvantage in one way or another. It's not okay. It's not kind, and it's not right. And you wouldn't want someone to do that to you.

I don't know how things will be between me and Jooyeong in the future. I hope he really thinks about it and takes it in the spirit it was intended. One thing's for sure -- I may not have caught every bad word up until this point, or every joke behind my back, right in front of my face. But I have a feeling they'll be damn careful about even trying it again in the future. Jooyeong was unlucky. He chose the wrong word. There are probably dozens of others he could've gotten away with. But the point has been made. And he'll think twice, for whatever reason, about openly treating a foreigner like a fucking idiot again.


Carl said...

That's how you discipline kids. Good stuff. I wanted to know, have you ever had to contact the student's parents?

karisuma gyaru said...

hi, i'm new to your blog so this is pretty much the first post i read. i teach english in japan, and what struck out to me while reading this is "wow. you actually have discipline in korea". in japan, nobody ever says jack shit about kids acting up. ever. so good on you for doing that. in the end, that kid will probably respect you more for it. or at least think twice before he does stupid shit like that again. ^_-

anageonism said...

Nicely handled. I think simply trying to get them to pull the same thing on a Korean teacher is pretty illustrative, and lets them know where the boundaries are.

I take it they don't swear too clearly or too often around you? What about English swearing? Mine are elementary and thus most of them only have a vague inkling of the seriousness of the words, so most of my conversations are why those words are just as bad as the Korean counterparts. And maybe why saying them to the English teacher is not such a good idea.

Mr. Spock said...

Ha!! Before you explained it, I thought you meant he was saying "look" or "see" and I was REALLY confused.

I need to study my slang harder (I thought I was studying hard! 씨발!)

Dana said...


I've been a follower of your blog for a while now, and I was reminded of this particular post today when something very similar happened in my language program (only this time, it was Americans using a disrespectful word in front of a Korean teacher). I hope you don't mind if I link this post over at my Wordpress blog - I think your perspective is excellent here.

화이팅 ^^