February 18, 2011

8760 hours pt ii

A Challege

Before arriving in Korea I figured the strongest part of my resume was my travel experience. I was eager to promote to any school that ‘culture shock’ was not going to be a problem for me, and I can proudly say that up to this point, I was right. The thing is that I spend most of my time in an English bubble. On the average day I perhaps spend 30 minutes in situations where I have to deal with Koreans. The rest of my time I spend around fellow weiguks, and students with whom I chastise for uttering even the slightest Korean.

I’m a part of a large school; where there has been a revolving door of 14 other foreign teachers, equal that in bilingual Korean teachers, and a handful of support staff. English is a very large part of my day. I’ve heard stories of weiguks being the only teacher in a school, with very few others around capable of speaking English. I feel that they are truly tested by the rigors of culture shock. I’m pretty fortunate, but because of my bubble I occasionally feel like an outcast on the fringe of Korean society. I can get by with the little Korean I know, but I mostly rely on Corwin, who is a linguist master.

Although my large school seems to allow me to escape the grasp of culture shock, it created a challenge. I work, play, and live with a small group of people. Office politics can always be a tricky thing to navigate, especially when it plays out in your living room/bedroom/bathroom/kitchen (they are all the same room in my house).

This environment brings about a place where my coworkers are relied upon heavily as friends. In theory and reality the two don’t typically mesh well. Most articles written about the topic suggest distancing the two because it’s better to have separate work and social lives. Although, at every job there are always exceptions to the rule (I currently hang out with some exceptional people). The problem a lot of the time is a lack of common interests.

Believe it or not, most teachers here have little in common. True, we are all English teachers, and presumably we like to travel. Yet travel has such a broad definition, and we all have different circumstances that landed us as English teachers. I’m a business student seeking asylum from the economic crisis while testing the teaching waters. There are others in my workplace looking for a year off after graduating college, some looking to save money, a couple real teachers, and a few like me seeking asylum from unemployment. With varying majors and reasons, finding friends instead of acquaintances can be difficult.

Gossip, however is universal, and is an easy way to create bonds in large groups. (personally I prefer to create bonds through combined trust) Within the small English bubble that I live, work, eat and sleep in, gossip can be a destructive force. Some personalities in the bubble thrive on the phrases ‘did you hear what so and so did” and walk with the swagger, 'I know something you don't'.

This isn't a phenomenon brought out because of Korea, it exits everywhere. I've just found that my English bubble brings about an inability to escape it. To be honest, I would prefer to have a lot more culture shock and a little less banter.

I prepared my resume, and came to Korea expecting culture shock to be my largest challenge. I find it extremely interesting that that has not been the case, and I've instead had to deal with gossip. I have learned this though: travel skills are non transferable, they don't really apply to teenage drama.

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