A Korean/American Mess

Koreans have been trying very hard for many years to learn English, and they have brought several native speakers of English to Korea to teach them to speak English.  They even have recruiters to find these people who will come to Korea to teach them English.  There have been so many crazy misunderstandings because everyone in Korea wants to learn English, and the Koreans discourage the foreigners from speaking Korean.
The Koreans don’t know the cultures of these foreigners, and the foreigners don’t know the culture of Korea and are not really instructed how to get along, but just get thrown into it and either sink or swim.  Many native speakers of English come to Korea, but don’t stay.  Once upon a time, I knew an American girl who came from America to teach English in Korea.  She taught in an elementary school in a small t\own.  The Koreans who lived there had never met a foreigners even though some may have had studied English in school.

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There was one teacher who spoke a little English in the school who was assigned to help this girl.  He was supposed to make sure that she got an apartment, that she got furniture, got a bank account opened, and could make it to school and to the store to get  what she needed.  The schools in the area were trying to take care of their foreign teachers, so once a month, they would have a meeting of all the foreign teachers in the area. They would treat the teachers well and teach them things about Korea, fun things like how to wear a hanbok (the traditional Korean clothing), or how to play the Korean drum, or perhaps they would teach the teachers to paint pottery with traditional Korean designs. The Koreans were trying to give the foreigners a good time in Korea, but they didn’t know to teach the foreigners things they needed to get along because they didn’t know them themselves the differences between the cultures.

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This girl went to the foreign teachers’ meetings and  made friends with other foreigners.  Some of the other foreigners were hanging out together, so she was invited into a group of foreigners to hang out with them.  They were teaching her good things like one Australian girl telling her never to wear a tube top in Korea no matter how hot it got, etc. However, even they didn’t know everything to tell her about trying to get along in Korea.

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The Korean teachers from this school were thrilled to have a foreign teacher in their school whether they could talk to her or not.  They were all trying to use whatever English they had learned in school on her.  She wanted to make friends among her co-teachers.  The teachers from her school went on outings together, and she always made sure to go.  They fed her lots of crazy food, and she saw many of them get drunk.  The principal was notorious for trying to pump liquor into his teachers. The teachers are in trouble if they have a principal who likes to drink in Korea because if these guys get in charge, they try to force all their teachers to get drunk.  Many teachers end up drinking whether they want to or not.  I have been to teachers’ parties like this girl was attending. One of my principals wanted to get everyone drunk. The teachers had to be smart and outwit the principal if they didn’t want to get drunk.

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This girl also spent a lot of time in the teacher’s lounge between classes trying to get to know the other teachers in her school.  Some of the other teachers began dropping by her classroom to talk to her, and she was happy they wanted to be friends too.  Sometimes, the teachers would organize an impromptu dinner on the spot after school and begin asking everyone, “What should we eat?”  They wanted to be sure this American teacher got to try all kinds of interesting food in Korea.  However, they didn’t realize that she wasn’t ready for some of things they fed her.  One of the guys who was dropping by her classroom figured out that she ate like a Korean child. He first tried to talk her out of it, but he wasn’t going to get anywhere. She wanted something plain and not exotic.

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This guy was spending more time with her than any of the others, and he was so proud to have good English and know about the foreign teacher!  He began asking her to go everywhere with him. He happened to never have gotten married even though he was about 36 years old which is normal for Koreans, and the American teacher wasn’t married either.  Koreans get married much later than Americans.  He took her to the movies and paid for it. He took her out to eat and paid for it.  He took her to Seoul and showed her some really nice places. He bought her gifts. He walked her through the traditional market. He took her to an amusement part and site seeing.  She was really enjoying herself and it was like they were dating, but he never touched her, so she was a bit confused.  The guy who was assigned to make sure everything was okay for her in Korea was jealous when he saw the two sitting together in the cafeteria eating lunch together.  He figured out they had been spending a lot of time together.  He was married, but he didn’t think that mattered. He wanted the American teacher’s attention.  He began inviting her to go places, and she went thinking that it was part of his job.  He kept telling her he was more exciting than the other guy, and she reminded him that he was married, but the other guy wasn’t.  A big competition ensued between these two guys to see who could get this American teacher’s attention.  They were not the only two trying to get her attention either. A teacher who taught across the hall from her had also been wanting to use his English and began trying to spend as much time as he could in her classroom.  Some of the guy teachers in the school were just beginning to drive her crazy!

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Finally, the guy who was single and had taken her everywhere took her to meet his mother.  His mother was in the hospital, but she wasn’t dying.  A lot of Koreans spent a long time in the hospital whether they are dying or not.  It was summer and hot outside, so the American teacher wore a sleeveless blouse and blue jeans.  No one had thought to tell her that sleeveless blouses are considered immodest in Korea, and the foreigners she knew didn’t know to tell her. This Korean teacher’s mother took one look at the girl and was shocked!

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The next time the Korean mother saw her son, she told her son that she knew women like that, and she had loose morals, and that she wanted him to stay away from her. He told her that she didn’t have loose morals and that he liked her.  The mother decided she needed to protect he son. She set him up on a blind date with a girl from a Korean family she knew well. She told her son she wanted him to marry this Korean girl.  He went on the date.  On the first date, they decided they would get married. She was from across Korea, and had come just for the date. It was the first time either of them had ever met one another, but he was being a dutiful son and marrying the girl because his mother told him to. After the date, the Korean girl went back to where she came from.  The Korean mother was happy because things had worked out just the way she wanted. She had separated him from the foreigner, and had found him a nice Korean wife.

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He decided he needed to tell the American teacher what he had done.  He made a time for them to sit down to talk.  The American teacher was shocked!  How could anyone go out on one date and get engaged to someone they didn’t even know?  Koreans do it all the time, but she didn’t know that.  He told her it didn’t have to make a difference in their relationship because he could still take her places and spend all his time with her.  He still thought she was wonderful and pretty.  She was not going to accept it!  Americans don’t go for being the woman on the side!  She told him just that!  She refused to go anywhere with him or hang out with him after that.  Every time he saw her in the hallways of the school, he screamed his head off in Korean, and she had no idea what he was saying. She wasn’t going to accept him marrying another woman, but still spending all his time with her, and he might as well know it.

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The guy from across the hall from her classroom saw his chance and began going to her classroom even more.  He was happy because he was going to become the one who knew the most about this beautiful foreign creature.  He began telling her that he was her boyfriend.   She told him he was not her boyfriend, and she knew he already had a wife.  He argued with her saying he was a man, and he was her friend, so didn’t that make him her boyfriend?  She kept telling him “no.”   The Korean guys were driving her crazy!!  When the year was over, she left, and the school lost their first foreign English teacher. Foreign teachers weren’t that easy to get. The school didn’t know what they had done wrong. The girl went on and got another job in America where people made sense.





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