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The following perception of success, which I consider flawed, is not something that is unique to Korea. But since I’m a teacher here in Korea and not in the United States, I’m noticing it more here than when I was back home. Also, working at a private school, it becomes pretty obvious where some parents’ and students’ priorities are when it come to academic success. Again, this isn’t every Korean student or parent, but I’ve noticed a lot of them do have this attitude.

The best way that I’ve been able to condense their approach to success is that success for these Koreas is quantitative, not qualitative. On the TOEFL exam that they must pass to show their English proficiency, parents care about their reading and listening scores because, since they are scored based on multiple choice answers with only 1 “correct” answer, they are quantitative. For the writing and speaking sections, even though there is a strict formula that students should follow (which has become even more formulaic recently, perhaps because of this issue I’m about to mention) there is still a lot of room for variations in student answers so results are much more difficult to compare against other students. These results are qualitative, and therefore either less worthy or even worthless.

I’m not saying quantitative success is not important. It has its place. ITS PLACE, next to qualitative results rather than over top of and overshadowing qualitative results. Too much stake is put into the value of test scores, and then if you have a bad day or just aren’t a good test taker, oh well! That’s starting to change in the United States. I hope it starts to change in Korea too.

Here are some of my observations of this pro-quantitative phenomenon in CDI Yeongtong.

Exhibit A: Emphasis in classrooms for more levels are on tests scores, which are reading and listening questions, not their writing or speaking work which is mostly homework (however, Yeongtong branch recently added a writing and speaking section to our lessons, so we’ve got that at least).

Exhibit B: I had to add a test to my winter newspaper intensive class so that parents could see that their students were actually learning (or some justification like that). Because going from writing only one copied paragraph to being able to write several paragraphs in mostly your own words does not demonstrate learning. (And yes bitterness. Those tests were a pain to make for 36 separate lessons). Also, I’m extremely proud of the progress by students made and I don’t like the idea that it’s belittled.

Exhibit C: Most of the time for iBT class (where students learn how to take the TOEFL exam) goes toward reviewing reading and writing answer, not improving their speaking and writing ability. Which means you get an awful lot of iBT students who can’t speak or write well enough to save their life or pass that section of the test.

Exhibit D: My student Helena (who is by no means alone in her thinking. I just had the most enlightening conversation with her.)

Helena was my student last term in Birdie Listening. She lived in the US for some time and actually started CDI at Dongtan. However, she moved to Yeongtong because she heard the teachers were better (Sorry Dongtan). During level up test time, she talked to me a lot about how she better level up to Eagle this term. I asked her questions to try and get at the bottom of this desire because it wasn’t like she was saying that she wanted her English to get better and finally being in Eagle (which is the first of the upper level classes) would show this. She just wanted to level up.

As it turns out, when she first came back to Korea from the US, she tested into Eagle but for some reason they put her in Par, which is just below Birdie. Odd. Not sure why they did that. My guess is she didn’t have the test taking skills she needed and they wanted her to learn them in Par and level up, rather than get stuck in Eagle, where the focus is less on test taking skills. And she said that in the three (ish) terms since then, her scores on the level up have actually gotten worse. Then she told me that if she doesn’t level up this term she’s moving to Dongtan because it’s easier to level up there since the other students aren’t as skilled. (As in she’ll level up quickly because her scores will seem good compared to the other students in her classes.) Then she told me, she’ll stay in Dongtan until she gets to Masters level, which is when she’ll come back to Yeongtong so she can have a good teacher.

As the Masters Reading teacher (and soon to be Master Listening teacher for the last two or three weeks of this term), I kind of laughed and pretty bluntly asked her, “Helena, if you level up with easy students in Dongtan, what will happen when you come back to Yeongtong and are in a class with students who’s skills were better than yours were to begin with?” As in, if she doesn’t challenge herself by being in classes with students who are better than her, how will she improve? She had no answer for this and deflected it by saying that her mom wants her to level up and thinks she needs higher test scores, which is the argument she had been using to defend her level up arguments from the beginning.

Helena’s in Dongtan now, which is a shame. And she did level up last term (Of course she did. She was my student.)  Most students associate leveling up with better English skills, which makes sense but isn’t true. I’ve had Birdie and Eagle students who were better and more capable than my Albatross/Albatross+ students, who are also more capable than some of the Master students I’ve taught. In the end, I think it’s very heavily dependent on the classroom culture and the attitude and drive of the individual student.

But those are qualitative factors.


Now, this post isn’t going to be nearly as informed as my last post. I really haven’t interacted too much with severe sickness here in Korean. I guess this post will be divided into three parts: contagious diseases, mental illness and other.

Contagious Diseases:

Like many high-population Asian countries, people in Korea wear masks when they are sick. Which is fairly considerate. When they cough or sneeze they don’t spread germs that will infect others. But I wonder if it helps fuel a germophobic culture. When I was training, fear of swine flu was “all the rage”. I was originally supposed to arrive in Korea in the summer but was pushed back until December because 1) The international job market was weak so people were choosing to stay in their positions and 2) There was such a major fear of swine flu that whole schools were closed down for weeks because none of the students were coming. That said… many students do not cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze.

Mental Illness:

I haven’t seen too much of this in Korea, although I did see a young man with a clear mental illness on the subway and Koreans basically ignored him. Several of the lessons in CDI have mental illness related topics and I expected my students to have some preconceived notions about mental illnesses (not because they’re Korean, but because most people do). And they did but they were also pretty willing to talk about the topic and very open-minded about it. They really seemed to understand that mental illness is just like any disease, but it just affects the mind.


So I thought this story was interesting. It happened to one of my co-workers while he was in a subway station in Seoul. I’ll post what he wrote in his own (not censored) words:

“I heard a girl scream for help and when I ran over saw a crowd of people watching an old man having a seizure foaming from the mouth and twitching and stuff.. there was like 50 people just watching it was sad cuz some people were laughing, anyways by the time I got there his face started turning real purple cuz he couldnt breathe, so I ran in there and turned him to his side to get his tongue and spit out of his mouth.. then one dude was like wtf you doing you should just leave him alone but I told him to fuck off.. after putting to his side I could see he split open his head in the back from falling, but it was not too serious he got all the crap in his mouth out and he was able to breathe through his nose cuz but he had lock jaw.. but after he was able to breathe his face came to normal color.. finally the subway workers and the police came like 20 mins later… but shit was nutz I just remembered those things they taught you in elementary.. never thought I would puti it to use…”

What a crazy thing to see waiting for the subway. This isn’t so much Korean culture as just bystander culture as I’m sure people in other countries would have reacted similarly. But I do think it’s interesting a country so cautious about contagious diseases doesn’t (at least appear) to push for more education on other diseases and physical ailments. Also, random thought I just had: Suwon has a ton of exercise equipment in their parks that I often see people using. While it’s great to get people outside doing stuff, many people have pointed out that the exercises they have you doing probably don’t exercise much since the machines don’t offer a lot of resistance to make you work hard. I think they’re just “feel good” exercise machines.

Marty has been missing for over two weeks now, and while looking for him I’ve notice even more so than before how Koreans see animals. I’d been wanting to make a series of posts about how Koreans seem to see things, so I figured I start with this one.

First of all, I’d like to be objective with these posts since who am I to judge another culture? There is some weird stuff that happens in American culture. But this topic hits a little close to home so I will probably at some point be biased.

Korean Jindo

Korean Sapsal

There are several dogs native to the Korean penninsula, including the Sapsal, the North Korean Poongsan and the Korean Jindo, all of which are National Treasures  in South Korea. The Sapsal was strictly a house dog but the Jindo and Poongsan were military dogs. Now even though these dogs were bred along time ago, Korea doesn’t seem to have a history of animal welfare.

Which helps to contribute to the strange dual approach Korea seems to take toward animals. It breaks down like this:

  • Purebred puppies and pure bred/ pure bred-looking toy dogs = ADORABLE
  • Mix dogs = Disposable.
  • And poor big dogs can only be guard dogs until they’re eaten (okay, I exaggerate, but that is how a lot of Koreans see bigger dogs).

Now obviously there are plenty of people in Korea who love animals and treat them well, dedicating a lot of time and effort to rescuing the many animals that are on the streets. But more often than not, dog owners seem to run into Koreans who have different ideas about dogs and animals.

Let’s look at little dogs first. Koreans seem to spend a lot of money on their little dogs. They buy them from pet shops when they’re only a few weeks old (which is totally not cool and way too young for those puppies by the way) for a couple hundred thousand won. They buy them tons of clothes and keep them nicely groomed. Dyeing their fur seems to be popular as well. But I’ve heard of many instances when the puppies get too big or the family gets bored of it and the dog is abandoned at a shelter. Or, as was the case with Marty, the dog gets injured and is then abandoned. My vet thinks that Marty lost his vision in his eye from an infection, although it could have also been injured and Marty does have scars on his body that look like stab or cut marks. Whatever happened to him, he clearly had a neglectful if not downright bad owner. And he was left at a kill shelter in Busan, so it doesn’t seem like a lot of consideration was put into finding him a new home if his owner didn’t want him.

To be fair, I have also heard A LOT of stories about westerners getting pets and then giving them up before they go home. In some cases, the westerner has to leave because of a family emergency that prevents them from taking their pet. But in a  lot of cases, it seems like they got a pet that was too much too handle, or too expensive, or they too got bored of it. Sad…

There are a lot of stray dogs where I live in Suwon. I’ve noticed different reactions to the stray dogs and dogs in general that are out and about from Koreans. Either they ignore them, they fear them (even tiny little Marty), or they think the dogs are the cutest things. Generally, the 3rd option is the best but even that is not so good sometimes. Sometimes, they pick up the dogs and I’ve heard from some other foreigners that a few will pick up and take the little dogs with them. And they try to feed the dogs (which I know happens in the United States too sometimes) – unfortunately the food includes chicken bones and soju :(… Ignoring them is generally best. Sometimes the fear just involves them screaming and running away, or tensing up and trying to get away. However, once an old woman did stomp around Marty when he started walking towards her and I’ve noticed that reaction towards other dogs, especially bigger ones.

The other day, I was out looking for Marty when I came upon two fellow foreigners in the park who were walking their long-haired Chihuahua (very popular here). They also had, or so I thought, I kind of funny looking black dog. It had the body shape of a Labrador but it’s legs were really short like a tiny dog. Actually it might have been a cross between a Pekingese and a larger black dog. I thought the black dog was theirs too but then I heard the woman on the phone in Korean. I understood enough to hear her explain that the black dog didn’t have a collar so I figured they were calling the police about him. Thing is, the dog had a choke collar (no address tags) and was very friendly, so clearly someone’s pet. Unfortunately, that was at least a week ago and the dog is still waiting at Hi Pet (which is the vet that Marty went to, who I’ve been checking in with trying to find him). It’s kind of sad. Someone commented to me the other day that there are so many dogs that have been lost or abandoned and no one is looking for them and yet the dogs that people are looking for cannot be found.

I gave Marty’s posters to all the vets in the area. Someone else has lost their dog and gave posters to the same vets. On the poster it says the dog is a mix, which I can’t help but feel is going to work against finding it even though it’s the cutest little dog. There are a lot of things that work against finding lost dogs here in Korea, or at least Suwon, that I’ve been noticing. First, there are a lot of places for them to hide. A LOT of places. Second, because of all the street animals, people don’t pay too much attention to the animals or the state they’re in.

Third, Koreans are super not-okay with posters. On the one hand, I always see flyers thrown all over the ground for local bars and there are always flyers for chicken and take-out restaurant stuffed into mailboxes. But when I went to the police to report Marty missing I was specifically told that I could not hang up flyers for him (I did it any way though). And then the flyers that I hung up were taken down, but not by police officers. Just by random people. It was kind of annoying because I tried to put them up in places where they would be noticed but not bother anyone. Some I actually had covering graffiti so I figured that was kind of a good thing. After spending a week trying to keep up posters that would stay up for a day if I was lucky, I started putting flyers into mailboxes. But even that has it’s down side since apparently the landlords of the apartment buildings will take the flyers out of their tenants mailboxes and throw them in the trash. 😡

To end this post, I’ll just leave you with some of the comments I got from my students, who I recently appealed to to help find Marty. I actually planned NOT to tell my younger students, because I knew they weren’t mature enough to handle it but they found out eventually. Most of those students wanted to know why I had a dog with only one eye, with one student asking where and why did I buy and him instead of a “healthy” dog and insisting I should just buy another dog until I find Marty (at which time I guess I would just get rid of that second dog). A few of the students asked me if I ate him (he would not have made a meal, let alone a tasty one) and several joked (to their amusement, not mine) that Marty had probably died. My middle school kids were better. They seemed sad that he was missing and one of the students even said “Teacher, I have a dog so I know how you feel.” Don’t get me wrong, my elementary students (who I see twice a week) ask me every day if I’ve found Marty (and they call him by his name) and definitely want me to have my dog back, so I take their “Teacher, I saw your dog! In my MIND” comments with a patient sigh. But I think the empathy from the middle school students comes from the fact that they have all lived for a long time abroad and not that they are simply two or three years older.