Korean University Students-I lied, kind of when I said mine were all fabulous

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Korean University Students are sometimes terrible

My Great Students-Not all True

Remember when I was talking about how great my Korean university students are? Motivated, speak English well, blah blah blah. Here’s exactly what I said in Is My Korean University Job too Good to be True?

I work in the English department and so only teach English majors who are for the most part, excellent students. Like in a class of 24, I’d say that 12 of them are “fluent,” 10 of them are “proficient” and then I wonder why the other 2 chose English as their major. They all do their homework, study for tests, talk to their partner in English, etc. It’s kind of like a dream come true actually.

I lied, kind of. It wasn’t an intentional lie but perhaps I just spoke too soon because the semester hadn’t actually started yet and I was in a kind of summer-vacation euphoria. 10 weeks certainly is enough time to mostly forget the ridiculousness and feel excited about the new semester again.

6/8 Classes = Delightful

One week in, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. Maybe a semi-truck full of them in reality. Now, I’m not a total hater because out of the 8 different groups of students I’m teaching this semester (4 credit classes and 4 OT classes), 6 of them are delightful. A joy. I really couldn’t say enough good about them and although I wouldn’t teach them for free, I do genuinely feel quite happy with life when class is done and I think they do too. The energy drain is minimal.

2/8 Classes = Grim

However, the other 2 classes? They totally and completely confirmed for me why this will be my last semester teaching in a Korean university. It’s going to be pretty grim but perhaps bearable because while I get less and less excited about these classes, I’ll be getting more and more excited about my move to Canada.

My Korean University Students = Not all Fabulous

Here are some things that went down this week:

1.”Teacher, I don’t want to speak English to a partner.” This from a student in my intermediate conversation class for English majors.

2.”Teacher, I have a job so can only come to class 50% of the time. I can bring you a paper though, okay? I hope I can get A+.” This is a conversation class where much of what happens is actual conversation, which certainly can’t be practiced alone at home.

3.40 students in a conversation class. Yes, 40 due to a clerical error from a department secretary. And many of them listed conversation with me as what will be most helpful for them in improving their English speaking ability on my little start of the semester information sheet. Plenty of people are going to pretty disappointed to say the least and there’s not a single thing I can do about it.

4.”Okay students, find a person to talk but make sure it’s really someone you don’t know. You shouldn’t even know their name.” I’m all about the icebreakers and getting students to talk to many different people because it’s like real-life where you don’t only talk to your BFF. However, it was like I was asking them to sign-up to go to the Gulag.

5.There’s a Russian exchange student in one of my classes. She destroys all the Koreans in terms of English ability and not only that, she’s a friendly, cheerful person. Except every single time she speaks in class, even to say “here” for attendance, the other students laugh at her accent, because as you would expect, it’s Russian. It makes me so, so, so angry. SO ANGRY. Do I teach elementary school students? Because I wouldn’t even expect middle school students to do this in Canada.

6.There are 2 Cambodian students in the other terrible class. They both speak English really well and are also nice, friendly people who I would love to sit down with and have an extended conversation. Except the other students in the class avoid them like they have leprosy. And this is in an intermediate conversation class for English majors, where presumably, students are fully capable of having a conversation with someone who doesn’t speak Korean. Whatever it is-the racism, lack of confidence in English ability, laziness, it just makes me feel angry. REALLY angry.

7.Freshman conversation class for ENGLISH majors. Anything that involves speaking English is mostly met with extreme reluctance from about 50% of the class. Seriously. Why would you choose English as your major if you have no desire to speak English? There’s only so much I can do as a teacher and there’s almost nothing I can to do to overcome a terrible attitude. And it’s not like we’ve had lots of classes together-only the first one where I went over the syllabus and then the second one where we were doing icebreakers. I get that towards the end of the semester, students are weary of me or feel tired, or whatever. But, not even giving the class a chance? It’s demoralizing.

8.”Teacher-4 homework assignments? Our Korean professors only give us 2.” This is in a language class, where if you were doing something similar in a North American university, you’d have weekly assignments.

9.Students have been studying English since elementary school. They get to my class, and despite having chosen English as their major cannot put together a sentence and have to get their friend to translate for them the most simple of sentences like, “attendance check” or, “No come next class.”

10.I have a rule that students must have a name-tag on their desks. At the beginning of class, I remind students and say something like, “Okay everyone, please remember to put your name-tag on your desks” and pointedly put my own name-tag on the desk near my podium. Most students get it out. But, there are some who just don’t do it. I ask them again privately and they just look at me like I’ve asked them to do a 45 minute presentation in English for the next class because whatever goes down, they’d far rather just be anonymous instead of actually engaged in the class. I give them a piece of paper pre-folded for them because you know, maybe they can’t figure out how to fold a piece of paper in three? They put it inside their book and soldier on. It makes me ANGRY. Like REALLY ANGRY.

Let’s Sum It Up

I’m totally and 100% done. Another 2-year contact would destroy me.

A Warning

Consider yourself a “real” teacher? You know, experienced, well-qualified, passionate, dedicated? Don’t come to Korea. It’s going to destroy your soul, slowly, semester after semester after semester until you end up like me. Ready to never teach again for the rest of my life despite having loved it for a lot of years at the beginning. Like really loved it and I even remember foolishly thinking that I’d found my “calling” in life.


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  1. John

    Lol, I had some similar experiences. I taught at Hanyang University in Seoul for 13 years. Some really great classes and some, as you put it, grim classes. I moved back to Canada four years ago. Good luck with the move.

  2. Jerry Lewis

    You’re trying to flog books on teaching in South Korea but shitting all over your experience as some kind of disclaimer–first rule of selling–don’t disparage your own product!

    Anybody reading your blog is not getting even part of the whole picture.

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