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Korea = Shame Based Culture
It usually hits you almost as soon as you get off the plane, but once you’re here for a bit longer and dig deeper beneath the surface, you realize that it truly is present in almost every single social situation, including your classes. There are a million and one unspoken rules in Korea, far more than in most of our Western countries for what is okay and what is not okay.
The Language Reflects This
Even the language itself shows this. For Koreans, it’s so important to know the age and rank of the person they’re interacting with so they can address them correctly and avoid shame.
Some Real-Life Shame Examples
Koreans will feel shame for a myriad of things: appearing smarter than others, appearing less smart than others, appearing less well-dressed, not doing homework when everyone else did, doing homework when everyone else didn’t, having weak second language skills, etc, etc. The list goes on and on and on.
In classes, the smarter and more well-prepared students will be reluctant to show their true colors because they’re afraid of making their lesser classmates feel shame. It used to seem really crazy to me, but it’s one of those things that I’ve learned to accept as the reality I have to face living here.
Tips for Having an Awesome Life: How to Thrive in South Korea: 97 Tips from Expats
How to Teach in a Shame Based Culture
1. Never put students on the spot
NEVER. Always give students a chance to practice something with a partner or small group before you pick an individual student to answer. Even then, warn students before the time with their group that you’ll be selecting people to answer the question in front of the whole class.
2. Make a team or group answer instead of an individual
I usually choose a team or group to answer and one person has to do it out of that team. In this way, the weaker students can hide behind the stronger ones and nobody feels shame for looking stupid in front of their classmates.
3. Ask for volunteers, but give an incentive
These days, I teach English major students who actually like speaking English. I can ask for 5 volunteers and get 10.
It’s like a breath of fresh air.
But, when you’re teaching other students who don’t speak English well, a reward system will be your best friend. A chance to earn a participation point. Or, another trick of mine is to say that they can go home once 5 students have given me their answers. The hands usually shoot up quickly.
4. Don’t embarrass students for wrong answers
There are plenty of ways to deal with mistakes that don’t involve doing this. You can get their partner to help them. Praise what they did right, but then offer the right answer. Encourage a culture of risk-taking with language, etc.
5. Discipline should happen in private
In most cases, if you need to discipline someone, do it outside the classroom 1-1. Students in Korea seem to respond far better to this than calling them out in front of the class. I think when it’s 1-1, they see you as a real person, someone with feelings, etc. There doesn’t have to be a winner or loser-you can both get on the same page and be winners together. In front of the class, it can get pretty confrontational and shame plays a big part in the whole thing. There’s usually a winner and a loser in this case, which is what you want to avoid at all costs.
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What Do You Think?
Any tips or tricks for teaching in this kind of environment? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts.