Let me begin by explaining that this is not a rant. Despite the way the title sounds, this is actually something that I find pretty funny. The Koreans with whom I work seem to equate the inability to speak and understand Korean with the inability to tie my own shoes or give someone change for a nickel. I have to assume that television has left them with the impression that most westerners are mentally retarded. Ironically, this is in stark contrast to the near worship of Steve Jobs and a few other western tech superstars.
Today is the first day that I will teach. As soon as I got here, I realized that I have never learned my way around the super hi-tech “English Zone” classroom. It is equipped with a podium from which I can control everything in the class. It is equipped with a computer and lots of confusing controls. I didn’t even know how to turn it on.
I asked Ms. Shin and Mr. Kim to help me get the podium and the classroom set up. They walked with me into the classroom and began twisting knobs and pushing buttons randomly. They had no idea. Ms. Shin pulled one of the volume knobs off the top of the podium. Fortunately, it slid back into place. While they were breaking the podium, I looked down and noticed a big red power switch. I had overlooked it before because it’s on the side of the podium and is only visible from the side.
I reached for it, and Mr. Kim told me to, “wait, we get [the podium] ready to you.” I’ve learned that I simply have to ignore him if I want to get anything done, so I waited until he wasn’t looking and flipped the switch. They both looked at me and Ms. Shin said, “you much smart boy.” Yeah, I’m a genius. I spotted the big red power switch.
They still walk me to the lunchroom every day. I asked Ms. Park (the fluent teacher) last week why I always have an escort to the cafeteria. She told me that the administrators were worried that I might get lost. Really? I can see the cafeteria from my desk. I could literally hit it with a rock from my office window. If I get lost going down the stairs and out the door, I need to wear a helmet.
It’s only been a couple of weeks, but I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t going to change any time soon. I don’t think this is symptomatic of a lack of respect. It’s more likely a cultural misconception. It’s another example of the weird ironies that exist in Korean culture. “We trust you to teach our children a very important subject, but we don’t trust you to walk 100 feet without getting lost.”
Speaking of which, I need to get back to work. These seats won’t be empty for long.
Until next time.