Do you ever have a feeling that you just can’t articulate? You know what you think or how you feel, but you’re unable to put it into words? I’ve been experiencing that since I began teaching. I’ve started writing this post several times, but I could never find the right words to express my thoughts.
It hit me yesterday when my friend Scott (New Zealand) and I were walking around downtown and talking about our students. He summed it all up in one sentence: “my students will never really know me.” That’s it! That’s the feeling that I can’t shake in every social situation at school. Due to the enormous communication gap, my students and my colleagues have no idea who I really am.
This is a two-way street, of course. I will probably never fully understand my students or colleagues. I can’t yet wrap my head around some simple facets of Korean culture, so the more complex aspects of communication are likely to always elude me.
I do think, however, that I know them much better than they know me. This is partly because Korean communication is much more physical and visual than American communication. Even their humor is predominately topical. All of my students love (I mean LOVE) Mr. Bean and any other over-the-top slapstick that I can find. They will never understand the subtleties of American communication, like sarcasm and the effects of intonation. I am constantly reminded of the fact that the Korean language is much less subtle than American English. Their ability to find double-meaning or read between the proverbial lines is almost nonexistent.
When it comes to teaching, this is a non-issue. I don’t really care if they understand my sense of humor, because I’m not here to be their friend. Although I would like to make a stronger connection with a few of my colleagues, I am content with our progress so far.
The fact that most Koreans will never really know me is not a problem that can be fixed. Instead, it is a fact of life that I must accept and always keep in the back of my mind. It is an invisible barrier that will always separate my students from me.
Until next time.