A Lesson in Korean Stereotypes

Written by  December 5, 2012

During her first month teaching ESL, Allison finds her first major challenge unexpected.

Well, here I am in my new home! I’ve been living in Busan and teaching English for a month already. It almost seems impossible that my first month in Korea has gotten away from me already. Where did the time go?

This month has been full of “firsts” for me, to say the least. This is the first time I’ve traveled to another country completely alone (and across the world), the first time I’ve set foot in Asia, and the first time I’ve lived alone and had my own apartment. These have all been pretty big steps for me, especially having them all happen at the same time.

There have been others as well, such as missing my first-ever Thanksgiving family reunion and celebrating my birthday in another country for the first time. As you can imagine, these kinds of firsts caused very different emotions.

Now a month into this big adventure, I’ve also started to reflect on my journey so far. As it turns out, there were certain things I thought I knew about what my life in Korea would be like, even before arriving. I’ve realized I was right about some of these things, at least for the most part. For instance: Am I eating a lot of seafood (or at least in comparison to my Canadian intake)? Yes. Have I tried foods that I’ve never seen or even heard of before? Yes. Is my apartment small? Yes, but I love it! It’s cozy. Are people friendly? Yes. Is it warmer than it would be in Canada right now? Absolutely. Is it difficult to read Korean? Very! Is it even more difficult to speak Korean? Unfortunately, yes!

But I have also been wrong about my fair share of things, too, and have learned a lot as a result. I think the biggest eye-opener for me so far has been my job. Working at my school and teaching everyday has taught me the biggest lesson of all.

Are all Korean children, regardless of age, super well-behaved, docile and obedient at all times of the day? Of course not!

How could I ever have let myself believe this one? No matter how many times I heard it (and believe me, I heard it constantly) something deep down inside me should have questioned it. After all, these are children we’re talking about. How is it fair to expect so much? That’s an awful lot of pressure to put on a child.

Now I don’t mean to say that the students I teach aren’t good kids by any means— they are great kids. They’re full of stories to share, hilarious comments, bizarre actions and so much knowledge to teach me, their teacher. They are full of energy, smiles and laughs, and sometimes, when I am really lucky, even hugs. (Or treats that they share with me.)

Are they also hard-working kids? Yes! Some of the hardest-working I’ve ever met in my life. They are also some of the busiest kids I know.

Needless to say, I have really enjoyed getting to know my students over the past few weeks, and I’m looking forward to spending the next year teaching them, but also
learning from them just as much as they learn from me. (That is, assuming that they do learn something from me during my time with them.)

As it turns out, kids are kids, no matter what part of the world they live in. Whether they grow up in the jungles of Guyana, the bustling cities of Korea, or out in the country in Canada, they still want to play, to have fun, and to be loved. And they still scream, jump, and run about for an impressive amount of time every single day. I guess they have to get all that pent-up energy out somehow—so much for the stereotype I believed!

See, being wrong isn’t always a bad thing. Apparently there are many other poor souls out there who were just as confused as me. I hope this has helped clear things up a bit.

I have no doubt that my Korean life will continue to teach me, surprise me, and, most importantly, make me smile for the 11 months still to come.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Allison Burney

A small-town Ontario native, Allison Burney studied journalism and human rights at Carleton University in Ottawa. Volunteering in Guyana sparked her desire to keep travelling and learning about different cultures. Interested in teaching ESL? Perfect! Allison lets us in on her experiences teaching in Korea.

Website: allisonburney.wordpress.com/

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