Archive for August, 2007

There : Confusion and Rice Land

August 26, 2007 Leave a comment


Classes start for many of the Koreans this week. Some start next week. My classes start in mid October. I was told they start next week. My visa, my plans and my return trip ticket were set up based on that information. So we’ll see how things go. I think that the administration will be willing to work with me. I’ve been studying Korean on my own, so maybe I can get through the book faster than my Chinese classmates will be able to. But I kind of doubt it. Something will work out, for sure.

Rice Land

The Korean name for America is something like Mee-gook. Korea is Han-gook, Thailand is Tae-gook, China is Jun-gook. Canada is Canada, Cambodia is Cambodia, many of the other countries are phonetically similar to their “real” (American) names. Guk/gook is something like “land” when it comes to naming places. I asked why America was called Mee-gook. What does that mean? The answer was kind of fun.

It comes from Chinese, as much of Korea’s language does, and it means “rice land” (or land of rice). Because they saw America as rich, and because rice was the measure of richness at the time, America must have a lot of rice. So much, in fact, that America must be a land full of rice. It’s a fun idea, a bit on par with naming Korea “Computer Chip Land” because we think they have a bunch of them. Which they do, so maybe that’s a bad example.

And just to be fair, we name things crazily. For instance, Korea is named after the kingdom of Goryeo. Japan is Nippon. Cambodia is Khmer (though they use Kampuchea, too). We just make it up as we go, so I can’t fault anyone else for it. I don’t really understand why we can’t use the names they call themselves, though. While learning Spanish, I was annoyed that I suddenly became “Jose” from “Los Estados Unidos”. I’d willingly trade the genuine pronunciation for Mexico, Hanguk for Korea and calling Japan Nippon for a homogenous naming system.

Categories: Being There

There : Racism and Generalizations

August 26, 2007 Leave a comment


Many Koreans are racist, either subtly or overtly. This is not a contrasting statement. Many Kansans are racist in the same ways. Some of the prejudices have swung in my favor. I think Americans are respected perhaps more than they should be by the general person. At the very least, everyone should be treated the same.

Many of the views are negative, though. For instance, the Chinese are sometimes looked down upon. They have just the right exposure to Korean students to foster generalizations about bad individuals and have them applied to the whole. Japanese are pretty rare in Pohang, but they are generally disliked. Probably, this is mostly historical. When we talked to students about what languages they thought they should learn, most said English (some students insisted on calling it “American”), because so many countries used it. Some thought they should learn Chinese, because so many people spoke Chinese. Then they went off to French and Japanese and their opinions began to fragment. But when asked if they should learn Spanish, they seemed wholesale disinterested. Even when I pointed out that Spanish was essentially tied for the second most spoken language, they didn’t care. In many ways, I think English is adopted purely because rich nations like America use it, and it’s seen as a “prosperous” language to know. I guess that’s not racist, but it’s interesting how completely and willfully ignorant a culture can be about Mexico, South America and parts of Europe. Not that we aren’t ignorant of the same, as well as most being totally ignorant of Asia.

One of the best, and to me, funniest racist events happened in the middle school camp. I had two middle school roommates during the camp. They were great kids. One was especially talkative and helpful. He was really an all-around sweet boy. So it was kind of a shock when one night he basically insisted that all black people were criminals.

You must understand that almost all of their exposure to America is through our TV shows (Prison Break is popular here) and music (Hip Hop is popular here). And many of these don’t portray black people as particularly upright. I told him that I didn’t think black people were any worse or better than white people. I pointed out that I had two black roommates in college, and my sister was dating a very upstanding Jamaican man. He looked at me for a few seconds, nodded sagely, and asked if Kansas had very many black people. I told him that outside of Kansas City, there weren’t many. He smiled and said that Koreans don’t like to go on vacation where there are black people.

And I haven’t seen any black people in Pohang. Or Mexicans. I’ve really not seen that many white people, so maybe my outlook would change if I were in Seoul. But of all the Non-Korean, Non-Other-Asians I’ve seen, they have been 100% white.
I don’t know how much of it is individual. When my sister started dating her Jamaican boyfriend, a few of the KS locals told her to stop with varying degrees of threat. But most of the people didn’t care enough to say anything. Maybe just a few of them are vocal enough to get noticed. To some extent, I’m looking hard enough that anything that sticks out gets noticed, and probably applied to too many people.


It’s easy for me to make generalizations here. Chinese people are loud. In the dorms, I hear them all the time. Koreans always hack and spit in the bathrooms, at least, every time I’m in there with one. Koreans are bad drivers, because I feel like every trip down town is going to end in an accident (and many cars seem to support that, though I’ve since ridden with some very skilled drivers). All Koreans look the same (this is untrue, though they are more similar than a random group of Americans based on the fact that they all have similar colored hair).

There are lots of generalizations they use for us. For instance, all Americans are rich (Hahahaha). All Americans eat bread, either with every meal, or the idea is that bread is the majority of the meal like rice is here (And while we eat MORE bread than Koreans, we eat a lot less than they eat rice). We eat our dead (ok, so they don’t believe that, but there are plenty of weird ideas they get about us).

I think I’m prone to writing about generalizations here. I actually have a very small exposure to Korea (one city, around 500,000 people), and I spend most of my time on campus around people my age. Koreans are just as diverse as Americans, and I imagine they vary as much regionally as we do. Things that might be true of Californians are often untrue of Kansans. In the same way, I’m willing to bet that things which are true of people from Seoul might be untrue of people from Pohang. Scale is much different here.
So take these things with a grain of salt. They are generalizations for the purpose of expressing what I see, not what really is.
And my favorite generalization has always been “There are no pianos in China”, anyway.

Categories: Being There

There : Pictures from the Mountain

August 23, 2007 Leave a comment
Categories: Being There

There : Mountains

August 22, 2007 Leave a comment

I went to a mountain today. I went with an older woman (~50), two Cambodian students and a Chinese student. It was an odd group, for sure.

We climbed a ways up the hill and ate lunch, which consisted of fresh fried pork, rice and various forms of Kimchi, and was similar to BulGoGi. It was good. Then we climbed back down to leave the stuff in the car, because it was too akward to tote around the mountain.

We chose a 2.2km path, which we didn’t finish. I think I could have finished it easily, but some of the others were getting tired. Who wasn’t getting tired. Oh-Ma (Mom, a nickname for the older woman). She was a mountain climbing machine I had trouble keeping up with. She wasn’t just persistent, she was fast. My roommates, however, seemed to be lagging further behind and about 1.x Kilometers in, we turned around. That I wasn’t gasping for air and the last of the line surprises me, being as how I’m from an area with no mountains. But I think I made a good showing.

The plants and trees are very similar to Kansas. In fact, a lot of Korea is similar to Kansas in a different organization. For instance, there are pine trees in Kansas, but many more in Korea. There are tall hills in Kansas, but less wooded than Korea. There are Cosmos and Choke Cherries and Slugs and Herons in both places, but they are all just a little different. The only time things get radically divergent is when you go to the plains in Kansas or the sea in Korea. Fish and other sea life have little have little analog, and there just don’t seem to be the large animals that Kansas has, like Deer or Turkey. I also haven’t seen any native reptiles.
The hike was fun, and even though there were a lot of bugs, I had no complaints. I sweated a lot, which seemed to be a direct relationship with exhaustion for the Koreans (IE: If you sweat, you’re tired, if you sweat a lot, you’re about ready to give out). The Koreans don’t seem to sweat much. They also claim to sunburn easier (and I’m pasty white for the most part).

We then came back and sat around, talking about what we would do, but not doing it. In this, again, I felt at home.

The fact that our group consisted of four 20something guys and a 50something woman sort of bothered me at first. I wasn’t sure how to read it, because I couldn’t think of how it would go in America. But as we sat down to eat, and OhMa called us her boys, I got a bit of understanding. I saw pictures of her two sons, one around our age, one married in Canada. I don’t think we were surrogate sons or anything like that. But I think that in some ways we filled in. I’ve noticed it in some people in America, of course; a desire to do things with younger people because it keeps you young. When it is done selflessly, I think it works wonders. OhMa is definitely a woman who looks younger than she is, and she can definitely keep up with the guys. When it’s done selfishly, I think it can backfire, or at least cause problems. But this was a great experience for all, and I had a lot of fun seeing the kind of Korea I had wanted to see all along.

Categories: Being There

There : Churches

August 20, 2007 Leave a comment

I’ve gone to three churches in Korea, as well as a Korean church in Kansas. They are some of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met, even more so with the language barrier.

The dominant Christian religions in Korea are Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and Catholic. It would be a guess, but I would say that they are popular by that order, too. I’ve been told that this area of Korea has one of the lowest concentrations of Christians in South Korea. If that’s so, I’m very impressed, because there are a ton of churches around. There is no shortage of churches or church goers.

The first church I went to was in Kansas, which had about 100 Koreans going to it. That seems like a lot to me, as there were several Korean churches in nearby towns, and I would have guessed there weren’t more than 150 Koreans in town. This was actually my first exposure to Koreans and to the Korean language in person. It was also a great place to get to try Korean food as it really is, and get a taste of the culture. Even better, they were extra nice about my failure to understand their culture immediately. I’d say that for a Christian looking to go to Korea, this would be a great initial exploration.

The first church I went to in Korea was a Presbyterian church, which most of them are. It was large, something like 700 members. It was more formal than the Presbyterian Church I went to in Kansas. It actually spanned two large buildings. I went to the English service there, which was good, but sort of an island of anti-culture. I can see that being a nice thing when you’ve tired of Korea, but I haven’t yet, and since I want to learn Korean, I should be exposed to as much as I can.

The second Korean church was Methodist. Still large, the building was wedged in amongst a bunch of other, secular buildings. It went up about 4 stories and terminated in a little attic where they held some youth group meetings of some sort. This service was, again, more formal than the average Methodist service in Kansas, but had around 300 members.

The most recent church was a very small church located in a very nondescript building around some apartment buildings. There were only about 10 people at the service, and they were all very close. They were very welcoming and inclusive, and surprisingly well versed in English. The pastor’s daughter translated the sermon for me, which was fun. I can now read enough Hangul to try to sing the songs, so that was a bit more involving than some of the other church services. But maybe the most comforting thing is that my native church back in Kansas was usually around 20 people. It was a reminder that sometimes things are very different, but usually they’re more similar.

Categories: Being There

There : Recap of Camps and Moving

August 19, 2007 Leave a comment

Recap of Camps

The camp circuit is coming to a close, and I am both sad and happy to see it go.
Happy, because I need the rest, and the time to learn Korean.
Sad, because I will miss seeing the students, both Middle Schoolers and College Kids. I’ll still be able to see them, but in a much different capacity and lower frequency than before.

The camps were generally frantic and under planned. This might be the nature of the beast. The camps have to be adaptive to keep the students interested and entertained, and to address them on their current level. That necessitates daily or nightly meetings to finalize, or sometimes revise, plans and activities for that day or the next. This makes for a harried pace where the end is almost always in focus and control seems to be almost out of reach.

The camps were generally fun. Though they were primarily educational, the camps seemed to focus a lot of energy, for both age levels, n making it fun. There are two good reasons for this. One is that the camps are during summer vacation and the students deserve some kind of reparations for that. The other is that people seem to learn better when they are having fun. Laughter is the quickest way to engage someone, and as long as you can entertain them and hold their respect at the same time, you should be able to run a successful program.

The camps were well supported. Sunlin College went out of their way to make the camps happen, and to make sure they went well. This fact was supported by several people involved in other camps mentioning how much Sunlin’s staff was doing for the camp. I’m not talking about councilors, or even the director, but the administration, from President Chun down to Mr. Ha. I think the people involved in the camps were some of the best hosts around.

The camps were successful. The college class saw a significant improvement in speaking, confidence and writing. The middle schoolers may have seen less of an improvement, but it was reportedly better than even some of the best English camps in Korea. Even if that was just sycophancy, there was notable improvement. Mostly the camps seem to greatly improve confidence. This might seem like a small thing, but after years of being taught English in schools, most of these kids have had little to no real chance to use the language. And anyone who has tried to learn a new language can tell you that the best way to learn it and improve it is to use it. Preferably with a native speaker. We made sure the kids had plenty of chance to talk to us, and by the end of the camp, they were talking much better with us, and even talking in English outside of supervision. When that happens, it marks a major milestone towards a successful camp.

The camps were worth doing, for me and the students, and hopefully for Sunlin. I can’t tell you what everyone got out of it, but I know I made some good friends, saw some cool stuff, learned a lot myself, and helped some students learn and enjoy English. I also helped expose them to actual American culture (which is often misrepresented) and I learned how to be a better teacher, and a better friend to my foreign friends. I won’t say that going to Korea and teaching English is for everyone. It’s not. Some people who do it shouldn’t. It requires personal sacrifice, an open mind and a willingness to learn and try new things. If those things describe you, then it would probably be a great experience.

Moved In

I moved to another dormitory building today. This one will be my home until December. The building is a bit nicer, but less convenient. The room is a bit nicer, but smaller. It’s on the 3rd floor instead of the 5th. The water cooler doesn’t work right now, and neither does the Internet.

I ate BoShingTon again last night. It was wonderful. To Kathy in Lawrence, I named my dog soup fluffy. I think it was a Pomeranian.

Categories: Being There

There : The End of Middle School Camp

August 17, 2007 Leave a comment

Well, camp is over and I’m exhausted, physically, mentally and emotionally. It was a good time. I enjoyed the students, who were generally very well behaved. I learned some good ways to deal with kids and some tips on organizing and managing these camps. I got to meet some great people.

I also worked around 125 hours in a week (Sunday through Friday), and at night, had to sleep in the same room as the kids, so I could wake them at 7 AM. I sat for hours in meetings where no one spoke English. I carried heavy objects long distances in high heat while others talked on their cellphones. I cleaned up the dorm rooms of nearly 40 students. I don’t have much left in me.

Yesterday, after clean up, I went to the bank and opened an account. It costs $3, which is remarkably cheap. $2 in transaction fees and $1 that creates your minimum balance. You don’t get checks. Instead you get a bank book, which you can use at ATMs to withdraw, use with employers to deposit your pay check, and undoubtedly other things I don’t know about yet. The process was mostly simple, except that no one there spoke English very well and they forgot to hand me back my passport until the bank had closed. But it was actually one of the more refreshing parts of my day and everyone was nice. I’m not sure if I can leave my account active here with a minimum balance and come back if I return to Korea, or not.

After that we went out as a group to eat and sing. I was right to fear Karaoke in Korea. You can’t avoid it. On the other hand, it isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Just sing a song that you can be funny or good at, and you’ll be fine. Mine is Bohemian Rhapsody, because I’m not afraid to sing the girls parts. I really need someone who knows the song to help out with parts of it, though. In any event, it was fun, but I’m still worn out.

I have to move into a new dormitory building today. I know my roommates, and they are great guys, so I’m not afraid. Most of my stuff should still fit in my 3 suitcases, so it’s just the trek across campus I am dreading.

Categories: Being There