My most memorable teaching experience in Korea

When I wrote about teaching culture in an EFL class, I mentioned toward the bottom that I had a problem with students giving me too many compliments.

Then recently, a researcher asked me for my most memorable experience teaching English in Korea. I thought for a moment. There really is one experience that sticks out because it made me so uncomfortable. It was related to the being called handsome problem.

During a midterm or final oral exam a few years back, a group of students had chosen their 10 year reunion for their roleplay topic. I thought it was a fine idea until I learned that in the future, I had divorced my wife in order to marry one of the students.

Honestly, I was shocked that they had chosen such an inappropriate topic. I tried to laugh, but what I really wanted to do was fail them. Looking back, I think I should have stopped them, explained that the topic was inappropriate, and told them to start over.

Interestingly, I thought I had left all that behind me when I left Catholic University for Sookmyung Women’s University TESOL program. In my teacher training position, I deal with students who have earned undergrad degrees. Many have teaching positions or other jobs. Plus I’m losing my hair!

For 8 weeks or so I was right. No compliments on my eyes or being handsome, just the occasional compliment on a suit or necktie or shirt. Anyway, then in one practicum class students were microteaching a lesson on comparisons. One model sentence they used was “Mr. Trotta is more handsome than Mr. xyz” (Mr. xyz is another teacher in the program). Again, I was struck by how entirely inappropriate Korean students sometimes are.

To quote what I posted here on June 15, 2004, “I honestly don’t know if Korean teachers receive compliments about their physical appearance. Do learners do it because it is acceptable in their culture? Or do they do it because they think it is acceptable in my culture?”

Filed Under: Stories from class

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  1. patrice says:

    they do it so they can get better grades. they are kissing up to you. get a clue.

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  3. Hanna says:

    I have to agree, that role-play topic about you and your wife was really rude. I totally understand where you’re coming at. I was very annoyed myself when I moved back to Korea 5 years ago. People were constantly putting someone down or making fun of someone for their own fun so that they would somewhat feel superior. This kind of behavior still frustrates me.

    However, I had a question, have you not talked with your wife about this kind of cultural difference at all? To my knowledge, Koreans take physical appearances seriously due to the “Yangban” and the culture. That’s why people are so obsessed about the way they look. And complimenting on those looks are very important. I believe the students at your PRACTICUM class complimented you by comparing you with the other teacher to show that they take greater respect to you. You know, the “collective” culture of Korea.

    When you’re out in a group, you’re merely just a “no one”. The other colleage of yours was just another “no one” for the students.

  4. Hanna says:

    Another thing……………… could you please make a modifying button here?

  5. Hanna says:

    Just a suggestion…………