Friday, October 01, 2010

MULTI cultural experience

I teach at an international school. I work with Koreans, Indonesians and Ex-pats in a Korean International school in Jakarta. The school staff is divided-the "menial" staff are Indonesian, the "important" staff are Korean. I use these designations for lack of others. The cleaning staff, copy and secretarial staff are all Indonesian.  Some of the more authoritative figures in the head office are Korean, like those dealing with work visas and expenses/funding. The homeroom teachers are all Korean, as are the music, art and physical education teachers.  There are two English departments in the elementary school; 4 Korean women who teach English grammar and 9 native speakers who focus on use and pronunciation.  For those of you not familiar with the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) world, natives are not the people native to a country, natives refer to native English speakers. The nine of us are made up of 2 Americans, 1 Canadian, 1 Welsh, 3 Brits and 2 Aussies. I am the only female and the youngest in my department.  We are on the same grounds as the middle and high schools but each school is entirely it's own entity.  There is remarkably little interaction with anyone outside of our department actually.

With a mix of so many nationalities, it's not surprising that there are communication snafus regularly.  The first hurdle is to find a common language.  There are some staff here that speak English and Korean (Han-gul), some speak Indonesian and Korean, some (most of my department) speak English and Indonesian.  There are very few (I can think of maybe 2) that can speak all three languages.  As far as my department goes, I'm the only Spanish speaker and we have one French-speaker.  We do however have two kids that used to live in Guatemala though they're Korean.  The kids in my 4-2 class have decided their favorite word to use randomly in class is "senorita" though I don't know where they learned it or why they like it.

I'm noticing many, many ways that these cultures are different.  Remember that before JIKS, I worked at EF in Pluit where the students were Indonesian or Chinese Indonesian.  Now that I've taught in the US, Spain and here-Koreans and Indonesians- I can more clearly make comparisons. I wish I'd done this while I was teaching in Spain, it would help me crystallize my generalizations now.  Teaching in the States feels like a lifetime ago. Couple that with the fact is was swim lessons or kindergartens, discounting the variety of ages in my after school and summer programs, and I am struggling a little to recall the details for comparison now.

The US has become very hands off in regards to children.  We've become so paranoid that everyone wants to take advantage of the children that now teachers are not even to touch them unless absolutely necessary. The Korean kids are happy to come wrap their arms around your waist while you try to maintain (or regain) order.  This happens with all the teachers and it causes no problems.  There is a move that's quite popular in Korea and with Koreans called a Don Ho or Don Chin.  The 'aggressor" puts their hand together as though in prayer.  They then proceed to ram their hands between the butt cheeks of some poor and usually unsuspecting victim.  Hilarity and laughter ensue.  I find it all mildly disturbing but I'm starting to understand why they see it so differently.  The Korean kids are very very physical with each other, in both positive and negative ways.  I was taken aback the first two or three weeks to see kids really thumping and smacking each other.  Boys hit girls, girls hit boys and boys hit boys. They'll smash another student into a wall, sit on them, run across the class just to thump them twice and run back.  It all seemed so violent but they ALL do it and no one really minds.  It's the accepted norm. They are also very physically affectionate, girls and boys will lay in each others laps, hang in hugs and embrace each other.  They does tend to be a divide here, girls with girls and boys with boys.  My kids are 4th grade so this is well before dating etc.  They still "ewww!" if two cartoon characters in a movie kiss.

My Korean students are by far the most talkative I've taught.  The talking, yelling and worst of all high pitched screaming is incessant. The Spanish and American students were quite similar from what I remember, talkative but shush-able. I often struggle with the overall volume of the class. I chalk a bit of it up to the fact that, while most of the Korean teachers don't use corporal punishment, they are happy to threaten it and then parents are known to smack the kids around if they under perform.  I won't do that and they know that.  We made class contracts in all of my classes.  The students make 5 rules for themselves and 5 rules for the teacher (me).  bar none, each group made a "the teacher won't hit the students" rule.  I have a two-pronged technique at this point: stickers and the rare candy for students who listen, follow directions and complete their tasks coupled with the punishment of writing lines for those who don't participate, shut up or stay in their seats.  It's working a bit better as I refine it but I'm still nearly lost my voice this week, again.


  1. Ha! I've barely ever spoken to you when you DO have your voice. Mostly I just recall a raspy cackle. Is that how you always speak? : )

  2. I recall Scott telling me about the Don Ho or Don Chin when he first arrived in Korea. He said he was walking and one of the kids did it to him. As you might imagine the reaction he got from that, he made a comment about the incident to one of the Korean teachers, who told him if the kids did that to him was because they liked him. Weird!

    Spanish kids are very physical as well, as you might remember. However, I thik they are more physical in a different way, especially boys. There's something really wrong about Spanish boys, hahahaha!