In Mike Griffin’s class.

One of my personal professional goals to achieve during my Korea time was, as you might have read in some posts before, visiting classrooms and processing the experience. I think I started with a lot of zest. As a result, this post came out a very detailed one, took about 5 hours of my time, a lot of concentration, meticulous note-taking of anything I was seeing (and the thoughts those scenes and moments spawned), and then brain effort to structure and write it up in the way it could be readable and telling the points.

Next class I visited was of a very different type and I eventually decided to blog about it in an idle way which would require little analysis on my part but would leave a special feeling of other people being part of this emerging space of a blog. There were voices to be heard, I sensed, and I think that was a good choice on my part to eliminate the thorough scrutiny.

I’m going to go similar way now writing about another class I visited in Korea about a month ago, that meaning I will cut the dissection part. Because it’s too hard and I’m not sure it’s worth it. Besides, I feel like the main interest in that class for you the reader of my blog could be the contents of the class, at least that’s what it was for me.

 

Welcome to Michael Griffin’s English class at Chung Ang University, Seoul. Fasten your seatbelts, or any other belts, I hope it can be an interesting cultural ride.

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 *****

I’ll set the scene for you. Imagine a rainy but warm day in Seoul. That was the kind of day. Mike invited me to one of his classes and I was even going to be more than just a guest taking notes. That is exciting, if you ask me, and exactly the type of experience I’d long been thinking of having.

It’s a rough estimate, but it felt like 2 minutes of class passed after I felt a pang of jealousy. I saw Mike being relaxed but obviously confident and in control of the flow of his lesson, joking around while being on track and giving clear instructions. That was, in fact, pretty much the same Mike Griffin you’d see if you attend a presentation of his (and next chance to do so is in Japan in just 5 days). What was the pang about anyway? Well it struck me like it hadn’t in the months before that I miss teaching. I wanted to teach a/my university class and it was while being in that particular room that the feeling got so intense. I was almost aching to interrupt, interfere, comment, play a teacher, or get involved in any other way.

Which I only had to wait for. The plan for the class was the students (4 Korean ladies) doing the task assigned by Mike for one hour, and then the next hour would be divided into 15-minute “interview” sections, the interviewers being both Mike and me. This was in itself a new and unusual class format for me, and now that I’ve tested it and seen it in action, I’ll certainly try it out with some students in Russia, as soon as I get a chance.

 

So the four students split into two groups of two. There was “a Korean” and “a non-Korean” in each pair. The non-Korean Koreans were to read the questions, the questions that non-Koreans might wish to ask Koreans about their culture. The Korean Koreans, in their turn, were to give their Korean replies and explanations and provide any necessary comments on any further interrogation by pesky non-Korean Koreans.

Some of the questions from Mike were the following:

? Why do so many Koreans wear masks?
? Why are there so many Kims and Parks and Lees in Korea?
? Why do Koreans like Samsung and want to work for it?
? Why do Koreans hate Japan?
? Why do Koreans use metal chopsticks?

 

There were all in all 24 questions, all of them equally interesting or some even more. As you might imagine, I stopped taking notes of the things I could observe about the lesson very soon, for the simple reason of getting too curious about what the students had to say explaining their culture! By that time I’d been in Korea for three weeks and collected a fair amount of questions like that myself, so I couldn’t wait till the interview part of the class.

 

And while I learnt a lot in that interview part of the class and satisfied some part of my curiosity, I’m led to believe the students had a chance to learn from me, too. One of the best examples of the kind of cultural learning that happened that day and happened both ways was talking about the image of Russia. In that hour I heard 3 things which the students  shared with me as their instant associations with my country: (1) Moscow is a dangerous place to go to as there are skinheads who roam about the streets attacking, hitting and killing foreigners; (2) Russian food is greasy; (3) What do you think about Putin? … I don’t believe I need to go into much detail here about how passionate I was dealing with (1) since it’s just not true *anymore?*, and it was shocking news to me that such information travels around. Russian food is certainly different from Korean and it’s common knowledge that tastes differ. I’d heard taxi drivers here in Seoul blurt out “Putin?” first thing after they found out I was actually a Russian, not an American.

 

Among all other things we talked about it might be interesting for English language teachers in Russia to read that I heard this line: “My Russian groupmates struggle with their English”. I realize that it’s just one student sharing her personal opinion and it doesn’t lead us into making this unpleasant conclusion about the state of English language education in Russia, its standards and the levels students get finishing school.. There’s one thing that is certain as it’s a fact: Russian students don’t have to take an obligatory English exam as they finish school education, unlike Korean kids. For the latter English is mandatory for entering any university whatever major they choose, and English scores are in a way crucial (yes, they are a big deal). As I explained what the situation for Russian school children is like, my Korean interviewee said “I think your system is better” (stress related + not all students really need English in the future). Whichever system is better, her Russian groupmates struggle with their English.

 

I’ll share with you my questions about Korea and things Korean I’d been noticing in my time here. I got responses to some of these but still wonder about others. In any case, it’s useful to have them here as a memory of what I had in my mind in October 2014, and it’d be more than great to have some of your replies in the comments to this post.

  • Is it bad manners to tip?
  • Is it bad manners to not finish your meal/ leave food on your plate, if you don’t like it (some parts of pork, for example)?
  • What about dairy products and Koreans?
  • Has anyone here ever tried a dish called “kuksi”?
  • Why do Koreans invent English names for themselves and introduce themselves to me as Suzie, Robert or Jenny?? (note: I got an excellent answer to this question from one student but I’d like to read what your perspectives are as well, teachers who are based in SK)
  • Why are people in the metro or in the street never saying sorry after pushing you, stepping on your feet?
  • Why are people not looking at other people in the street? Or is it just for me?
  • How are people from Seoul different from Koreans from other places?
  • Where does Japan stand in the list of tourism preferences for Koreans? How’s the general *hostile* attitude reflected in daily life – do Koreans use Japanese products? Do Koreans have Japanese friends?
  • Why are you asked to scribble whatever on a special thing if you’re paying with your card? It’s not even supposed to be a signature. Apparently, there are no security reasons involved as there would be with PIN-codes, what then?
  • Names for dishes! That’s just amazing to me. In order to feed myself in a restaurant I need to know the name of a dish (and what that dish is, of course). It’s not as easy as it is to order a steak or pasta marinara, you know.
  • What’s one thing a Korean would never eat?
  • How about going to places, such a coffee shops, alone? It seemed to me it’s not quite typical/ natural for Koreans to hang out on their own.
  • Is there no Korean version of Google?

 

It was a very informative class for me, and even insightful in certain ways. Cultural gaps were filled, for me and maybe for those students as well. In the end I did feel I was a good part of the lesson, and I thank Mike for organizing the time in the way that allowed for that! Thanks a lot, Mike! =)

 

*****

Random analysis points that I couldn’t resist:

 

1)  I enjoyed Mike’s teaching style: very smooth and natural, with interesting and timely commenting and language work. The whole first part of the lesson revolved around one and only task, and that felt right and “light”. There was no hurry to proceed to some next stages and that opened up space for fruiful work on the task there was to be done.

2) I personally learnt a new word (peoplewatch (v)).

3) Several times Mike referred to Korean in his comments on the use of some phrases in English. I’m sure making connection with L1 is useful for students at any level of language proficiency. That is my humble assurance.

4) Here is a post to read to learn something more or less up-to-date about Russia (Moscow?).

5) I asked one student to share 3 important things my students in Russia should know about Korea. Here are her replies:

– Korean parents have high expectations of their children. They want them to study hard and get best scores.

– Wifi connection is excellent in Korea.

– Delivery service is just as excellent in Korea. Your order will arrive at your door within 10-15 mins from your call.

6) I paid special attention to Mike’s phrazing of “non-Koreans” instead of “foreigners”. I’m determined to stick to “non-Russians” from now on, whenever that comes in handy.

 

*****

This post is the forth (! already) in the #livebloggingparty series. This time Mike himself and I got together and blogged. We also ate this kimchi pizza. I hope you enjoy his post that you’ll find here. And with this post the blogging party moves on to another country! Expect to be continued soon-ish.

Big thanks to Josette, Anne and Mike for agreeing to go through this with me. I’m going to leave Korea with exceptional memories.

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Thanks for reading!

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9 thoughts on “In Mike Griffin’s class.

  1. springcait says:

    Hi Anna,

    I’m so envious to read your posts and look through your photos in Instagram) and I’m also so happy for you. It must be such an enriching experience of living in an Asian country and developing professionally in so many ways.
    Considering the lesson described above, the cultural points are so interesting. I would like to see the answers to your questions that you got from Mike’s students.
    I was in Bonn last weekend at the BESIG conference and also unpleasantly faced the president issue. That was the only negative moment at the event.

    Waiting for posts from Japan.

    Kate

    • annloseva says:

      Hi Kate,

      Now that it’s been 3 weeks since i got home, I read these posts and can understand your envy! I was having quite an experience. A different life for sure.

      I hope we get to meet soon and will talk about many things in detail =)

  2. Hi Anna, I really enjoyed your post (as always). I think the thing you talk about with the stereotypes of Russians is interesting. I recently asked a group of my students what stereotypes British people might have of Koreans, and it was fascinating to hear their thoughts.

    I thought I’d have a go at answering some of your questions, in my capacity as a non-Korean. My answers reflect my personal opinion only:

    1. Bad manners to tip? – I don’t know if it would be bad manners as such. I know I have left extra change to taxi drivers before. Might be a little strange/awkward in restaurants though, just because the servers would not know what to do with it. I think it is bad manners however when the western owners of restaurants in Korea ask patrons for tips, but don’t pass them on to the Korean staff because they are Korean and don’t expect tips.

    2. Bad manners not to finish? – I’ve never heard anyone say anything about not finishing your meal. Obviously with the shared meal setting a lot of food (sidedishes) is often left on the table. In fact when I first came to Korea in 2007, there were posters in many restaurants advertising that they didn’t recycle leftover food. Apparently just before I had arrived a TV documentary had found out that many (most?) restaurants would take what was left on the table and re-serve it.

    3. My wife (Korean) and her nephew (Korean) both love to drink milk. Living with me, they get to eat a lot of cheese too.

    4. Kuksi – don’t think I’ve heard of it, but I’m not that much of an adventurous eater, tbh.

    5. This is something that I have found very interesting too. You might like to see what my students had to say about the issue here: http://davidharbinson.com/students-opinions-about-english-names/

    6. The pushing is something that annoyed me at first, but then I got used to it. There are a number of reasons I’ve heard put forward for this. Maybe because Koreans are so used to living in such densely populated areas. Almost everyone lives in an apartment, where space is much more cramped. What I have found is that Koreans can come across as quite rude and pushy to strangers, but once they know you, can be extremely friendly, helpful, etc.

    7. I tend to do this. Not sure why.

    8. Daegu is typically known as being more conservative than other areas of Korea. I guess ‘people from Seoul’ is a bit more difficult to define though. I know that many people from around Korea travel to Seoul for work/study, so there is naturally a lot more variety of personalities. However, fewer people travel into Daegu, and many of my students are Daegu born and bred.

    9. I think that for many of my students at least, Japan is pretty high up on their list of tourist destinations. At a guess I would think that at least 50% of my students have been there at some point in their lives. I think the hostility is more at Japan, the government and the army, rather than the people themselves.

    10. I think that this is just a reflection of the Korean attitude towards this type of thing. The card/sign is an import from outside of Korea, where it had arisen out of a need – to solve a problem. Once in Korea though it’s more just to go through the process. Interestingly, I had a student once, who was a banker, and he told me that anytime a signature was signed that didn’t match the original, the transaction could automatically be voided. I wonder what would happen if someone actually complained?

    11. I still don’t know most of the food names!

    12. Koreans tend not to be fussy eaters. However, despite the stereotype, my wife’s family refuses to eat dog.

    13. Hmmm… I’ve found that it is quite common for Koreans to go to coffee shops alone. Especially students when they are studying. Certainly the Starbucks that I go to it’s common to see Koreans studying alone. However, as for going to eat alone, well that is a big No No. Unless you’re going to McDonalds or a Kimbap shop, it’s almost unheard of.

    14. Naver. Although the way they display search results is very different from Google. Google is very clean, but Naver displays a lot of ads, and then also links to ‘cafes’ (blogs) before the actual search results.

    • annloseva says:

      Hi David!

      Wow it did take me more than a month to get to responding. Your comment was and is awesome. Thank you for taking the time to go for my questions!! These are interesting stories of culture and culture perception, and it’s interesting to see how they match with mine. I now can formulate a few words in reply =)

      1. I left change for taxi drivers a couple of times myself) And I soon started to feel comfortable not having to think of leaving extra money in restaurants.

      3. I wonder what kind of cheese you eat and where you get it. I personally had trouble finding decent cheese, though I didn’t search enough of course. I’m curious for my future visits.=)

      5. Thanks! A perennial issue, as has been mentioned in my recent post comments.

      13. That’s what bothered me. What about people who, like me, at times just didn’t have “meal buddies”?)) I found a few places where it looked to be fine and kept to them, or had some takeaways. There’s never a problem like this in Moscow and I felt uncomfortable.

      14. I know about Naver.. I guess I was thinking Google in Korean. In Russia, for example, people are divided into those who search via Google (in Russian though) and those who use Russian search engine Yandex. I’m not sure about the actual official stats, but I’m led to believe Yandex is far more popular. I do encourage my students to go with Google and try searching using English.

      Thanks very much!! Maybe next time I come to Korea we could have a #livebloggingparty in Daegu?)

      • Well the cheese choice is not great, but it is much better than it was when I first arrived in Korea. Both E-mart and Homeplus often have a very small (think one or two varieties) of cheddar usually from the UK or Australia. A little pricey, but one of my luxuries.

        I see what you mean about Korean version of Google now (and thought it a little strange you not having come across Naver), I misunderstood what you meant. There is a Korean version of Google because every time I want my students to search something on Google, on their phones for example, they are automatically directed to the Korean site, and I have to get them to switch to ‘Google in English’ – how well used it is outside of my classroom? I’m not sure. Almost all Koreans I know will use Naver or one of the other search engines to find something.

        And a Daegu #livebloggingparty on your next visit sounds like a wonderful idea 🙂

  3. Sandy Millin says:

    Just wanted to say that I love reading your posts, and I’d love to be able to visit these classrooms and yours at some point. You’d also be very welcome in mine at some point!
    Sandy

    • annloseva says:

      Thank you, Sandy! I’m always happy to see a “like” to my posts from you. And I’m sure there will be time when we get to see each other’s classrooms!! I learnt the world can be such a small friendly place. =)

  4. […] previously mentioned it in my post here that hearing students introduce themselves with English names in Korea was puzzling to me. One […]

  5. […] to common generalizations of Japan, its culture and people (the concept was borrowed from an activity I witnessed in Mike Griffin’s class over a year ago). All students without exception were highly responsive and keen on discussing the […]

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