Monday, December 8, 2008

Jumbo Fine Print

If you were to see a physical representation of a Korean agreement, it would look like the entrance contract of Willy Wonka’s Factory—it starts out large then becomes indecipherable at the bottom.

Leslie will you do a video message for the superintendant?
A camera crew will come to the school Friday

You will be introducing the school
The movie will be played at an assembly
There will be 300 people at the assembly
The assembly is actually a ribbon cutting ceremony
The video will be played on a Jumbo screen
The Superintendant, Mayor, School Board, and every other important Anseong Suit will attend
It is actually the introduction CD to Yes Space and will given to all parents
You should brush your hair
We are going to start paying you in noodles (kidding, just wanted to see if you would read this far)

As usual, we must start with a commentary on Korean culture. Education, in this country, is a bizarre fa├žade almost completely centered on appearances. Saving face, or more creating it, saturates every facet of this culture. My first week, the entire school was in a frenzy because they were having a week long ceremony for the parents. These ceremonies, to me, meant standing on a stage staring at a mass of four-hundred people all of whom appeared to have been spawned from the same egg. I felt more like an exhibit than an English teacher. I swear if they had had sticks, I would have been poked with them. Anyhow, the school canceled classes, ordered flowers, bought everyone food, and paraded around their new native English speaking teachers. I have been informed; that this is almost entirely how the school is judged…its reputation is based on an elaborate show not curriculum. Allow me to elaborate with the following…
1. My school is amazing. They spent millions of dollars (billions of won) on the English institute Yes Space. I have a 40 inch flat screen T.V. and an awesome classroom. We have an airplane room (equipped with a computer) that we cannot fathom how to use more than once. Yet, despite all these spent resources, there was absolutely no thought to the curriculum. I have received no training and the given teacher’s books were in Korean. My first class, the Korean teacher didn’t show up for. I was dumbfounded and when I asked where the kids were in the book, almost every student turned to a different page. The other English teachers, didn’t even have a full class load until a couple of weeks ago. The bottom line, the school spent 1,000,000 won on new desks—no matter, that there are no children sitting in the seats.
2. After about a week of “teaching” Jin Mi my supervisor took me to an open class. In theory, this is an observation class where other foreign teachers can witness how a normal English lesson is conducted. I was confused at first, the children were raising their hands before a question was asked and there was not a single mistake made. Stepford children. Later, I learned these classes were rehearsed and the children were hand selected. It was of absolutely no use to me because it was scripted far beyond the normal fourth grader level. One old boy even said he doesn’t watch T.V. because the women are too provocative. The purpose is not to share knowledge; these open classes are spitting contests between local schools. The irony is everyone knows they are scripted; therefore, no one is impressed, which renders the entire exercise obsolete.
3. Two weeks ago, I was sitting in my office watching snake regurgitates hipo ( when I was rushed into my classroom. Ten teachers sit down at the tables and open their notebooks. I am then taken to the board and moved like manikin into some teacher pose. One minute later a camera crew comes in, makes a sweep of the room and leaves. This was Yanjin Elementary showing teachers are also interested in learning English. In their defense, I have since conducted a teacher course but not in the same fashion portrayed on the news.

Korea has the longest working day coupled with the lowest productivity rate. I believe this is entirely due to their preference of form over substance. Bruce (the Korean I met on the plane) explains it well, “It looks good to say and show you work long hours but since my workers know they will be there till 8 pm, they do almost nothing until 4pm.” This mindset starts with the education system, Koreans are crazed when it comes to schooling—the parents spend more money on education than the government. Children receive an uncanny amount of pressure to succeed and get into a top university. However, once admitted to the university it is a four year vacation. I must cover more of this topic at a later date but I fear I have already tested all of your attention span; back to entering into a Korean agreement.

The first week I arrived, Jin Mi (my supervisor) asked me to do a video introduction of Yes Space for the superintendant. I was a taken aback when a professional film crew arrived but quickly forgot the episode. Fast-forward three weeks later, I am sitting in yet another ceremony contemplating the Principal’s orange sequin tie. This is the opening ceremony for Yes Space and the auditorium has traded its usual chattering parents for every stern Suit in Anseong—the Mayor, Superintendant, School Board etc. Luckily, the principal had already gone through introductions so I was free to sit back and put my own words into each speaker’s mouth. It is about this time, a jumbo screen descends from the ceiling and I soon see my face four feet tall and directly in front of me. At that moment I realize, this is the "message to the superintendant" and I have never seen myself on camera, let alone a jumbo-screen. All I could think about was...if my face is four feet tall than how many inches in diameter is that mole on my cheek? The assembly ended and I Jin Mi bolted for the entrance in anticipation of my wrath.
I never caught her, because after the ceremony, I was lauded as a professional reporter and told countless times I looked like a movie star. It’s odd how an excessive amount of sensationalized compliments can neutralize your emotions. In Korea I have found my routine emotions have been knocked off kilter by absurdity, so much so I almost can't identify what I am actually feeling.

So here is the silly introduction to Yes Space. I am attaching it because it is the best way to show all of you where I am working, and yes I promise I will put pictures up tomorrow! I also vow to blog every day until I catch up with my journal. Oh just rewind past our principal and note the Backstreet Boys soundtrack!!!