Lost in Translation

Prospective CEV teachers

Dear Prospective CEV Teacher,

Congratulations for wading through all the internet and finding my blog! You must’ve dug deep, because searching for Changnyeong English Village information is hard.

You want thoughts? You want to know if it’s a good job?

First, I recommend you check out this thread (read to the end, don’t stop at the first post) and this thread. Dave’s ESL is a great resource for anything, not just checking out this job, so make sure you use it! 🙂

If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to comment or email me. Even if it’s a couple years later. We waygooks have to look out for each other, especially at Changnyeong English Village.

Categories: CEV, Culture Quirks, Lost in Translation, South Korea | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

So you want to volunteer

If you’re interested in volunteering, like Jordan and I, there are lots of options in many countries.

In my research to choose an area to volunteer in, I picked up a lot of information that might help anyone looking into the same work. This list is by no means exhaustive, and needs change quickly and often. But here’s a list of resources to get you started:

General

Balkans

  • Project Hope is a worldwide organization but has its focus in the Balkan states. They accept volunteers
  • Hot Food Idomeni is the only group delivering hot food to the homeless refugees in Belgrade, Serbia
  • Refugee Aid Miksaliste works mostly with the homeless refugees in Belgrade, Serbia by providing charging centers, activity corners, and language workshops run by volunteers
  • Refugee Aid Serbia facilitates information, distributes clothing, and works closely with the homeless refugees in Belgrade, Serbia.
  • Info Park is a hub of information for the refugees on the street and in the asylum centers. They pay for hostels for families, provide language classes, and more.
  • A great list for those interested in helping in Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia and more.

Greece

  • Boat Rescue Foundation is a Dutch organization that not only helps pull life rafts to shore in the Greek islands but also helps work in the camps
  • Hot Food Idomeni also gives out hot food in northern Greece near the Macedonian border (hence the name “Idomeni”)
  • Northern Greece Volunteers is as exactly how the name descries – a coalition of volunteers in northern Greece. They are funded in part by Help Refugees.
  • A great list for those interested in helping in northern Greece.
  • Forgotten in Idomeni helps distribute food and more in Greece.
  • A site for coordinating volunteers and broadcasting needs in Greece.
  • EuroRelief works in camps and on the beach in Lesbos, Greece
  • Intervolve has international volunteers in Thessaloniki, Greece
  • Nurture Project International works with nurses, midwives, and lactation consultants to provide for women and babies in Greece.
  • Lighthouse Relief has volunteers in Lesbos and on mainland Greece.
  • Helping Hands works with families and unaccompanied minors in Athens, Greece.

Middle East

  • Relief and Reconciliation for Syria is a group in a village in Lebanon. They prefer volunteers that come in teams to create workshops or volunteers that can stay 3-6 months at a time.
  • Basmeh and Zeitooneh is a grassroots Lebanese organization, dedicated to serving Syrian refugees and vulnerable communities in Lebanon
  • Nurture Project International works with nurses, midwives, and lactation consultants to provide for women and babies in Iraq.
  • Information for volunteers to Turkey is excellent, though information hasn’t been updated in a few months.
  • Information Point for Turkey Volunteers often has calls for volunteers as well as good information to educate you before the trip.
  • Tarlabasi works with vulnerable ethnic minorities in Istanbul, Turkey. They take volunteers for longer period of time, but volunteer applications are on hold until Feb. 1, 2017.
  • A short list of small NGOs in Jordan that may accept volunteers

Central/Western Europe

  • A great list for those interested in helping in Calais, France (though recent changes in November 2016 may make some information here obsolete)
  • YWAM is taking volunteers in teams throughout Europe and requests that people commit to stay for at least three weeks.
  • Operation Mobalisation is a faith-based organization always taking teams of volunteers throughout Europe.
  • Care4Calais is a British/French organization working with refugees previously living in “the Jungle,” an unofficial refugee camp in Calais, France.
  • Secours Catholique, a branch of Caritas, works to distribute clothing to the refugees in Calais and Paris.
  • CalAid helps distribute clothing, give aid, and more to the refugees in France, UK, and Greece.
  • FranceAndBeyond has some good tips and suggestions if interested in volunteering at camps in France.

Other information

Interested in donating money instead? Go here for a great list. 

Categories: Lost in Translation, Practical Matters | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Volunteering with refugees

Our first day we walked into the aid house, sidling past people smoking on the steps. Inside five or six families and about another thirty teenage boys milled around. Signs, labeled in English, designated “Youth Corner” and “Women’s Corner” and “Charging Center.” Other directions were pasted on the walls in Arabic and/or Serbian. A few staffers with either name tags or vests weaved between the crowd.

After a moment of looking around, I snagged an official-looking nurse and asked where volunteers were supposed to go.

“Upstairs, maybe,” she said in a French accent, pointing out the back door. She turned back to a refugee woman setting her backpack down in the middle of the hallway. “You can’t do that here,” she said, but the woman smiled an I-have-no-idea-what-you’re-saying-smile (I’ve used that smile on numerous occasions) and continued unpacking her bag.

So Jordan and I went out the back door, up some more stairs, and into a small warehouse. Boxes of clothing were piled high behind a counter. A crib covered in dust sat in a corner beside a car seat. We saw a small office with a woman inside. We knocked and entered.

She looked up and smiled.

“Hello,” I said uncertainly. “We’re volunteers. This is our first day.”

“Okay, then sign this volunteer contract and write down your contact information here.” She handed up as couple of pieces of paper. “There are about a thousand refugees in Belgrade, and most of them come here during the day. You can leave your bags here—the door is always locked or someone is here. It’s very safe, the refugees are good, but everyone once and a while someone will steal something. They’re interested in our bags—they don’t have backpacks to hold their things, so one of them might try to steal your bag.” She rattled off more information. “They don’t normally like their pictures taken. If you do, just ask first. It’s polite. But they love taking selfies with volunteers, so they might ask you to do that. The refugees live in the barracks down that way—“ she waved vaguely somewhere “—in very inhumane conditions. No showers, so we provide them here. A lot of the refugees have body lice and scabies. I’m not trying to scare you—you won’t get it. Just don’t hug them for very long or wear their clothes and you’ll be fine.”

“Is this the distribution center?” Jordan pointed to the counter with the boxes.

“Yes, but volunteers can’t distribute clothing anymore. A few weeks ago the government said we couldn’t do that anymore.” She led us back down into the first building, filled with people. “So we have fifteen different organizations all working here. The medical clinic’s in the back, we have a children’s room and a women’s corner hosted by UN Women.” She looked at us. “We have crafts and projects and workshops every day to keep people busy, and you can work there.”

“Oh, uh, okay.”

“We have French lessons, German lessons, English lessons, sometimes Spanish lessons—really whatever the volunteers want to do a workshop on.” She gestured around the main room, filled with people. “Adrianne, you can go to the women’s corner and come up with a craft activity. Jordan, you can go to the activity corner and just talk to the refugees.”

So I entered the corner, walled off by cardboard partitions. A blond Serbian girl, about my age, with multi-colored fingernails greeted me. “I think we’ll do collages today, cutting out pictures from magazines.” She showed me around the room. “We have a mirror, fingernail polish, hairbrush, lotions, just whatever for the women to rest with each other. Over there on that shelf are pads and tampons that they can ask for at any time, since they can’t get them anywhere else.”

There was a rather long, awkward silence until two girls entered. Both greeted the staffer then sat on a futon and pulled out their smartphones. One turned on some music, the other texted friends back in her home country.

Their English level was pretty low, but they communicated interest in knitting.

“Wow, you knit?” I asked, breaking the silence.

They smiled and nodded.

“I can’t. I tried when I was little. It ended up like a huge knot.” I gestured broadly, and they laughed.

Eventually the knitting needles and yarn came out, and after about thirty minutes of me not knowing what to do, I grabbed the needles and sat next to the older girl. “Teach me to knit.”

She laughed, like, oh, I’m over my head here, but proceeded to demonstrated how to hook one needle through the thread and bring it through. Eventually she handed it over to me and picked up the second pair of needles. We knitted together while I asked a few questions. The younger girl, who was 15, was content to play music off youtube and watch me fight with my yarn.

The staffer sat next to me as she organized the craft box, and I peppered her with questions.

“So how long do they stay here?”

She shrugged. “Months.”

“And they’re waiting on…papers?”

She nodded.

“And after they get their papers, where do they go?”

“They used to go to Hungary, but they closed their borders, so some go to Bulgaria or back down to Macedonia.”

I thought on that. “Do any settle here in Serbia?”

“A couple. Three or four work here now as interpreters, but that’s it.”

“So these papers aren’t work visas.”

“No.”

“Where do they want to go? Germany?”

“Germany, Sweden, Norway, those places.”

“Where do they get food?”

“We used to serve lunch here every day. We had everything. Well, not everything, but enough. But we had to shut it down because of the government. Now there’s lunch set up in the park near the barracks that they go to.”

“And that’s all the food they get?”

“Pretty much.”

I frowned. “There are a lot of boys here—more than I thought.”

She shrugged. “Not too many. The people come and go. This morning there’s boys. Most travel in families. I met a woman traveling alone once.”

My stomach rumbled, and I inquired about lunch protocol. She told me as a volunteer I could come and go as I pleased, so I stepped out to find Jordan. He sat nearby, in the middle of a chess game with one of the young men, and we agreed to go to lunch when he finished his game.

After lunch, when we returned, the place was even more crowded. Toddlers ran between peoples’ legs, chasing one another and hiding from their parents. Women joined their husbands at the center, seeking respite from the barracks.

I slipped back to the women’s corner and found it filled to the brim with teenage girls in the middle of an English lesson.

“A, B, C, D,” an Australian woman intoned, sitting cross-legged on the floor. She pointed to a makeshift poster she’d scribbled on probably a few minutes ago.

Girls from the ages of eight to thirty-three repeated after her, giggling and bright-eyed. The teenagers hung on the teacher’s every word, eager to challenge themselves with something.

I slipped in the back to sit next to the staffer. A girl, probably seven, picked at beads in a tin box, and I offered to help her make a bracelet. She grinned and nodded, pulling the sparkly beads out of the box.

“Shall we go on to jobs?” the Australian asked.

“Yes!”

“I want to be an engineer!” one girl blurted.

We laughed at her enthusiasm.

“And I want to be a dentist!” a teenager declared.

“You have beautiful teeth,” the Australian said. “What does everyone else want to be?”

Most picked doctor, while one girl said she wanted to be a swimmer, another a photographer.

“I have to finish the lesson now,” the Australian said. “I have to go.”

“Oh, no! Don’t stop!” the girls begged. “More English.”

“I’m sorry, I can’t.”

“Tomorrow?” they asked, looking between the Australian volunteer and the Serbian staffer.

“Not tomorrow. The women’s center will be closed for cleaning.” She shook her head.

“And I’m going to Bosnia for a week.” The Australian looked as disappointed as her eager students. She glanced at me. “Can you teach?”

“I’d love to.” I grinned. So she introduced me as I supplied my name and when we could gather again (Tuesday).

The girls gasped in delight. “Tuesday! More English.” The center was closing for the day, so they waved goodbye and slipped out into the main room.

The Australian and I properly met, and she explained that she was a social worker and had never taught English before two days ago.

“Any materials or curriculum I should follow?” I asked.

She shook her head. “I’m making it up as I go. You saw me draw that stick figure for body parts vocabulary in the middle of my lesson.”

I laughed. “Okay, I’ll just come up with something.”

“Yeah, I learned you just have to go for it. Come up with an idea and make it happen. The refugees are always willing to learn or be entertained or just listened to, and the staff is busy keeping the place running. We volunteers just have to do something and run with it, really.”

“Thank you, I’ll definitely do that then.”

By that time, it was 3 pm, when the volunteer shifts end. Most of the activity corners were being shut down, though people still crowded the center of the room. Staffers wiped down tables.

Jordan and I found one another and glanced uncertainly around the room. We weren’t exactly sure if we should go, if we should offer to clean, or what was expected of us. Staffers told us we didn’t have to clean and suggested we come back in the morning and ask what needed to be done.

So we went back upstairs, grabbed our bags and coats and walked back to our apartment. First day accomplished!

 

Categories: Lost in Translation, Serbia | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mongolian Incident

Our arrival to Mongolia was pretty rough. Mongolia is amazing, and we wish we could spend more time getting to know the people, culture, and landscape. We’d definitely come back to learn more. But our first 24 hours was…rough. We are now calling it “The Mongolian Incident.”

To start with, we arrived at 11 pm in Ulaan Bataar, the capital, and looked for our scheduled airport pickup from the hostel we booked with. It never showed up. When Jordan called, the woman on the phone sounded confused and finally suggested we just take a taxi.

So we did, unhappily, at 12:30 in the morning. Once at the hostel we discovered that they’d booked our overnight tour for the wrong days, and we couldn’t take it. I asked the woman to change the tour, to call the tour operator and arrange so we could still go, but she said we’d have to speak to the manager who would come in at 11 am the next day. Well, our tour was suppose to leave at 9:30 am, so I knew that by the time I spoke to her they would just say, “sorry, it’s too late to go today.”

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The woman also didn’t have our beds ready and tried to get us to stay in a more expensive room (and have us cover the cost). Yes, an auspicious start to the trip.

So the next morning we met a German couple who was going to get a bus ride to Terelj National Park and spend the night in a tourist ger, and hike around—basically everything we wanted to do, but not with a tour. Jordan and I had thought it was too difficult to get around Mongolia without a guide (public transportation is confusing or non-existent and many private “guides” just try to rip you off). But they said it was possible. We had to go to Naran Tuul, the local market for winter gear, but decided after that we’d grab a taxi or bus out to Terelj National Park and find a ger on our own.

Well. It was a good idea.

So, all that’s backstory.

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After the market a man saw us looking for a taxi and decided to help us. He was half Korean and didn’t know much English, but between Korean and English we were able to communicate pretty well (Jordan and I couldn’t even say “thank you” in Mongolian at this point yet). He put us in a car hailed from the street and walked away. Then the driver (who wasn’t an official taxi driver, but more on that elsewhere) found out we wanted to go about 60 km out of the city and decided not to take us. It was too far, he said.

So out we got, and the Korean-Mongolian saw us again. “Don’t worry,” he told us. “My brother is a taxi driver. He will take you. And maybe I can go, too!”

He took us to a chicken restaurant to eat while waiting for his brother. All the while, the sun got lower in the sky, it turned 2pm, and we were getting pretty concerned about getting out to the park while it was still light. At this point we decided not to take a friendly stranger’s help again. Even if it is just friendly help, with the language barrier things always get tangled up, and somehow even though you’ve said you want to get somewhere now, fast, immediately, you end up waiting in a restaurant while the local is promising his brother is just a few minutes away.

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When Jordan went to pay for lunch, the Korean decided Jordan needed help sorting the money and peeked into his wallet before Jordan could pull away. We think this is when it turned from overly-friendly local to scam.
We paid and suddenly it was time to go. Apparently we’d been waiting on lunch, not his brother. Language barrier, again, really screws up your schedule. We paid a taxi to take us to another part of town, where we got in his brother-in-law’s car.

“You okay? You like?” The Korean kept asking.

I was anxiously looking at the time (3:30 pm) and said, “We need to hurry. We need to be in park before dark.”

So we hopped in the brother-in-law’s car (and it wasn’t an official taxi either) and then the Korean tells him where we want to go. He’d had like five or six phone calls through lunch, presumably to his brother-in-law, so I’m not sure if his brother really did have second thoughts or if it was the Korean interpreting and embellishing the scam.
The driver hemmed and hawed when he found out we wanted to go to Terelj, and the Korean convinced him we wanted to go, so the price they finally came around to was 150,000 tugrik (that’s about 65 USD). Jordan shook his head. “That’s too expensive.”

“Okay, okay,” the Korean said. “Because he’s my brother, you get 130,000.” (Roughly 53 USD)

We knew it was too expensive still, but not by how much (We found out later it was double a fair price). But we also knew that we had to get out to the park before the sun set, and finding another taxi to take us would possibly take too much time. If we had known how expensive we woul’ve walked away right then. So we agreed.

The Korean was friendly, always pointing out things, always instructing his brother to stop and let us see the people selling nuts and fish on the side of the road. “You like? You want fish?” He pointed to a salted fish hanging off a stick.

Jordan and I looked at each other. “Uhh, no.” What on earth we were going to do with a salted, whole, scaly fish?

So we drove on. The driver stopped for gas. We checked the time.

The landscape was lovely, but the sun kept getting lower. We stopped a couple of times to enjoy certain sights, then hopped back in the car and kept going.

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The Korean kept pressuring us to go see a famous statue and the national park, but tried to bump the price up to 180,000 tugrik. We couldn’t afford that—we barely had enough cash to rent a ger and get back on a public bus the next morning. So Jordan stayed firm, despite the Korean’s disappointment.

“We have to go fast,” I said again. “We need to find a ger.” The sun was setting, it was 4:30, and a lot of places looked closed.

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“It’s okay. I am helping you,” the Korean repeated over and over. We were getting nervous at this pint, but we couldn’t do anything. We were stuck in the middle of nowhere in -25 degree C weather.

We stopped and asked at six ger tourist camps, and all but one were closed. The last one was a small, half-put together place, and didn’t offer breakfast or dinner. For 150,000 tugrik. We gaped. That was about 30% more than a fair price, and if we paid it, we wouldn’t have enough cash for a bus back to UB, let alone food.

“No, too much, too much,” Jordan said.

“What do we do now?” I whispered.

“Go back to Ulaan Bataar, I guess,” he said. So we turned to our two “guides” and said, “Okay, we’ll go back together. So all four of us climbed back in the car.

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“Okay, to get back to UB, 250,000 tugrik total,” the Korean said.

Jordan and I stared, unbelieving. “You’re going back to the city right now anyway!”

“130,000 to park, 120,000 to city,” the Korean insisted.

“We don’t even have that much money!” I protested.

“Okay, for you, special price. 180,000 total.”

“I don’t think that’s fair,” I murmured to Jordan.

“That’s too much,” Jordan replied in Spanish.

(At this point, we switched mostly to Spanish. Although the Korean’s English wasn’t very good and he probably wouldn’t understand low tones, we didn’t want to give him the confidence that he could understand us, especially when we had no idea what he was saying in Mongolian to his taciturn brother-in-law.)

“We can’t get out,” I said.

“We can hitchhike. We’ll get out, find a car, and go back,” Jordan suggested.

“In this weather? What happens if no one comes? None of the gers are open.” I had a horrible image of us freezing to death in Mongolia. I guess now, looking back, if worst came to worst, Jordan could sneak back to the open ger camp, steal some wood, and we’d hike over a hill to a closed tent, break a lock, and sneak inside a ger. But still, we didn’t have matches or flint. So I’m not sure that would’ve worked.

In the end we agreed to the 180,000 price and privately conferred about just handing them the original 130,000 once back in the city and running.

Halfway back, at a fork in the road, the Korean tried to get us to see another sight.

“It’s dark—we won’t see anything,” I told him, getting really frustrated at this point.

“There is light,” he insisted.

“If same price, yes. But more expensive? No. We do not have money,” Jordan said firmly.

So we went on. About halfway back the driver pulled into a gas station.

I frowned, not sure why we were stopping. He had filled up on the way out to the park, and we were driving in a Toyota Prius anyway.

“Okay, we need gas.”

Jordan and I stared at the Korean.

“We need money. To pay. Gas.” Through hand gestures and cobbled Korean and English, we learned that they expected us to pay for their gas.

“No,” Jordan said flatly.

“You have half a tank!” I exclaimed, pointing to the dash. “I can see—you have half a tank.”

“No, no. We have no gas,” the Korean said with a straight face.

“This is fucking it,” I whispered to Jordan.

“I refuse,” Jordan whispered back. “Get your things.”

Thankfully, all our stuff was in our laps, rather than the trunk (they had tried to lock our two bags in the trunk, but we had refused earlier). Jordan hopped out, followed by me.

“What are you doing? The Korean sounded incredulous.

“We will find a different way back to UB,” Jordan said, smiling. “Here is 80,000 tugrik. Fair price for one-way.”

And suddenly the Korean raged, jumping out of the car toward Jordan, waving his hands and shouting.

I went to another car at the station, asking how much to UB, but the man took one look at the drama unfolding behind me, shook his head, and drove off.

“Why? Why?” the Korean demanded. “I am your friend! I help you! I help you! I need money!”

“Dude, take the money I paid you and go away,” Jordan replied forcefully.

I knocked on the window of the gas station, gesturing to ask if I could come in.

The two gas attendants stared at the spectacle but nodded, letting me inside.

“You have your money, go away,” Jordan said, and followed me inside.

The Korean followed, too.

Both gas attendants looked chagrined, worried about the drama going on inside their work. They both gestured, “Go, outside, take this outside.”

I refused to go outside. The Korean was getting more and more angry while his brother loomed in the doorway silently.

“Fine, here.” Jordan handed the Korean another 20,000. “You have 100,000. No go. Just go back to town.”

“I need 130,000! You said! I need money! I told you! I help you! Why? Why?”

“We don’t have that much money!” I said.

The Korean handed the money to his brother-in-law and turned back, waving his arms, looking ready for a fight.

“I can take him,” Jordan told me.

“Don’t you dare,” I whispered back, trying to remain as calm as possible. “You’re not Mongolian. You’ll be the one that goes to prison.”

In the meantime, the male gas attendant went to the back room and pulled out a baton, utility belt with handcuffs, and a bottle of mace. He seemed to be taking the Korean’s side.

“Give me camera,” the Korean demanded.

“Absolutely not,” Jordan replied. We eyed our bags, which I had set on a windowsill. The Korean was closer to them than we were by this point.

“Give me camera!” He jabbed a finger at the camera hanging around my neck.

Jordan stepped in front of me. “Hey, man,” he said in a placating voice. “You got your money, just take it and go. Go back.”

The driver in the doorway seemed to think that was good advice, but the Korean was furious. He grabbed Jordan’s camera bag. “I take home!”

I flew toward him, intercepting the bag as he tried to hand it to his brother-in-law. I got the bag and backed away, behind Jordan again, but the lens cap on the camera fell off and clattered to the floor.

The Korean swooped it up, triumphant. “I take.”

“Man, give me my lens back,” Jordan said.

And for the next five to ten minutes there was more yelling, arm-waving, and the Korean storming toward us.

“Get back, Adrianne,” Jordan warned. “If he comes at us, I don’t want him hitting you.”

The poor gas station attendants watched nervously, the man fingering his mace. I couldn’t tell who he wanted to use it on—the Korean was obviously more irate, but he spoke Mongolian and we didn’t.

Finally Jordan broke into the yelling. “If I give you 30,000, will you give me my lens cap back?”

“Yes,” the Korean agreed.

We only had denominations of 20s, so Jordan pulled out 40. Then they did a little dance, “you give it to me first,” and “No, you give it to me first.” So Jordan handed the money to the attendant as a middleman. He didn’t look happy about it, but obliged and traded the cap for the money and change.

The Korean finally calmed enough to leave, and stormed out to the car, where is brother-in-law was already waiting.

Jordan took the camera from me and stood at the window, waiting to see them leave. But the Korean decided Jordan was taking photos of them and stormed back, yelling and screaming some more.

“You have your money!” Jordan and I said. “Just leave!”

“No, this is my home. You leave. Get out! Get out right now!” He edged around, trying to herd us out the door. I didn’t want to go anywhere out in the cold, away from the gas attendants as witnesses.

Jordan grabbed the extra bag and walked outside.

The Korean grabbed my arm, pushing me toward the door. “Leave!”

“Back off!” I glared up at him. “Don’t you touch me!” I raised my hands and widened my stance, trying to recall self-defense moves.

The Korean maybe realized he looked really bad, trying to force a woman out into the cold, and took a step back. Or maybe the gas attendants told him to chill—I’m not sure which. But Jordan stood in the window, beckoning me outside, so I went.

“Did he touch you?” Jordan hissed.

“I pushed him away,” I said, standing right at the window. “I’m not leaving this window. There’s no telling what this guy might do.”

The Korean came outside behind us, still yelling and pleading. “Why? I need the money!” We ignored him, and eventually he got in his brother-in-law’s car and drove away.

I sighed in relief, my legs shaking from adrenaline.

Someone rapped on the window, and I turned to see the female attendant waving at us. I smiled and hurried back inside the building.

The man turned out the light so no one could see us sitting inside, then got us stools. The woman made us tea and smiled reassuringly.

Jordan and I huddled together, warming from the tea, trying to make sense of what had happened.

“I guess everyone has a scam story,” I said. “We’ve been traveling for almost two years. We’re past due.”

“That was so much money,” Jordan growled.

“I was angry about not seeing anything today, but after this scam, we have a full day’s worth of drama.”

After we had calmed down, the gas attendant showed us how much money would be fair to get back to the city (40,000 tugrik, or 16 USD), then stood outside with us at the road and helped us wave someone down.

Another Prius stopped (Priuses are really popular in UB) and said he’d take us to the center of town for 30,000 total.

Jordan and I thanked the gas station attendants profusely, hopped in the car, and finally got back to UB at 9 pm.

From there, we walked to our hostel and asked for a day tour for the next day. We didn’t have hardly any time in Mongolia, and almost a full day had been eaten by this scam. And I desperately wanted to meet a nomadic family. Eventually, after haggling and getting strange answers, I called another hostel/tour operator and booked a nice full-day trip that had everything we originally wanted (minus spending the night in a ger) for 60 USD per person.

“Tomorrow will be better. The Golden Gobi took our reservation, even though I called at 9:30 at night, for the next morning,” I promised.

“I can’t believe I let him take all that money,” Jordan replied.

“I was just so anxious to get to the park. I should’ve let you say no.” I unwrapped all my winter gear. “Let’s take a shower and go to bed.”

And that is our Mongolian Incident.

Categories: Lost in Translation | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Our Future plans (explanation)

So you already know we’re going to volunteer with Syrian refugees for five weeks. Let me tell you the backstory of how that happened.

Ever since the Arab Spring in 2011, I have been trying to follow Syria’s civil war (this was before most Americans knew about ISIS). I wanted to help, but I wasn’t an aid worker. I was in college, preparing for a wedding, trying to figure out if I could afford grad school. But I often looked for more news as the years went on. Still, I never donated money because 1) I wasn’t always sure which organizations were legit, and 2) We were living hand to mouth a lot of the time. I didn’t have extra money to donate.

Right before we left for Korea in November 2015, we were invited to a Halloween party. I was excited–it was hosted by my best friend, and we take our historical costumes quite seriously. I drove to JoAnn’s Fabric Supply and bought materials to go as Robin Hood and Maid Marian. It was so much fun. I borrowed my friend’s sewing machine, got to use skills my grandmother taught me, and even took a weekend trip to visit my mother-in-law so she could help me with her serger. We bonded, it was a blast, I had a lot of fun. I don’t regret any of that.

Then I realized how much money I’d spent on Halloween costumes: $190. Yep. A lot of money.

That same night, I saw on the news that Benedict Cumberbatch was playing in Hamlet in London. After the curtain fell on Oct 12, 2015, Cumberbatch gave a short speech, urging British citizens to lobby their government, to get involved, and to do whatever they could to help the Syrian refugees. He said, “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark….You have to understand that no one puts children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.”

I immediately felt chastened. I had just spent $190 on something as trivial as a Halloween costume when I had been so morally indignant about the plight of Syrian refugees and how no one seemed to care about them. I cried on the way home from the Halloween party, coming face to face with my own hypocrisy. Jordan and I both promised to do better. He asked if we could donate money as soon as we got jobs and a steady inflow of cash again, and I agreed.

We came to Korea, and exactly one month after the actor’s speech, on November 13, Paris was attacked by ISIS insurgents. We read online in horror, struck by the blood and the death and the grief just like our fellow Americans back home. We thought, “something has to be done. France needs to change their security systems. And we need to make sure that ISIS doesn’t kill anyone else, be they French or Syrian or Lebanese or American.”

The very next day, there was a massive outcry against accepting refugees. Although none of the Paris attackers were refugees, suddenly, both of our facebook news feeds were filled with fear and alarm that all the refugees coming to America were really terrorists in disguise. Then I saw this facebook post: “Obama says that it is our moral obligation to take in these Syrian refugees that terrorists WILL infiltrate. Question today about the legality of state governors refusing to allow the federal government to place refugees within their states…

Hear this: Whether or not it is legal for us to refuse refugees in [my state], when I hear of the bus coming into this state full of these refugees I and those who are like-minded will be at the border, armed to the teeth. I will not tolerate my family being intentionally placed into harm’s way.

And our jackass president can take his moral obligation and shove it.”

My jaw dropped. This came from someone I respected, a mild-mannered, quiet Christian I had looked up to. He had been fed misinformation and lies and then reacted in a violent manner.

Jordan barged into the bedroom, upset from things on his newsfeed, too. “Don’t they know those memes about thousands of refugees landing in New Orleans and escaping are false?” he demanded. “Don’t they know there’s a vetting system already in place, and America’s got the best vetting process in the world?”

I shook my head. “The posts with the strongest language, the loudest critique, are coming from Christians. I don’t know what to do.”

“I do!” Jordan declared. “We’re going to help Syrian refugees.”

And so, after 12 months of praying and planning and thinking, we are doing just that. We hope to be very open and post often about the work we’re doing and the people we meet in December and January. We welcome questions, concerns, and more either on facebook, this blog, or in private messages. We only ask that you keep things civil and respectful.

Categories: Lost in Translation, Serbia, South Korea, Spiritual Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Post-election thoughts

Dear non-Americans,

I’ve seen your protests, (Tel Aviv and London are two) and I share your concern.

I’ve thought long and hard on what I want to say, and it’s really just: You are heard. By me. By other expats. By millions of Americans. I would like to offer a sincere apology for what we’re about the unleash on the world.

Not all Trump supporters are racists or bigots at heart, and they have legitimate complaints with the way the country has been run for the past 25-ish years. Complaints and grievances that absolutely should be addressed and corrected without ridicule. Unfortunately, Trump cares about Trump, not about addressing those real concerns. What you (and I) have learned, however, is that while most Trump supporters would never hurl racial slurs at someone on the street, they’re okay with turning a blind eye to others that do it.

We’re going to work on that. Just like the British are connecting with their own citizens after the Bexit hate crime spike, just like Filipinos are working to save one another from Duterte’s harsh punitive policies, just like much of western Europe is working on their response to the refugee crisis, just like Egypt is fighting tooth and nail against ISIS.

This worldwide rise in ethno-nationalism and fascism is troubling. But I refuse to give up hope. With compassion and understanding for all Americans, we’re going to hold the line and stand in the gap. Non-American friends, you can help, too.

Categories: Lost in Translation, Spiritual Life | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Day in the life of working with refugees

Guest post by: Brynna L.

Waking up in Greece is a wonderful experience. But waking up to the knowledge that your goal today is to bless people who are overlooked by the world and are overwhelmingly grateful for every kindness is an entirely different kind of wonderful.

I woke up at eight o’clock, per usual, to have time to myself and to prepare spiritually for the day. As my fellow volunteers migrated from bedrooms toward the main part of the house, I enjoyed our heartfelt greetings and offers of shared breakfasts. I reflected on my surprise that, by the beginning of week two in a house with 12 other women, this introvert was nowhere near the overwhelmed breakdown she had anticipated when she arrived to find such a small house filled with so many volunteers. In normal circumstances, I could never have handled it, but these were not normal circumstances! These were not sorority sisters or college roommates. These were skilled women with hearts of gold who traveled across the world in response to cries of help from a struggling people. Their love and desire to serve was not about to be broken by clashing personalities or petty quarrels. This was a volunteer role requiring selflessness and emotional support all around.

As eleven people got into two five-seaters (and this is a European’s idea of a five-seater, not the American five-with-room-for-ten-seater) we had the last volunteer in pile the supplies on top of the ones already seated (who needs rear view windows anyway, right?). We knew the drill, and most of these women had spent the last hour hauling the daily supplies up from the store room to make sure babies would have diapers and moms would have some nutritious food. Then we were ready for our day!

Though our house was always full of laughter and shared meals in the mornings and nights, car rides to and from the camp were usually quiet. Not from awkwardness, but from the need to prepare ourselves for or to talk ourselves through the day we had just had. Each car went to a different camp and each camp had its own personality. Today I would go to a smaller camp, and also my favorite. Though less supplied, dirtier, and with only one other NGO permanently in place besides ourselves, this camp had captured my heart. The refugees who had been placed in this camp were Kurdish and, as a people group who have been oppressed and discriminated against for generations, there was less formal education and fewer English speaking refugees.

We drove through the gate and walked to the Greek military guard house to show our passports and with which NGO we were affiliated. Our day would be from 10-4, and our team divided into two tents. One tent was for our infant feeding specialists, consisting of midwives and lactation consultants, and in the other tent was our baby Hamam (bath house) volunteers. Here we kept a constant kettle of hot water going to provide baby baths so mothers could have a time of bonding and a clean environment to bathe their little ones.

Our NGO goal was to care for mothers and children under two years old, to provide education, lactation support, diapers, ready-to-feed formula if needed, and some weekly food packs for moms. It was our way to care for these people and show them that they were not completely abandoned.

When we got to our tent, we would assess the tent’s most recent child-inflicted damage and clean up any knocked over drawers or supplies. Though we locked up the tent every evening, one can do a lot of damage by kicking the outside or climbing to the top of the tent. We swept and organized, while early-bird mothers occasionally came for diapers. We never wore shoes in the tent and had a mat at the door, but we still couldn’t keep the floors very clean. Fortunately, however, it had not rained last night, so we were spared the hour-long ordeal of mopping and moving equipment around. We unloaded the supplies from the car, and I hid the food under a sheet as I carried it into the tent. A coworker explained to me when I first arrived that even the best of people find it hard to watch food being given to a mother just because she has an infant when their own 3-year-old is hungry. No one blames the grumbling and discontent of parents who are worried for their children, but we didn’t have the resources to give food to everyone, and our NGO was for mothers of 2-year-olds and under. To avoid causing trouble, we were discreet.

Next, we filled our eight water jugs for the Hamam, five gallons each, and carried them back to the tent (sore shoulder much?). As I rested from this I looked around at the camp full of people whom I was coming to know and love. Each family with their joys and sorrows, with their qualities and their flaws, with love and pains just like me. They are all waiting to be accepted into a country that will welcome them as people in need, not as an inconvenience.

The first impression I got of this camp is hopelessness. Tents lined up in rows inside a warehouse labeled with a letter for each row and a number in the row. Each family, usually of 5-7 people with the possessions they were able to carry in their flight from Syria, were living in tents less than a foot apart. The air of purposelessness and hopelessness is stifling. One wants to give them an occupation, but refugee status doesn’t allow them to make any attempt to earn money.

The women, looking tired and sad, clean their tents, cook food, and wash clothes all day, sometimes with the help of husbands and young daughters. Day to day, I saw the transition from two mindsets; one of hope, that surely after seven months of the torment of life in the tents, it won’t be much longer! But another of tired hopelessness: working all day with no chance for improvement, watching children without education disobey and fight, and self-conscious shame at their lack of control in this hectic environment. These women are tired and insecure, but they have a purpose and are kept busy. I surprised myself by finding I had an almost greater pity for the men.

I watched from morning to night while fathers and young men walked aimlessly around the camp, looking dejected and weak. They are stripped of the ability to protect and provide for their families. With no control over the future, they are unable to earn money and are culturally awkward with housework. I couldn’t imagine the lack of purpose they were suffering under. Young men with no way to learn a trade or prepare for a wife and children milled around. They behaved like children, unable to become anything more, in this stifled and stagnant life. The future is completely blank to them as they rely solely on the political decisions of foreign countries who seem to only dislike and fear them.

The children had school some days, provided by an NGO, which lasted for an hour a day. When not engaged in this activity, there was a general crowd of children, ages 3-10, who ran around the camp without regard for adults or infants, playing in whatever fashion they chose. As we have all seen in children play can often be more fun if it is destructive, so our NGO tent was often under attack. Fights between the children, who continually felt the stress of their parents, were constantly breaking out and some were so in need of attention and affection that they would cling to us and cry when we had to let them go. This cycle of people in pain creating more pained people was very difficult to bear each day. It was hard work as a volunteer to maintain a joyful and encouraging demeanor when I was completely unable to give them what they truly needed, a place of safety from war, where they could create a home.

This cycle of people in pain creating more pained people was very difficult to bear each day. It was hard work as a volunteer to maintain a joyful and encouraging demeanor when I was completely unable to give them what they truly needed, a place of safety from war, where they could create a home.

In the children, however, were also some of the first glimpses of hope. In the children who carried the full responsibility of their younger siblingss, I saw the tending and protection of the natural human capacity for love. They showed me their ability to forget all the pain in little moments of joy and small pleasures. Children showed their desire to help, to learn, to be loved and their unfailing desire and ability to love other people. This was how I saw the joys and sorrows of the camp.

Mothers came to us for a moment of rest, a cup of tea, to get supplies and, on a good day, a piece of clothing for their children. Fathers would sometimes come too, proudly carrying their little ones and yet humble to receive our help. Children were always around u,s being their complicated selves, one moment tearing holes in our tent then, when caught and scolded, hugging my neck as though they would never let me go.

I spent my days at our small Hamam tent, and the beauty I saw there nearly made me forget the pain outside. A baby who doesn’t know anything of life can sometimes draw us out of our own weary cares and remind us that joy, in its simplest form, will always be available to us. Mothers seemed to be really at peace for a moment when they were able to step away from their troubles and just care for their little ones. Sometimes, if we weren’t busy, they would just step into the feeding tent and breastfeed for a while and have a quiet respite. In these moments every pain and discomfort was made beautiful for me. Knowing that just showing up, cleaning, unpacking, filling jugs, and the constant up and down of cleaning baby tubs and refilling water was not just busy work. They were the building blocks that created this moment of tranquility and a mother’s ability to have time with her baby.

I never spoke with any of these moms, the children knew more English, but to say “Hello” and “How are you?” There was something so much deeper than words to every encounter. These mothers had so much gratitude and gave it so freely. We were always being given food and coffee and invited to their tents for lunch. Though my first impulse was always to refuse, knowing that food for them was scarce, I soon came to see that the joy of giving cannot be only one sided. Everyone needs to help others and feel the gratitude of those they helped! I can only hope they felt our gratitude as much as we basked in theirs.

After a long day, I was always tired. The car ride home was quiet as we each processed our many emotions,  and thought about the men, women, and children who had welcomed us into their homes and lives in their most vulnerable time. I was always ready to go back. Every day was a new, beautiful adventure and every day I further realized a beauty in humanity that I would never have been able to see in my routine, comfortable life at home.

God did not call Christians to a life of protecting ourselves or our prosperity. Though I don’t feel called politically to change policies or to write petitions, I can still serve God in the way he has called me. As a normal Christian living my normal life, how can I use the knowledge of people suffering around the world to serve and glorify God? By giving of my time and money to bless and share the gospel with people in my life and community. There may be Syrian families resettled in your town, or there may be people living in a cycle of poverty or abuse. We will always be surrounded by people in need and we are ALL (no matter how ineffective we may feel) uniquely gifted to serve people and honor God. As Christ washed the feet of his disciples so should we be living!

What will you change? Who will you serve? What new joy is God calling you into? Be prayerful, my brothers and sisters! Life becomes so much deeper and people so much more valuable when we meet them in this way, not for what they can do for us, but for what we can do for them.

Note: There are currently 57,000 refugees waiting in Greece for their asylum papers to be processed, over half are women and children. Because they registered in Greece, not any other country, they must stay until their claims have been processed, which can take over a year. Until then, they live in camps as described in this blog post.

Categories: Lost in Translation, Spiritual Life | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Dropped off the map

I’m afraid I’ve dropped off the map in terms of blogging.

Well, I’m a bit busy at the moment. Here’s what I’m up  to:

  1. Our contract ends in 16 days, so we’re starting to pack and finish up work
  2. We’re planning our trip home–more details on that after we’ve left Korea
  3. I’m busy with NanoWriMo! It’s an awesome way to get people into novel writing, with the goal of hitting 50,000 words in 30 days. Because we’re leaving the country halfway through November, I’m not doing the full, traditional goal. But I have been working since September 28th to get the rough draft of another novel done during my time in Korea. Whatever complaints I have had with my job and with ESL in Korea in general, it has given me time to hop back into fiction writing, and I’ll always be grateful for that.
Categories: Lost in Translation, South Korea | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Great aspects of Korean culture

So recently I wrote a blog post explaining what ESL teachers mean when they sometimes complain about Korea. So now it’s time for me to detail all the things I personally love about Korea!

Hardworking people: Koreans (and Asians in general) have amazing work ethics. They work and work until the job is done, and then they ask for more work. They’re a great example to live by, and I hope some of their work ethic has rubbed off on me.

Good students/kids: Kids (once past toddler years) are expected to be polite, respect their elders, and behave appropriately. This means teaching is, by and large, easier than in the States. The kids are expected to listen closely and fill out worksheets quickly. When you tell them to do something, generally they obey without question. I always thought middle schoolers would be the worst group of students to work with, but these Korean kids proved me wrong.

Beautiful landscapes: Korea is roughly 72% mountains. The country has numerous national parks. Hiking is practically a national pastime because Koreans love to get out of the city and see nature. I live out in the boondocks, and I get to wake up every morning surrounded by mountains. It’s gorgeous.

Always polite: Manners are incredibly important here. Koreans tend to be very formal, polite people, and it’s kind of a nice change from the US’s casual atmosphere. They care about protocol and making sure everyone knows what to expect, that way there are no nasty surprises. It is nice to be greeted with smiles everywhere you go (in the American South, this is the case, too–everyone smiles)

Quiet culture: I hate loud, loud noises. People yelling in stores, static, car alarms, rushing of people in big cities all irritate me. Sometimes I really hate crowds. But I’ve never felt as claustrophobic/panicky as I do in the States, and this is mainly because everyone respects one another in terms of noise. You’d never guess Seoul has over 11 million people in it if you were blindfolded on the street. I really love that.

Clean: So for some reason, Korea has a thing against trash cans. I don’t know why, but it’s almost impossible to find one in public. We commonly set our trash down on the curb and walk away. But somehow, still, Korea is a clean country. Litter doesn’t stay around for long, and we see tiny, old ladies sweeping the streets clean all the time. No dirt or trash or leaves in sight!

Safe: Korea is one of the safest countries in the world. Although most men know how to shoot a gun, private gun ownership is strictly regulated. They also have a huge social stigma against stealing. People will commonly mark their places with their belongings or purse, then walk to the bathroom. Korea has much less crime than the United States.

Strong sense of heritage: Korea is one of the most monoethnic nations in the world. They have a strong sense of shared history and culture. They maintained their culture and language despite being invaded several times by China and Japan, and they have fought long and hard to keep their identity. And they’ve done a great job at it. Even though most Koreans wear jeans and blouses/polos most of the time, at their Lunar New Year they always dress up in traditional garb and enjoy their ancestors’ food and culture.

Interest in everyone getting along: This trait can obviously be taken too far (see my last post). But it’s really refreshing to be in a community where people care about your feelings. I’m a Highly Sensitive Person, and I’m always overthinking and very aware of my words and body language (too an extreme). So it’s nice to finally be in a culture where tone of voice and facial expressions mean just as much as what you say. I also love that people will work to accomodate others’ feelings and opinions to create a harmonious environment where everyone feels valued and respected.  This is something the East does extremely well, and I wish the US would pay attention sometimes.

We’re nearing the end of our contract, and I’m starting to realize I’ll miss a lot from this place. It’s been an interesting year.

Categories: Culture Quirks, Lost in Translation, South Korea, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Korea crazy”

So we English teachers in the land of the morning calm have this catch-all phrase that we use whenever describing something we see as illogical, ridiculous, disturbing, or just plain weird. We call it “Korea crazy.”

Example:

Person 1: My boss is crazy.

Person 2: You mean Korea crazy or crazy?

So let me break down for you what we mean by this. “Korea crazy,” like I said, is a bit of a catch-all phrase, a subgenre of the normal word “Crazy.” In my time in Korea, from experiencing Korean culture, Korean workplaces, and other English teachers, this is what I’ve come across. Interestingly, being called “crazy” in Korea is a much bigger insult than it is in the West. While it’s certainly rude in the West, in Korea it includes the connotations of “useless” and “worthless,” so while English teachers use “Korea crazy” as shorthand to explain otherwise strange behavior, we wouldn’t say any of that to a Korean’s face.

Crazy means:

  • Anything that offends our Western sensibilities, is flagrantly opposite Western values, or just doesn’t make sense
  • Parts of Korean culture that really don’t make any sense or are flaws in an otherwise fascinating, rich, ancient, and amazing culture
  • Illogical, irrational human behavior, often accompanied with mental illness, personality disorders, and actions that should require medication.

“Korea crazy” covers the top two bullet points.

The first bullet point, of things that don’t make sense to Westerners include

  • A monument to how humiliating and degrading South Koreans treated Chinese and North Koreans in the Korean war, with loud, patriotic music in the background
  • A play based on folklore at a festival that has magical farts as a major plot point
  • A lantern festival with an entire row of lanterns portraying Japanese soldiers being tortured
  • Koreans lining up for a bus before there’s ever a need to, but refusing to follow a line in any other situation
  • Tiptoeing around a problem rather than addressing it
  • A highly paternalistic work culture and expectation of the government to educate and care for the people
  • Strong desire to “fit in” and not stand out in any shape or form
  • Absolute insistence that Dokdo matters to the world and is Korean land.

Some of it is just weird by Western standards, and I don’t know the reasons behind it. Some of this is just like humor, I think–some people love puns, others hate them. Some people love quirky behavior found in East Asian countries, other prefer quirky behavior found in North American countries.

And the rest of this boils down to culture differences, right? And much of the things that rub Westerners the wrong way have their roots in Confucianism. It is an ancient, highly paternalistic, respect-driven culture. From that stems the rigid hierarchy of elders telling young people what to do (even strangers), expectations that the government will handle most problems, the saving face and pretending problems don’t exist (if Korea ever has a natural disaster, saving face will not serve them well), and the belief that bosses can rule your life and deserve lots of respect.

And while I respect Korean culture and realize that in many ways Confucianism has served them well, I think there are significant flaws. Which leads me on to the second bullet point.

Every culture has weaknesses and flaws. Although I love my own American Western culture, I am intimately aware of all the problems that come with an individualistic, polarized, and materialistic culture. There are significant problems with the way we do things in the States, just as there are significant problems in every country and in every culture. I’m not trying to bash Korea, Korean people, or suggest that their culture is in any way inferior to the rest of the world. It has great strengths, but this blog post is about its weaknesses as perceived by Westerners. Most of these points are also strengths of Korean culture, just played out a little too far so that they now hinder, rather than support, the culture.

  • Lying to save face, especially in serious situations like crime, natural disasters, and office mistakes. The first step to fixing a problem is admitting there is one, and Koreans usually aren’t willing to do that. This is also probably one of the main reasons alcoholism is rampant–no one will admit it’s a thing.
  • Expecting employees to come to work when sick. Colds and viruses spread like wildfire out here because people aren’t allowed to quarantine themselves when sick.
  • The hierarchy stifling otherwise a vibrant, creative, productive generation of young people into following their grandparents’ desires. While I love the fact that the elderly are respected in East Asia, rather than ignored like in the West sometimes, I think this goes too far. It also hurts my American individualistic beliefs, too.
  • Materialism. I was quite shocked to come to Korea and find many people far more materialistic and focused on flashy, expensive cars and clothes than people I’d met in the States. This is a flaw that Korean culture shares with American culture, I think, though Korea’s materialism stems from the confucian belief that the outside reflects the inner (a beautiful woman is a kind woman, a flashy car doesn’t just mean a man’s rich, but that he’s a good person). The rates of plastic surgery in Korea are some of the highest in the world.
  • Societal pressure to perform really hurts everyone. This is something that happens everywhere in every culture, I think, but because this is a blog post written by an American about Korean culture, I’ll keep my comments germane to the topic. This issue also affects the United States, but I think the pressure to live up to your family’s name, to be successful in all that you do, is even stronger here. Alcoholism is a real thing here, though they pretend it’s not. Korean kids are stressed, sleep-deprived, and always worried about their schoolwork, and Korea’s depression rates are some of the highest in the world (Japan’s rates are also high). The speed of industrialization in the 20th century also may have something to do with pressure and expectations.
  • Strong nationalism and suspicion of “the other” will really hamper South Korea’s growth on the international scale unless something changes. Korea has a difficult history, and it’s sandwiched between China and Japan–two regional powerhouses. The fact that Korea has kept hold of its identity and homeland over the past two thousand years, defeating both Chinese and Japanese invasions multiple times, is astounding. It’s worth celebrating. They’ve kept their language, made their own alphabet, and have progressed rapidly in just 60 years. But this is not without cost. Many (not all) Koreans are very racist. Not just curious about other types of people (which I fully support and think is healthy) but actively racist. I’m just lucky we somehow convinced Koreans that white people are cool. Korea is the most ethnically homogeneous country in the world. 20% of Koreans have the last name Kim. Four last names make up about 50% of the population. Every human, every culture, has a suspicion of the other (which isn’t of itself is bad), but the Korean government has encouraged its people to make value judgements based on people’s skin color, last names, and other characteristics.

And finally, the last bullet point, actual craziness. Sh*t you don’t want to be around. (I have so much personal experience with this I’ll have to document it later, when I’m out of Korea). I think one reason English teachers come across so much “Korea crazy” is because many of us work in hagwons and even a few iffy public schools.

Hagwons, or private, for-profit schools, are in it for the money. That’s the name of the game. So while Korea is full of wonderful, amazing people we’d be lucky to know, hagwons are full of administrators that care about money, not people. And when they have a steady influx of foreigners who don’t know the language, culture, work expectations, or anything else, really, it’s very easy to abuse the system. I think English teachers come across power-hungry men at a much higher rate than regular Koreans living in their own country do. And these power-hungry men know they can get away with so much more because we’re, well, clueless. This can seem like “Korea crazy” because it’s most of what we see, but it actually takes up a much smaller segment of the culture/population than we think.

As for the actual mental disorder stuff? Well, mental illness “doesn’t exist” in Korea, so that’s just your imagination. Get with the program, folks.

A video on Why Not to Teach English in Korea Hilarious with a lot of truth in it. A critique of the ESL industry.

Final words: Korea is an amazing culture, but everything has its flaws. This is just an American’s explanation of a common ESL teacher view of the country, with a little explanation of how the culture got that way. If you’re interested/concerned with something I’ve said, comment and share your thoughts. And do some research on your own to learn about Korean culture and the subculture of ESL in Korea.

Categories: CEV, Culture Quirks, Lost in Translation, South Korea | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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Morgan S Hazelwood

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