Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cell Phone Etiquette 101--A Course Korean University Students NEED!

I had just fallen asleep almost an hour ago, 11:00pm, when a student called me. I don't usually answer the phone after 11pm, especially if I don't recognize the number. I also usually stay up later but with KOTESOL last weekend I've been more tired this week. For the past month or so I have had students calling me on weekends, and on weeknights, to ask me questions about RIDICULOUS things.

I wonder if some of the students watch The Simpsons and if they're copying Bart's prank calls to Moe . . .

So to purge my rage in a productive manner . . .

I got up and began researching this topic. This past weekend I also picked up a book called "Telephoning" at the KOTESOL conference, and I'm going to look more closely at it tomorrow and see if it already has a page or two that are relevant to my agenda to educate Korean university students in cell phone etiquette.

A typical conversation runs something like this . . .

A = me

B = student

A: Hello.

B: Hehe . . . Hmmm, Hello--hahah--hello teacher--HaHaHa--I am Park Ji Sung--HaHaHa--(Korean muttering)--HaHaHa . . .

A: Yes, what do you need?

B: HaHaHaHa--

A: What do you need? Why are you calling?

B: I'm Park Ji Sung from _____ department. HaHaHaHa--(talks to friend/s in the background in Korean--friends start laughing too)

A: (waiting . . . waiting . . . getting irritated . . . waiting)

B: I . . . uhmmmm . . . I . . . (more talking to self or friends in Korean--more laughing and talking in Korean) . . . I . . .

A: What do you need? (getting more irritated)

B: I--uhm--need ask kestion.

A: Okay, what do you need to know?

B: What?

A: What-do-you-need-to-know?


A: What----do----you----need----to----know?

B: AHHH! What do need know. I . . . (giggling . . . giggling . . .)

A: What do you need to know?

B: I need know can you edit script activity presentation?

A: No. I told you the rules for the presentation in class. It's also on a handout I gave you.

B: Oh, really? I need you edit my dialogue---

A: No. I told you. The rule is no editing.

B: . . .

A: Do you understand?

B: Yes teacher. (CLICK)

A: . . . SIGH!

Maybe I need to add more "Nnn, Nnn" and "Yeh-yeh" to my phone conversations . . .

That's actually one of the shorter types of phone calls (the dialogue above) I've been getting. I think the following clip from youtube might illustrate the kind of surreal feelings of laughter blurred with something not quite anger but not quite irritation that I get after getting off the phone with a student.

About two weeks ago I got a text message on a Friday night at 7pm while I was in Seoul eating dinner with Julianne.


I wonder if there's a Signals unit in Korea that can decode text messages for me . . . ? I called this student because I had NO IDEA WHATSOEVER about the meaning of the text message, or for that matter that the first part was his Korean first name . . . it took 5 minutes for me to decipher what he wanted to ask me, and then another 5 minutes for me to get him to understand how he could help himself . . .

I often feel like I'm having a conversation with Elmo . . .

Here are my preliminary ideas . . . I have a feeling that this is just another example of the cultural phenomena that make up Korea that cannot be changed by a foreign teacher . . . but I can make my own little ripple in the pond and hope for some kind of change . . .


This morning I asked 5 different Korean students at my university (yes, a small sampling, but I think somewhat representative of the 'whole') what is the latest time that they would call a KOREAN professor on a weeknight. One said, "6 . . . maybe 7pm." Another group answered, "Not after 10pm."

WHY AM I DIFFERENT? Well, besides several other obvious answers that everyone who is living in Korea, or has lived here, knows . . . I think the simple answer comes from the Korean culture phenomenon--in my mind that word is very apt for these kinds of things--of EXTREME POLEMIC DYNAMISM . . . simply put, almost every aspect of life here is one extreme or the other.

You either do things the 'Korean way' (usually defined by the Korean person you are interacting with, sometimes in line with a mainstream cultural definition and practice, and other times more in line with whatever the agenda is of the Korean) . . . yes, I am painting with a generalizing brush that does not take into consideration individual personalities or situations that have been contextualized BUT I think most if not all people in the world can safely make some generalizations about cultures AS LONG AS they have a certain degree of self-awareness about what they are saying, thinking, and the real-world effects of the ideas they are espousing . . .

I think too many Koreans believe that "English culture/s" is pure chaos and anarchy therefore they can say and do whatever is most expedient to their needs and wants in the moment--WRONG!

I think I will blog about the EXTREME POLEMIC DYNAMISM in Korea in the next week or so . . .

Cell Phone Etiquette

  1. Do not giggle or laugh like a middle school girl or boy. It is rude and immature behavior.
  2. Do not talk to other people in the room in English or Korean, or laugh and giggle a lot, when calling a professor—it is rude, and you waste the professor’s time.
  3. Prepare your question/s by writing them down first on a piece of paper. Organize your questions. What do you need to know? Can another student in your class give you the answer? Do you really need to call the professor, or can you ask a friend? If you forget what the professor told you in class, ask 3 friends to help you remember first before calling.
  4. Do not call a professor after 11pm Monday—Friday.

Monday 9am to 9pm

Tuesday 9am to 9pm

Wednesday 9am to 9pm

Thursday 9am to 9pm

Friday 9am to 9pm

= 60 hours a week that you can ask a professor a question.

Saturday ---------

Sunday ---------

NOTE: Use text messages or email for questions during evenings or on weekends. This allows the professor to call you back when they have a few free minutes. We want to help you—but please remember that we have personal lives, and also that we are not on-call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

  1. Do not call a professor on Saturday or Sunday unless it is an emergency.


  1. Hello. It’s __________ (first name) from the __________ (department name) calling.
  2. Are you busy right now?

Can I have a moment of your time?

Can I talk to you right now?

  1. a) I’m sorry to bother you, but I need to ask you a question. b) I’m sorry to bother you, but I need to set up an appointment time with you.
  1. I need to know . . .

Can you . . . . ?

  1. Thank you for your time.

Thank you for your help.

Thank you for answering my question.


Joe in Korea said...


I always give out my phone number and though I have students call me, I never really have had much of a problem. I tell them that they can call me if they have a question, but not too late. I tell them that I trust them, that I know they will not call with silly requests. It is amazing how treating them like adults can lead to them actually acting that way, but it takes a little training. If you dump responsibility on their shoulders when they've never had it, some drown.

I also have them collect the names, cell phone numbers, and emails of everyone in the class. I think they call each other first. Recently, I started using class captains. These captains also are co-administrators on our class NING site (which is like facebook, but open only to students in the class. They have to post their homework online in a public forum and comment on each other's work) Some of my class captains may have been getting phone calls because now I noticed that they post an outline of what we did in class and assignment on the website.

Some students do call with questions but not as much as they used to. I think the captains are catching more, though. When I pick captains, I ask for volunteers and tell them what I expect from them. In return, they get a bonus on their participation points. Most see this as a fair trade. I don't pick captains until the second or third week; once I see who are natural leaders and motivated.

I also try to make sure they understand the instructions. If they are working in a group, I make sure each group has at least ONE person who understands. Then when I'm not looking, or pretending not to listen, they explain it to their group, using a little Korean if needed.

Jon Allen said...

How did they get your cell phone number in the first place?

This whole cell phone instant availability whenever / wherever has got out of control. There is only one way to deal it. Never let them have your phone number in the first place.

Can there really be anything that can be so earth shatteringly important that they have to disturb you when you are not in the school? No. It can wait until the next lesson.

Forget cell phone etiquette 101: get a new cell phone number.

Jason said...

Joe, thanks for the good ideas. Some of them I'm already doing, and the others I need to start doing. I do treat them as adults. I think the problem is that I'm still developing my administration skills as a teacher in the Korean university environment. I'm definitely going to alter how I begin the 2010 semester's courses and the whole first class in each course organization, rules, and routines setup.

Jon, I've been in Korea for almost four years. Whether I like it or not my cell number always gets put out there by Korean education office directors, supervisors, and teachers without my consent when I was teaching in public school, and for teaching in university I have to make myself available for questions and helping the students--part of that is giving my cell number . . . I think I just need to adjust how I do my admin and coach the students in some of the communication skills taken for granted in North America . . . I donno.

I have some ownership in the situation that is making me unhappy, and I will change what I can control. As for students I haven't even met in person calling me after 11pm--I'm still considering several non-lethal options, lol.


I'm still