Saturday, February 28, 2009

Call for suggestions on what to teach Korean trainees in my "Cross Cultural Communication: Understanding English Cultures" course

Yesterday I posted the brainstorming list of ideas, topics, and issues I am considering integrating with the two textbooks I bought for my cross cultural communication course that I'll be teaching during session one of the 6 month intensive English training program going on at my university.

I'm re-posting my list here with Brian and Amanda's suggestions too so that other people who have suggestions can see what has already been posted.

I'm looking for anything to do with social and cultural taboos that Koreans tend to break fairly often, social norms that Koreans have trouble understanding and have never been exposed to, and anything that you might think Koreans need to learn about daily life in America before they go for a month of English immersion training in ESL teaching methods and English language skills this coming July as a part of the 6 month program.

My ideas (with a few from Julianne too),

- comments and questions about a person's body fat
- "You should . . . " imperatives based on the social hierarchy of Korea's modern Confucianism and how this would NOT go over well in America
- staring at people for longer than 3-5 seconds . . . in pretty much any and every situation, but especially when on the street in America . . . I remember my psychology prof in an undergrad course telling us that studies show that if you stare at someone for more than 7 seconds the fight or flight response kicks in to one degree or another in the person being stared at . . . I can just imagine what would happen if a group of Korean teachers were all staring at some American teenagers, laughing and pointing at them, and making comments . . . I'm not saying there's a guarantee of violence, but I'm pretty sure a negative reaction is safe to assume
- yelling "HELLO!" or "HI!" to strangers on the street and then laughing and speaking to their friends in Korean
- Saying "No" and how the cultural rules differ so much in America for when and how and to who and for what you can say no . . .
- religion, and pushing your beliefs on people who don't share the same views--i.e. Korean Christians (not all, but too many)
- flirting and giving compliments to strangers and/or people you work with--especially the older male Korean teachers (again, not all, but too many)
- drinking and alcohol culture, bar culture
- personal space and touching taboos
- driving and following the traffic laws
- multiculturalism in the USA
- eating habits and manners: no slurping, sharing is done very differently than in Korea, for example the idea of communal bowls and platters that everyone eats out of
- friendship rules: age, gender, and class rules are not nearly as strict as they are for Koreans, for example, not being friends with someone more than a year or two older
- being on time when you make social or work appointments
- speaking up if there is a problem or issue in a situation--many Koreans think that's rude but there are many situations in which it's critical that someone speaks up if there's a problem
- when and how to say 'yes' and 'no' politely and effectively
- Individualism vs Collectivism cultures
- race topics
- sexuality and gender topics
- nationalism/nationalistic views and how cultural conflicts can come up
- in each lecture I'm thinking about having a 20 minute section where I give a topic about Korea, and divide the 20 trainees into 4 groups of 5, let them have 10 minutes to brainstorm and write out the language they need to explain a Korean socio-cultural topic or issue---but something I thought about that I will need to do is to present and deconstruct some of the nationalistic myths that many Koreans try to tell foreign English people about, some examples include the following,
1) kimchi is a cure-all for any and all health issues, especially cancer and SARS
2) the racial purity of the Korean people
3) Korea is the only country in the world to have four distinct seasons
4) there are no gay Koreans
- Julianne pointed out that if the trainees spend a month in the more southern states of the US that they'll need to know when and how to use "ma'am" and "sir"
- tipping in restaurants (not done here) and for taxis (this I found interesting because not everyone does this in Canada)
- doctor/hospital situations and how in Korea many people accept doctor's diagnoses with no questions or requests for a second opinion
- blood types and personality types and the myth that they are highly correlated and should be used as the basis of who one should date and marry

Brian in Jeollanamdo

* Teach how to give a good, firm handshake.

I've been doing this as a regular cultural background info thing in my lessons (in public school and university) since 2006--but didn't include it because I simply forgot to list it with the huge pile of other things I wrote (see above). But thanks to Brian for reminding me about what I refer to as the 'limp fish' handshake.

* Definitely a review of how to refer to black people, and the hazards of many if not all Korean-English dictionaries. (I posted about that back in 2007, and how four out of the five results for 흑인 are woefully offensive.)

* Again, I don't know how relevant this would be for your students, as they'll be spending their month pretty much just studying (right?), but one of the biggest complaints I and others had of Asian international students was that they just stuck together with their own nationals, and made no effort to talk with anyone else. Yeah, could be shyness, but knowing what I know now . . . might brainstorm icebreakers and conversation starters with people from other countries (NOT "I'm from Korea, where Dokdo is.") Try to prepare them for having to deal with other "foreigners."

This was a problem we (the other instructors I taught with in the 2007 6 month program) heard about after they got back. Trips on weekends were spent with other trainees in the group, and we're pretty sure they spoke Korean during that time. We also heard stories about trainees cooking almost all of the meals they ate with their homestay families . . . can you guess what kind of food they were cooking while they were supposed to be immersing themselves in American culture and learning as much as possible about what Americans eat? Yep, you got it, KOREAN FOOD! Sigh . . .


"I think...maybe." No, you don't think maybe, you know for sure. "I can't come" is NOT the same as "I think maybe I will not be able to come" in English-speaking countries.

Closing the mouth while they eat. Covering the mouth to sneeze.

Second Brian's handshake thing.

Will any of them be driving? Something about how people actually PULL over for cops and ambulances would be good if they're going to drive. This still amazes Good Man. "People actually stop! It is so...awkward!"

Making mindless small talk with cashiers and having to ask for help at most stores. I am trying to get Good Man to do this, but he can't stand it.

Good Man says everything is "1.5 times bigger. It's true, McDonald's is bigger, people are fatter, celery is bigger, houses, cars..."

Good Man finds it rather strange that Americans have big yards and then....stay in the house. He doesn't like how empty the streets are.

Oh--another thing--USE PRONOUNS, KOREANS!

Maybe this is just a Good Man thing, but I suspect (knowing what little I do about Korean, and based on my interactions in Korea) that it's a deeper linguistic thing.

I KNOW Koreans don't like using names and subjects and pronouns but "she said to her to give it to her" DOES NOT MAKE SENSE IN ENGLISH. (Especially not since so many Koreans get the gendered pronounces mixed up.)

Well, it should be interesting to see what suggestions are made, and I look forward to reading them. I'm going to be asking the trainees to make their own lists of questions, topics, issues, and taboos they want to learn about in the first class this coming Wednesday . . . THAT should be a lot of fun to see too . . . as long as, of course, I don't see the all too common stares of blankness and mild anxiety when being asked to come up with some ideas not taken from elsewhere . . . sigh.

Wish me luck,


autumnal scent said...

Interesting project you'll be embarking on. I look forward to what ensues.

Referring to the staring and laughing and just being plain disrespectful just because you're the "minority", imagine how they'd feel if they were in *your* shoes and were in America for the first time and *really* were by themselves (I *hate* how you'll always find them in hanging out with other Koreans just because they're more "relatable" and it's not just there in Korea but also here even on college campuses).

Both my biological parents are Korean immigrants and I was born in the US so I'm full Korean except I felt like the complete opposite when I visited Korea for the first time in 2002. I felt less frustrated speaking in English and since my uncle knew enough of the language, that's how we would converse. On the subway one time we got a rude, indirect comment from older kids like "look how they're trying to show off speaking English". I was embarrassed. Being the awkward kid that I was/am, I didn't have the courage to tell them off and I think my uncle either didn't hear or chose not to. I hated being there. I *knew* what they were saying but I couldn't articulate back in Korean. Only after I returned home, I realized that I missed a big chance to really learn about my parent's culture because I let myself be bothered by the other people. Hopefully I get to go back soon.... Except, since upon hearing recent unsettling reports on North Korea, I've been thankful that I'm far, far away.

I have a question, maybe a stupid one but if you have the time... how do you feel living so close to N. Korea? I know that South Korean news organizations have been reporting that there is no reason to believe that the world will see a change in leader any time soon, but Kim Jong Il’s health has been rumored to be failing of late and little is known about the future successor... I hadn't given the N. Koreans any thought when I was visiting the South but now I wonder about these things. Do you have any thoughts on the trajectory that North Korea will take after transfer of power? Perhaps in the direction towards being more open? Given the erratic nature of actions past in moving toward better relations with the West and then taking two steps back, we probably wouldn't have anything to say and would just have to wait, though...

Anonymous said...

South Korea is number one in the world in total hours worked per week, so which is better, working longer or working smarter? There is also the effect that this has on one's home (personal) life.

Getting ahead based on hard work or instead drinking out every night with your boss at the expense of your free time and liver?

There is also a great Adult ESL book with Korean topics (overpopulation, North Korea, Hagwons, traffic, pollution, plastic surgery, 3 D jobs, cell phones, computer gaming, Japan, etc.) that I used my first year here. The title is "Small Group Discussion Topics for Korean Students" by Jack Martire and there are a University and High School version as well for International students.

John from Daejeon

GW said...

should probably let them know it isn't ok to spit on the floor over there

Jason said...

Hi autumnal scent,

Uhm . . . not sure what to say . . . I was hoping for more suggestions about what to consider teaching in regards to cultural taboos, cultural norms and practices, and in general things that Koreans don't know/don't understand and need to when speaking and interacting in English/in an all English environment . . .

As far as North Korea goes--I don't give it a thought now. I used to get a little freaked out about the nuclear thing, but now I don't pay any attention to it at all. If something happened, I'd either be evacuated in time, or not and have to deal with impossible to imagine circumstances. The media hypes things up, and you have to read between the propaganda and spin doctoring that goes on.

I've read 3 novels now written by Korean-Americans struggling with their ethnic identity. Having a multi-otheredness identity where one is othered by people in America, and then being othered by people here in Korea . . . must be difficult. All I can say is that you have a privileged position sitting in between two socio-cultural and linguistic realities, and can see things no one else can. I think that could be incredibly empowering . . .

Good luck with everything,

Jason said...

Hi John,

I taught from the series you mentioned, and own a copy of the "Small Group Discussion Topics for Korean Students" . . . it's not bad, but I find, if I'm thinking of the right book (there's another I always get confused with too) that it requires too much reading time if you don't assign pre-class reading . . .

That being said, they are good books, especially for ideas and topics. Thanks for reminding me of them.


Jason said...

Hi GW,

I'm not sure where you've been spending your time, or with who, but I don't think I've ever seen a Korean spit indoors--out on the street, or in bathrooms while washing and brushing your teeth, yes, and that would be something worth mentioning carefully and also qualifying in the sense that it is only a very small minority of people who do that kind of thing . . .

I really don't get what you're referring to in your comment . . .