Sunday, February 22, 2009

What will it be like for foreign English instructors in Korea for 2009?

Another site I browse every once and a while for articles related to teaching and living in Korea is

Today I saw two articles about what what it will be like teaching and living in Korea for 2009. The second article also offers an interesting survey of how English teaching has changed since 2001 for foreign/expat teachers.

A Look Ahead for 2009: ESL Hotspots: Korea

Seven Years of ESL in South Korea

I've been blogging now for about almost 2 hours because I can't sleep again . . . so I'll keep my predictions short.

The new E2 visa application process combined with the terrible exchange rates on the Korean won with the American and Canadian dollar in addition to the increased amount of information (positive and negative) for foreign teachers considering Korea as a place to live and work will lead to a decrease in the number of new teachers when one compares the numbers from 2009 to 2008. I think it will also lead to an increase in the number of foreign/expat instructors who decide that it's time to leave Korea and not renew their contracts or look for different positions and contracts . . .

One thing that will be hard to discern is how many of the foreign teachers in Korea actually have completed university degrees and TEFL/TESL/CELTA or a professional teaching license in order to figure out if the numbers of qualified foreign teachers increased or decreased. The reason for this is, as it's pointed out in the articles I linked to (above), and in other news articles online and blogs, Korea has in reality lowered its standards--while claiming to have raised the bar (which in a bizarre way is also kind of true--it's a paradox)--and is allowing people with only 1 or 2 years of university to come over to teach in the public schools . . .

Lately something I've been thinking about is how does change take place in a collectivist socio-cultural environment . . . ? And my conclusion has been that micro-paradigm shifts must be the answer--that, and top-down authoritarian decrees (aka 'policies') have some degree of influence too. But I think that micro-paradigm shifts are the true power. I mean the mad cow hysteria and riots are a great example. Critical numbers were reached and suddenly tens of thousands of Koreans were on the streets protesting . . . and then months later with the Korean won falling in value, jobs being lost in large numbers, and the economy drowning as it's sucked into the global recession you see evidence of another micro-paradigm shift with what previously would have been considered an invitation to suicide: a girl in GS Mart with a special promotion booth stand wearing a cowboy hat and on the front of the stand the words "American Beef" are written in large letters . . . I SERIOUSLY CAN'T BELIEVE I DIDN'T HAVE MY CAMERA WITH ME WHEN I SAW THIS! Argh . . .

A kind of socio-cultural micro-paradigm shift of this magnitude is not possible without something else, however, and I'd have to say that would be the Korean cultural (notice I did NOT use the word 'genetic' here!) trait of collective mass 'amnesia.' Before the shift I'd have been afraid for the lives of the girls working the meat counter if they openly advertised they had American beef for sale--yet when I saw the girl wearing the cowboy hat selling American beef there were several Koreans all buying it up . . .

How does this relate to what I see happening during 2009, and actually for the next five years in the education system? I think that a major paradigm shift is coming for Korea's education system. The numbers of students who became politically active in the mad cow protests, especially the middle school students, created a crash course in how to organize political dissent and activism. These students will be in high school in a couple of years where they will have to endure the nightmare that is the national university entrance exam, and I think that if enough students across the country recall the power and influence the mad cow riots had that a major paradigm shift might take place in the education system . . .

Sadly, I think that the transition period from the current system as it's known today to a truly reformed education system will result in a generation or two of student and teacher 'casualties.' Those that cannot navigate their way through all of the policy changes, testing changes, and teaching and learning changes that will come out of the testing system being reformed will probably not be able to recover in whatever new highly competitive social ranking system emerges from the ashes of the old one.

As for foreign/expat instructors . . . unless salaries are insanely high, and teaching/work/life situations in our home countries are poor, a lot of us will simply leave the coming anarchy that will be the transition phase from one education system to another, and find more hospitable places to teach and live. In a society where parents, students, and teachers rely so heavily on pre-scripted social codes for thinking/feeling/speaking/acting in order to function the transition from old to new will be truly revolutionary . . . and we all know that not everyone gets to come out the other side of revolutions.

Well, that's my sense of what is coming in 2009 and beyond . . . what do you think?



Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more with almost everything you say. I've only been here 2 months and I am ready to leave. I find that my supervisor is completely inflexible and we often clash because of cultural differences related to the educational system. My supervisor tells me my students are supposed to think- they are just to memorize what I say. And that is definitely not something I am comfortable with!
Thanks for your insight

Anonymous said...

sorry- are NOT supposed to think.

Jason said...

Hi Anonymous,

Don't give up yet--in spite of the negative slant of this post I do like a lot of things about living and teaching here . . . it's a 'contradictory truth' as most expats who stay past a year or two love and hate things about the culture here, and the day to day living and working conditions.

I haven't had a chance to write a post about my general thoughts and feelings about having completed 4 years in Korea--I only did one about how I feel beginning my fifth year . . . I'll try and write something about that after the prep week before the semester begins is over.

A big lesson I've learned is to try and assess situations and come up with realistic goals for myself, the people in the situation, and maybe most importantly how to adjust my idealist expectations of myself and others--a pretty valuable lesson for when I leave Korea and work back in North America . .

Anyways, hope things are better for you soon.