Interview with Kathryn
Thursday, August 30, 2007-7:44 PM EST
1. You live in a country where you don’t speak the language. Communication is difficult, how do you manage to travel, to buy food, to socialize when you don’t speak the language?
The nice thing about South Korea is that they take learning English seriously. So more often than not, you’ll run into someone who does speak English. Many of the signs for businesses and labels on things like food either have a picture or the name in English.
I’ve also managed to learn what I call “Survival Korean”. I know how to ask for simple things. I can count to five or so. I know how to say “please” and “thank you” and “hello” and “goodbye”. So I can at least be polite.
The Korean teachers are also really good about writing down messages to give to cab drivers, etc. Jeanie wrote down the name of the hospital so I could get there by cab and a message for the information desk worker so I could get to the right place in the hospital.
2. What do you miss most about the United States and what do you like most about South Korea?
I think I miss books the most. We have an ESL bookstore here, but you can’t get things like mystery novels or technical books (I’m a sucker for reading most anything about science). It’s great for buying kid stuff or textbooks to teach with, but not so much for casual reading.
I really like the people here. They are some of the kindest folks I’ve had the pleasure to meet. Last Friday I came home from the store with four big bags (that tends to happen when you don’t do any shopping for 2 weeks) and a guy outside the building took all of them and carried them up to my apartment on the third floor. There’s also the Korean concept of “service”. It’s people doing little things for you just because. When I lived in Yangsan, the lady at the convenient store (where I bought milk and water and juice) was always throwing little things in my bag. Sometimes it was an egg. Sometimes a little candy bar. Around Chusok (the Korean Thanksgiving) she put in some traditional rice cakes that she had made.
I also like the food. I never thought I’d like kimchi, but I do. When I moved home the last time, everything seemed so bland. I had gotten used to eating spicy food. And I can get most western foods when I’m having a craving. I went to Pizza Hut for dinner last night. And there’s a TGI Friday’s in LotteMart. The selection of western type foods is better here in Ulsan than it was in Yangsan. That’s true of both restaurants and groceries. I actually found chocolate pancake mix at LotteMart, and it’s fabulous. I make a very small batch on Saturday or Sunday for my breakfast.
3. When I first found out you were moving to S.K. I was worried but you were rearing to go. I thought you’d be living in a hut eating minnows and barely scarping by. What other common misconceptions have you heard about your new home?
I think a lot of people watch M*A*S*H and think Korea is still a war torn country. But it’s not. There are people who assume that people from the Far East have no interest in Western culture and language. There are people who assume that all you can get to eat is rice and kimchi
4. Are you treated with a cold shoulder because you’re an American? Do the people of South Korea expect you to be full of yourself, opinionated, rude and haughty the way Americans are rightly thought of in other countries?
I don’t think I’ve met anyone who has that opinion of Americans. But the bulk of the people I interact with have known and worked with Americans for a while. But you are right in that the stereotypical American is rude and haughty. I try very hard to be polite and do things that are appropriate to Korean culture.
5. As I understand it, this is the second time you’ve lived in Korea. Was there a time when you considered working in a country other than Korea or is there an attraction to that country for some reason?
I actually was offered a job in Venezuela but I turned it down because various things in the contract looked fishy. I would like to teach in Europe, specifically Germany and Italy. But those jobs are much harder to find. You generally need a TEFL certificate or an education degree, which I have neither. The nice thing about teaching in South Korea is that all you need is a bachelors degree from an accredited college or university.
Feel free to participate in this interview meme by following these rules:
I’d like to add an extra rule. In addition to leaving the invitation open for requests I’d like to ask others if I can interview them. My comments and additions are in red.
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3. You will update your blog with a post containing your answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation (with or without my additions) and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
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