Friday, November 18, 2011

Following in Grandma's Footsteps

My Grandmother was an activist. I didn't know it - I was too young to understand. I only knew that she spent hours typing away on her typewriter and had received responses from senators, governors, and presidents. I knew she had hundreds of clippings of her own words appearing in the newspaper.

For her, it was abortion.

For me, well, I've never been much of an activist. I believe in it, I support it, but I'd have no idea where to start. And the image I have is a little more about protests and legal battles. But here it is, my first letter to help rectify misconceptions:

Dear Lee Hyo-sik,

I'm writing in response to your November 14th article on Korean women involved in the sex industry abroad. I greatly appreciate your desire to draw attention to the issue, which is certainly a grave concern for Korea. This is definitely an increasing trend that needs to be addressed. 

I have no doubt about your facts - the numbers you quote seem fairly reasonable, even a bit conservative. However, I feel there is some information you may not be aware of. While it is true that most women in this situation have a valid working holiday visa, that does not necessarily make it true that they voluntarily chose to work in the sex industry. 

Employers, more accurately known as "traffickers", are acutely aware of the vulnerability of such young women and target them. They loan them money for their visas or offer part time jobs. The girls are then expected to pay back this money by working for them. Not all of them are directly coerced into offering sex services, but they are often told to serve in a bar or similar setting. Then, being charged for room and board as well, the girls find it impossible to pay back their debt - so they do what all the other girls do and sell their bodies. They usually don't even see how much money they're making, the "employers" collect directly from the clients. 

Here's an article from an Australian news source that describes a murder likely connected to human trafficking. If you read the article, look carefully at the story of Kathy. You'll notice, she may have had freedom to come and go, to make friends, etc. But if they hold her passport and money, you can see why there's no need for bars and chains.

You do make reference to trafficking in your article, but it appears as an afterthought to the idea that Korean women are intentionally seeking prostitution employment abroad. I would suggest, that if you do a little research, you'll discover that trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world and the fastest growing. You'll also discover that the Korean Criminal Law, Article 245, defines trafficking as "transferring a subject...... [by] promising money, valuables, property benefits, including advanced pay..." The UN Protocol, which Korea also signed, defines it as "recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by means of the threat of use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of the abuse of power, or of a position of vulnerability...." Notice that both documents include debt bondage or otherwise "tricking" a person into working for another person. 

The primary problem is that most people don't recognize what constitutes human trafficking. Korean women working in the sex industry in Australia are far more likely to be trafficking victims than anything else. Korean girls, motivated by the pressure to learn English, have become the number one trafficked into the US and other western countries.

Finally, if you pursue such research, you'll discover that Korea receives a great number of girls trafficked from South East Asia and Russia to fill its own brothels. Human trafficking is found in every nation, without exception.

I hope that you will discover some of these facts for yourself, then re-consider the conclusions you draw in your article. 

I think Grandma would be proud. And I, well I'm wondering what took me so long. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Word Watch

The words I'm watching are my own. I have a student who I've heard a little about from another teacher - nothing bad, mind you. But this student is in my class for the first time, and I said, "You're an English major, right?" No.... "Oh, but you take a lot of English classes?"

Then he got worried. He asked how I knew that, if another teacher had said something. But the teacher he mentioned was a third teacher, not the one that had named him. I gave him a hard look, and asked if he was in the speech competition. He was, and I said he must be familiar from that.

Ok, now perhaps we could say I lied. Perhaps I should have told him that just an hour before, one of his teachers had looked through my attendance list and named all her students. But it is true - he did look familiar. And he was in the competition. So in the end, he got his answer and wasn't worried about teachers gossiping.

Well, that's great. But it has me thinking. See, I generally don't talk about students with other teachers - none of us do. We might talk about how a class is going, or a project we did with students. We may even mention that one student or another stands out. But we generally don't just complain about students or gossip about them.

But they don't know that. And frankly, I would be a little uncomfortable if I felt my teachers were talking about me. They might be saying only good things, but I can't know that. It would make me self-conscious.

So today I resolve to watch what I say in two ways: 1) I won't gossip about students. I don't think I do, but I'm going to make a special effort on that front - what a student says or does (even if it's in the public setting of class) is confidential. 2) I won't listen to other teacher's comments about students. Again, I really don't think I do, but sometimes a teacher lets something slip, especially if you have the same students. Now, I'm not going to be the annoying person, "Oh, stop. I don't want to hear any gossip." But I will avoid it tactfully, and, if I do hear something, be careful not to allude to it again.

All in all, I want to really respect my students. And watch my words. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Level Tests

Today was all about level tests. These are tests given to students to determine how much they know of a language. As a teacher, I can determine how much they know based on a short conversation. Also, as a teacher, I remind the students to relax - it's not a major test, just a way for us to sort the students into similar groups. We had to level test our students for the summer program.

But I had a few students sweating bullets. I'm sure they knew much more English than they spoke, but they were so nervous they could barely complete sentences.

Me too. Because today I also took a level test - for Korean.

Yes, I'm finally starting Korean classes. I've been wanting to do it for a long time, but I was waiting until I had the time to focus and the money to pay for it. So I signed up. I should start at Level 2, I'm sure. But when it came to the interview, I couldn't speak a word in Korean. I could understand the questions, but whatever vocabulary I knew was gone. I could basically only stutter a "yes" or "no"... or I'd switch to English. Which is pretty much what I do in real daily life, except that I can usually get a few more Korean words out.

Anyway, she wanted to put me in level 1, where I'd be studying the alphabet. I asked her to bump me up - promised I'd be focused since this is all I'm doing this summer (except for the classes I'm teaching the next few weeks). Truth is, I'm a good student. I'm sure that if she puts me in level 2, I'll be the top student...

So here's what I'm thinking: I have a lot more sympathy for my students. It's the mix of shame and confusion. It's also dread and hope. And yeah, nerves are a big part of this.

So there it is. I'm finally starting Korean. It's about time.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fresh Starts

Every few months, I get motivated. I clean my room. I mean, I really clean it. You know, toss out all the old papers, find random items under the bed.... A fresh start. Then, I turn to my online life... There's a part of me that would love to be organized and narrate who I am online. Keep the blog, photos, facebook, twitter, and assorted other sites connected and well-informed. Unfortunately, it just takes too much time.

However, when I'm motivated, as now, I always want to toss this blog and start afresh. It's like a New Year's resolution. I'm going to.... learn a language. Lose weight. Read more. Be organized... but there's a reason these resolutions don't work.

See, all of these things are about habits. Habits are tricky things. They sneak into your life unexpectedly, then seem so hard to break. But that's not the worst thing, as we all know. The worst thing is trying to create one. I mean, they slip into our lives on their own easily enough, so why should it be so hard to gain one you actually want?

Now, I know all the tricks. Anchor a new habit (like reading) to an old habit (like commuting on the train). Then there's the whole thing about goals - set big goals, then break them down into smaller goals. Or grab a partner to help you stick to the new habit. These are all excellent tricks, but they exit precisely because changing habits is so hard.

Then, there's my journal. If you ask me, I say I journal. Yes, I do. I keep a journal. Regularly. I've been keeping one for more than half my life now. Portions are on the computer and portions are in some well-worn journals, but they all add up to the narrative of my life. Honestly, that's an impressive habit.

But you know what's interesting when you look at this habit? It's full of holes. "Regularly" is relative. There are months where I wrote every day. Every single day, for an hour or more - I wrote. Then there are six months of silence. Absolutely nothing is said for whole portions of my life. Did nothing happen? Was I simply to busy to write? Writer's block? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Some people have an amazing ability that most of us envy: Discipline. They can stick with it no matter what. That's great. For them. But for the rest of us, there's the perspective of the big picture. When I look back at 15 years of journaling, I don't notice all the gaps. I notice what was actually done.

So it is with prayer. Or a healthy lifestyle. Or even organizing all my photos online. The thing that I love most - God sees from the big picture perspective. He celebrates that we managed to do it, not berating us for the times we missed. So let's throw out the guilt and do it just one more time.  Even if you didn't feel like it yesterday, of for the past year. Pick up where you're at and move forward. Don't go back to the beginning.

I won't be starting a new blog. I might be adding to this one. I might not. But the fact that it's been wobbling around for nearly two years means I should help it out, not scrap it and try to be perfect.

Friday, April 1, 2011

4 AM Thoughts

Though I be awake, my thoughts merge and flow as in a dream. This has always been the case late at night, when only the drunks are awake and stumbling around outside. Reality bends and stories blend until new truths emerge.

I've been watching videos of the Google car. Pretty awesome technology. The smart phone I hold in my hand has more power than my first laptop did just 7 years ago. So yes, the idea that cars will be driving themselves in eight years seems the highly probable.

And yet, there remains the reality that tragedy strikes unexpectedly.  I know people in Japan: People who are searching for bottled water to horde. People who don't know where their loved ones are. People who desperately want to leave the country, but can't. Perhaps in eight years, Japanese newspapers will be filled with stories of cancer, economic stagnation, and dependency on foreign aid.

These two thoughts play around in my head. Two futures. Two possibilities. Humanity is moving forward. Poverty can be eradicated as a disease. Education can be made available. Or the polar ice caps will melt and the images from the tsunami will be world-wide. The US dollar will rapidly inflate, destabilizing world economies.

But in truth, they aren't two futures. They're the same future. Both of them are reality. And that's scary as hell. It's the clash of humanity's potential and its baseness. Christians refer to this as the imago dei (the image of God) and sin.

But there's a new factor: technology. Technology has dramatically sped up the process of change. So things that should take a century, will be happening in the next decade. I wonder where I'll be in 10 years? And what will be a part of my daily life that is now inconceivable?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Quick Personal Update

I haven't forgotten this blog... or the series on working in Korea. I've just been busy starting a new job. Here's the scoop:

I love it! It feels so incredibly good to be back in the classroom. I'm teaching college English - mostly the required freshman conversation classes. Those are crazy - 40 students per class, only 2.5 hrs a week! As if I can really help them practice speaking in those conditions....

But my classes are pretty cool. The students are arranged by majors, not English ability. In fact, there's no way to test out of it - one of my students lived in San Diego for 10 yrs! But apparently he thinks English will be an easy A, because during the second week he signed up for my elective class as well. 

These first couple weeks have been crazy, because I have to do my Powerpoint for lectures and re-write some of the syllabi. Should slow down this week, at least until midterms. But wow, I've never been on the semester system before - 16 weeks seems endless!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Working in Korea 3: Job Options

Teaching English. That's what most people do in Korea. But that's not all. I'm going to break it down for you a bit more:

1. Teach Children

I would say this is the vast majority of jobs available. And you don't need any experience for these jobs - just a bachelor's degree, clean bill of health, and a headache of paperwork.

But this can be subdivided into two categories. Hagwons are generally after-school programs for kids. Classes can range from 5-15 students, grouped by age or ability. Working hours are in the afternoon, usually 2-10pm. You'll probably teach 30 hrs a week. Now, if you've never taught before, as most hagwon teachers haven't, that's a LOT of teaching time. That leaves little to no time for prep work and grading. But after a month or two, it gets easier. Since hagwons are businesses, it usually comes down to keep the students happy and teach as much as possible. I'll write more details about hagwons later - this is the easiest option, but also has the most problems.

The second category is teaching in a public school. You might be the only foreign staff in the school, so some people have a lot of problems with adjusting and communicating at work. Also, most teachers teach with a Korean co-teacher. This can be great or terrible, depending on who your co-teacher is. In fact, I would say how positive your relationship is with your co-teacher determines how well your year goes. I'd say public schools are a great alternative to hagwons (regular 8-5 hours, stable pay / employment, etc). But there seems to be more interpersonal conflicts with staff and administration. Also, some elements of the Korean education system are going to drive you crazy at times.

2. Teach University

Alright, if you're just thinking of moving to Korea, this probably isn't an option for you. Most of these positions require 2 years teaching experience and a master's. Also, this has gotten more competitive as the US economy has sent people with higher education abroad for work. Finally, many of these are a "who you know" kind of system. And if you haven't been in Korea, you probably don't know anyone.

But, assuming you have the credentials / experience or contact, it's a great option. One important thing to know though: a lot of universities basically operate a "hagwon". This means that within most universities you can work in a language center (ie, hagwon that may teach only college students or may also include young kids) or you work in the English Department, teaching regular literature courses.

The majority of uni teachers are doing the language centers. In fact, if  university job is advertised, assume it's a language center. Teaching department courses generally requires an MA in English Lit, and I think only some of the top universities do this.

But here's why people love them: The schedule!

Weekly: The pay is usually similar to a hagwon, but you only teach 12-20 hours a week. Of course, there's planning and grading time, which is even greater than a hagwon. But I'd estimate that most people put in about 25-35 hrs a week (of course, during midterms and finals you might be swamped!).

Annually: 10-15 weeks off per year! Unlike the US system, the Korean system has two long breaks (winter and summer). Each break is about 10 weeks (Dec 15 to March 1, June 15 to Sept 1). Usually you're required to work during ONE of these breaks, usually about half the break. So, for example, if you to take the whole winter break to go somewhere for Christmas, you might work June 15 - Aug 1, still getting a 1 mos break during summer. Plus there is a 1 week break in the middle of each semester and various holidays.

Okay, so I'm clearly biased. Truth is, most people that stay more than a year usually want into the uni system. But there's a third job category...

3. Professional Work

Okay, I put this last because it's the smallest and most competitive group. Also, it's really a hodgepodge of various jobs. So let's break them down:

A. Company English Teacher - Larger corporations (LG, Samsung, Korean Air, Hyundai, etc) often hire full time English staff. You will have regular company work hours (about 9-6, sometimes varied for classes), a regular desk, and standard 2-3 week vacation. You should dress professionally. Your work will included teaching business classes, editing correspondence/manuals, giving English interviews and pretty much anything else that needs to be done in English.

The pay is usually better, but the hours can be long. Also, you need experience - either as a business / adult English teacher, or experience in the corporate setting. However, if you don't like kids and want a more regular 9-5, this is it. Also, realize that your exact responsibilities may vary, especially depending on they type of company and your own experience (a friend of mine who is fluent is Spanish ended up translating a lot of documents from Spanish to English for her construction company).

B. Editing (or Translating) - Although I would put translators into this category, I find that  Korean is not usually required. I feel this is because of hiring practices. See, they could hire full time translators. But instead, they usually require high level Korean staff (managers, lawyer, doctors, etc) to have a very high competency in writing English. So usually they just need an editor to smooth over the rough language. I think it makes sense - editors are easier to find than translators.

Also, editing is often part of the job listed above. However, there are a significant number of editing only jobs. This is what I did my first year. I hated it. I stared at a computer for 8 hours a day, nitpicking over commas and trying to change awkward Konglish phrases into smooth English. You need to be very detail-oriented for this work. Also, editors are often hired by profession. So, for example, a hospital might need an editor with a medical background. There are also a lot of law firms that need editors with a legal background.

On the other hand, for introverts, it's a GREAT alternative to teaching. Some of the people I worked with loved having a quiet professional job, loved focusing on the language, and loved leaving it all behind at the end of the day. They felt this was much less stressful than teaching. Less stressful and more independent. This usually appeals to those who enjoy writing.

C. Entertainment / Publishing - A very, very small clique. There are English newspapers, TV shows, and radio stations. They need actors, writers, newscasters, you get the picture. Also, it seems the music scene is easier to break into here. But I'd also say most of the people in these jobs are gyopos. Even if their Korean isn't great, they're usually here more long-term and they don't have as many visa issues. In fact, I think it's mostly about the visa. An F-4 gyopo (or Korean citizen who is fluent in English) can work a little here and a little there - most of these jobs are NOT full time.

Also, in this category, I must include voice actors. My first job included working with voice actors, and I was impressed to realize how many there were. Basically, since Koreans feel English is so vital to academic and professional success, there are a LOT of textbooks and study materials produced in Korean. But even though a Korean author can write the book, the need an editor (see above) to check it and a voice actor for all the listening practice. Also, announcements on trains, planes, and public places need voice actors. Even my GPS, which is all Korean, has the option of English directions - so someone had to record "Please turn left. Take the underpass in 1 kilometer."

Anyway, however you look at it, the entertainment industry has a strong English division. However, you really need an F level visa. Also, I don't have suggestions on how to get into the field. I think it comes down to knowing people. Or random encounters on the street. (I've seen it happen!)

Other - Okay, this list will go on forever if I let it. Basically, there are people doing research, practicing law, running businesses, and everything else here. These jobs generally take some level of Korean and the people are here long term. Some people get sent here by their companies, some work in the embassy, etc. But if you put the time and effort into it, you can find a good position and make quite a life here. These are professional jobs, so BE PROFESSIONAL. And you're really going to need experience and appropriate education, just like back home. So don't expect to come here with a B.A. in communications and a smattering of Korean and find some corporate job.

Whew, that was a long one! This post should have been three!