Every morning when I walk into the Teacher’s room I say hello to everyone in English. I was told by my co-Teacher to follow the Korean way if at all possible. As a result, I obey the guidelines of the school, custom when out eating with the staff and everywhere else were called forth.
But last night it appeared that’s not enough. I must lose the English greeting as well.
One of the Korean Teachers who is not in the English department made a comment when my Korean Teacher and I were talking as we all ate sushi and some of the younger Teachers walked around with soju bottles toasting the Principle, Vice Principle and everyone in charge. Then one of them stops at our table and the conversation went on between him and my co-Teacher. Then she stopped talking to him and turned to me and translated “when in Rome do as Romans do”.
Then I thought to myself for a second, if we are all being Romans this world is going to get very boring really fast. But to humor him I asked why this sudden quote? He said in broken English, when greeting the Teachers in the morning, you should greet them in Korean.
Now this is a request that I have not problem with but I had a problem with how and when he requested it. He did it in a group setting while being the loudest in the room and drowning even the Principle’s voice. Basically he is new to the school and thus singled me out in order to establish some sort of authority. If he pulled me to the side and said this I would not be writing this post. This paragraph was added after publication of posts and some of the comments below to better clarify on the issue: 9/12.
Let me first state, no other person has made such a request. Not the Principle, not the Vice Principle, and not my co-Teacher. So, what to make of this? I know Koreans are patriotic as hell. Patriotic to the point that if you say or don’t like even a intsy bitsy thing about Korea whether jokingly or seriously, it’s like offending them personally.
Well, I am patriotic too but not in that sense. This is how I see the situation.
- I am an English Teacher
- You hired me to teach English
- You asked me to have staff lessons once a week for the Korean English Teachers
- Just to drive it home, I am an English Teacher
As a result of the aforementioned, I think you are asking for too much. Because in accord with your custom and to aid in creating an harmonious working environment I have,
- learned Korean phrases to communicate.
- Drank my soju even though I don’t like it very much and have done so facing away from you because you are older.
- Replaced hand shaking with bowing to better accommodate and assimilate.
Thus I think your request is over reaching.
As English Teachers abroad we are expected to make changes to better assimilate into the culture in which we have surrendered ourselves for the duration of the contract we sign. It is fitting to comply therefore to the requests of your employer when reasonably requested.
But in complying, should you then forgo the teachings and the making of your own culture? Emerson once said, “imitation is suicide”. Meaning, the more you learn from others and assimilate in their ways, the more you lose your true self.
I am aware of the pettiness of this request and perhaps the topic but from my vantage point of view it is a big deal because I am not the suicidal type. Although I want to comply and assimilate, I am also here for a short period of time and in that time I don’t want to completely lose myself for a sake I cannot pinpoint as of yet. I find the request unreasonable for reasons I have stated and thus refuse to comply.
But then again I could be wrong. I often am. And could be making the situation much bigger than it is, am I? What do you have to say? And have you experienced something like this while abroad? I’d love to hear your comments below!