A one-track mind when it comes to conversationOne of the most interesting aspects of teaching English as a foreign language, at least as far as the native-speaker teacher is concerned, is having the opportunity to learn about another culture. Snippets of information come to you through students’ comments or by means of their essays. Meanwhile, you hope that they are learning as much about your culture as you are about theirs.
I have discovered all kinds of fascinating information about Korea, and Korean attitudes, from my students.
There was the time, for example, when I was teaching an adult conversation class in Daejeon a few years ago. The level of the class was pretty advanced, and we had had a lot of interesting discussions. However, there was one thing that had persistently annoyed me throughout the course: Whatever topic I tried to introduce, the men in the class, who were in the distinct majority, always wanted to switch to the subject of how to pick up women.
So when, in the middle of my attempt to launch a debate about religion, the geeky twentysomething guy with glasses and buck teeth to my left suddenly interrupted me to announce that he wanted to marry “a beautiful angel,” I almost blew my top. Here we go again, I thought. Back through the same old stuff we’ve already heard half a dozen times before. But then I thought: O.K., if this is the only thing they want to talk about, let’s get to the bottom of it.
I turned to the boy ― I hesitate to refer to him as a “man,” though he was old enough for the title ― and asked, “So what exactly is a ‘beautiful angel,’ in your opinion? What kind of a woman is that?”
Grinning toothily, he stared at me through glazed eyes and said, “A beautiful angel is a woman who not only looks beautiful, but also knows how to cook and clean perfectly. That is the kind of woman I want to marry.”
At this point I knew it was unnecessary for me to pursue the point any further, since I could see from the expression on the face of the only woman in the class (who happened to be a feminist) that she was not going to let this one pass; and, indeed, she soon tore into the luckless fellow with gusto.
Later, in the company of a colleague and a stiff drink, I reflected that Korean men seemed to be a strange lot if they really were only interested in a woman for her ability to carry out domestic duties. And I hoped that not all Korean men were as unenlightened as this one.
My colleague listened to my complaints for a while, then said quietly, “You’re lucky that’s all your class wants to talk about.”
“How’s that?” I asked.
He smiled a knowing and weary smile. “Well, you know my class has no women in it at all? Men only. And it shows in their topic preferences ... Last week, in the middle of a conversation about traveling in Europe, a student raised his hand and asked, ‘Teacher, could you explain what French kissing is?’”
by Jeremy Garlick
Mr. Garlick teaches at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.