Thursday, 23 December 2010

Korean Culture Seminar

Last week Tom mentioned that our boss said we had to go to Suncheon (the nearest big city, about thirty minutes' drive away) on the 23rd for some kind of seminar. Earlier this week, I brought it up and tried absolutely refusing to go - it's our free time, and it's two days before Christmas - and ended up having a slight argument with the boss. Apparently it (whatever 'it' is) is now a legal requirement for foreign teachers in South Korea.

This morning, we got up early and were picked up by the boss's husband at 8.50, along with some other foreign teachers, and went to Suncheon. The seminar was at the university - other than that, all I knew is that there were going to be two hundred English teachers there, and there was going to be a lecture.

We arrived, and yes, there were some other foreigners there. We stood in a higgledy-piggledy 'queue' of sorts for a while before the boss's husband made us skip the queue - the other foreigners were judging us! It was really embarrassing! There was a piece of paper with lists of schools and each school's teachers, and we had to sign our name. Someone knocked me while I was signing so it just ended up as a squiggle. No one looked at me or anything. Anyone could have signed against my name.

Then we were given a booklet and ushered into a lecture hall. We sat down, and I brought out my knitting - after all, I was attending under protest and wanted to make that as clear as possible. After a loooong wait, while a 'photographer' (read: guy with a camera) took many photos of the audience, the shockingly uncharismatic leader of the seminar came out and spoke into a microphone. Everyone ignored him. Eventually he managed to get some attention, and did the odious thing of repeating "Good morning!" until he felt that enough people had shouted it back at him. Ugh.

After some speaking, which I didn't bother listening to (and during which the photographer got a picture of our row, which included my knitting and several people looking very bored and/or asleep), there was a 'cultural performance'. Seven women in traditional Korean dress played traditional Korean instruments and sang a traditional Korean song. It was quite nice, although they weren't very good, and it went on for ages.

When they finished, the uncharismatic speaker said "in Korean we say encore! It's a Korean word!" and tried to encourage the audience to repeat after him. Well, first of all, it's blatantly not a Korean word, and secondly, some of the more persuadable members of the audience did repeat him and unfortunately the singers took them seriously. And played the same song again. I was making snarky jokes about having deja vu and getting my book out, because seriously.

The singers had apparently finished too early - while we waited for the main lecturer to show, someone decided to take it upon themselves to read out the booklet we'd been given. One of the first things she said was "on page six, there is a list of some cultural differences that might arise between foreign teachers and their students." Page six is headed 'Act on the Protection of Children and Juveniles from Sexual Abuse'.

She went on: "you might think your students are cute, but don't pet them" was particularly interesting. And then she just continued reading from the booklet. Apparently we can't exhibit our students' physical deformities for profits or entertainment - rubbish! I think there was a pretty big translation mistake because juveniles also aren't allowed to "deliver the teas, etc. deviating from a place of business which mainly prepares and sells the teas, etc., or promoting or tolerating it." Juveniles can't tolerate tea businesses? What does that even mean? I guess that maybe a 'teahouse' is used as a euphemism for a brothel and there was some misunderstanding there, but still, come on.

She finished speaking. We were still pretty much in shock. The lecturer appeared to have arrived, but he was talking to the presenters off-microphone - I joked to Tom that he was trying to get out of doing the lecture. Eventually the presenters returned to the mike and said "please understand, this is the first time we've done this. The seminar is over."

The lecturer had gotten out of doing the lecture.

Now we really were in shock.

We left, were showered with sweets, promptly got separated from our boss's husband, hung around for a bit, and then were driven home. We were told the seminar would last from 9.30 till 12. It lasted from 10 till 10.35.

I understand that a sexual abuse seminar for teachers is a good thing. But it was patently ridiculous. They should have sent letters out to the individual bosses and we could have had in-school lectures rather than the complete rubbish which went on. We're definitely planning on being well out of this country by the time this rolls around next year.

1 comment:

  1. My favourite part:
    "I was making snarky jokes about having deja vu and getting my book out, because seriously."

    I hope they make the seminars for every 3 months so I get to read about it again! Hilarious! =D