Yesterday two cultural differences combined to give me a very bad day.
As detailed a few posts ago, there's a bully in one of my classes. Or, perhaps there are three. These girls all gang up on the youngest girl, and gossip about her in Korean, and give her "the look" as often as possible. This goes on everyday, but it's been getting worse lately. Anyway, yesterday the mother came to school, and before class chewed out two of the students. They were sullen all day, but persisted in trying to communicate in Korean even after being told to desist. Eventually, I had them spaced far apart from each other, and I gave them a detention afterwards.
Now, let it be said that I have no problem with younger students showing respect to older students. I DO have a problem with older students who will bully younger students. I had some very harsh words for the students after class, and I kind of regret it. On the other hand, I didn't shout, so it's possible the students didn't realize how angry I was. I hate shouting, and rarely do so.
There's an interesting twist on this story. When I asked my class of elementary teachers what I should do, they said I should love the older students much more than the younger student. They said I was wrong to try to treat the students equally, since the older students feel gyped (Note to the Gypsy Scholar: is this word used reasonably? One person informed me otherwise, but I've been saying it all my life). It would be almost impossible to convey to Korean people just how utterly repulsive this idea is to a western person, especially a Canadian or American, whose societies tend towards egalitarianism. As for not saying "onni," well, in theory my school prohibits all Korean during children's classes anyway, so Hai Song & Co. don't have a leg to stand on.
On the other hand, while I am happy to be an instrument of change for the better in society, I don't want to make it worse. English education is changing the country, without doubt. People are more individualistic than they used to be, which is both a blessing and a curse. If hierarchy is the glue that binds the society together, gives it order, keeps it safe, who am I to interfere?
On the other hand, the office staff in my hogwan agree with me, and here we come to what I think is a situation that traditional Korean society has not really had much time to reflect on, namely, what happens when children of different ages are present in the same classroom. This isn't a problem in public school, where teachers only teach one grade. In a hagwon, on the other hand, the classes are sorted by ability, and not by age. In fact, one comment by one of my teacher-students was quite telling, "well, that's a hagwon, and that's what happens in hagwons."
In any case, my hagwon has its policies, and right now I'm on the right side of those policies, so things will continue. As for the bullies, they'll soon be separated into different classes from the youngest girl by the office staff when they draw up new classes for next week.
There was another cultural difference in view yesterday. It's traditional at my school that the elementary teachers go out for dinner on the last day with the teachers. Usually the teachers themselves bring this up. However, this time, nobody did, so I did--but at the end when some of them had left. I said we would still meet in the room, and leave a note and cell number on the chalkboard, as we always do. The response to this was surprising: "Why didn't you tell us before?" (And I have to say that the person who said this had excellent expression!)
I then said, although not in so many words, that since the point of the event was to have an enjoyable time, we would not have to go, since I don't want to inflict
enjoyment on them.
Since the place we would go to is close by, and since people are free to either eat, or not eat, I didn't think this would represent a problem for the teachers. Apparently they thought otherwise. Well, chalk up another one to experience.
I've posted before about how cultural differences can create meaning and enjoyment, so I guess this just comes with the territory. Still, it's kind of surprising to suddenly encounter such problems after over an entire year here.