Friday, April 27, 2012

The Gypsy Gets Interviewed . . .

Tiffany Zappulla

Some weeks ago, Ms. Tiffany Zappulla contacted me about an article that she was writing on English teaching in Korea and asked for my perspective on the university sector, along with other questions. She has now published her article, "ESL in the Fast Lane: Lessons in Teaching English in South Korea" (Vagabond Journey, April 24, 2012), which distills the views of various instructors of English here in Korea. Here's where she presents me and my views:
Jeffery Hodges of the blog Gypsy Scholar, who earned his doctoral degree in history at UC Berkeley, tutored in Switzerland and taught in Germany, Australia, and several academies and universities in South Korea before settling at Ewha University's English Program Office in 2009, where he teaches writing and also does editing and translations on the side. Altogether, Hodges has been living and teaching in South Korea for 12 years (and plans to retire there), an impressive stint considering that many who come as fresh graduates don't last out their year-long contracts.

In general, Hodges feels that adult learners are more motivated to learn English, but that students' pre-college education poses limits to Western-style learning: "Students here are too passive and tend to plagiarize because they haven't been taught not to and because their education is mostly rote memorization and doesn't encourage creativity," Hodges said.

The austere hierarchy system -- a remnant of Korea's Confucian past -- can also stifle analytical and critical thinking. "In Korea, decisions are made above and handed down without allowing for much feedback, which is a bit frustrating," Hodges explained. "Know that contracts are not sacrosanct, that decisions are made from above, and discussion won't take place. Also, don't get angry at student plagiarism; just catch it, and explain that it will get students a low grade."

. . .

Hodges also touched upon one aspect of adaptation that holds a lot of weight in a neo-Confucian society: obedience and realizing the goals of the group as a whole. "My method: Do the job, don't complain, be helpful and cheerful," he explained. "I get along with my co-workers, who are mostly Western, so there's little cultural misunderstanding. I also have friendly relations with Korean co-workers and staff." First impressions are universal, and one-time events can come back to haunt you, especially in the workplace.

I wish that I'd known these things from the beginning of my teaching career in Korea. Much would have worked out better. But I can't really complain much -- nor should I, if I follow my own advice!

For the entire article, which includes the views of other instructors, go here.

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