Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Positive thoughts on Korea/saving some of the e-mails I sent out

Mass e-mail sent out to friends and family a while ago (unedited). I'm trying to preserve some of these e-mails before they all get deleted. 

As I feel I may have come across as too negative in my last e-mail I want send some positive things about Korea your way. First, I don't retract any of my statements in the last e-mail. My frustrations and observations are not uncommon among foreigners and Koreans alike. And I don't believe any of my informations and observations are faulty. In fact I recall having coffee with my well traveled 6th grade co-teacher after being in Korea for two months and she told me flat out that Koreans are racist. I was shocked and horrified at the time until a month or so later when I began to notice this. She mentioned the lack of creativity and critical thinking in Korean education and her frustration with it. Unfortunately much of this pressure to do well on tests can be traced back and connected to the No Child Left Behind act in the states. The States is much like a role model in many ways for how things are done in Korea (to my displeasure). So a few years ago the Korean president decided to create a smiliar law in Korea that based school funding on the performance of students. Just like in the States this law zapped any flexibility for teachers to let students be creative and explore their interests. Teachers suddenly felt extreme pressure to have their students perform well on the tests (that are conducted at the SAME time in all of Korea for each grade level). Their students' performance determined funding for the school and also job security for the teachers. All so sad! While I was critical of Korea's lack of creativity in school the same thing is beginning to happen in the States. I know many schools in California (and I believe elsewhere) are cutting art programs and things that are considered to be nonessential. I've come to the conclusion that every education system is faulty in some way so I think we should take advantage of globalization and begin to learn from each country's strengths and weaknesses. 

Education is what got Korea where it is today. 60 years ago Korea's GDP was the same as Pakistans and yet today Korea's GDP is in the top twenty in the world. What is the biggest difference between these two countries? Korea recognized that they lacked natural resources so instead chose to invest in their people. Some recent statistics on Pakistan: Male (15-24) literacy rate: 80%, Female (15-24) literacy rate: 60% (taken from UNICEF), overall rate (all ages): 54%. Korea's literacy rate: 99%!!! One of my favorite quotes is from Nelson Mandela: Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

This quote sums up why I enjoy teaching and what I ultimately think will start to bring about change in the world. I encourage everyone to read Three Cups of Tea (about a man who began starting schools in rural Pakistan). In the book it brings up some interesting conclusions about terrorism and education and how with proper education (not the oil lord funded madrassa schools that teach radical Muslim ideas and that are widespread in much of the middle east). This is a bit off the original topic but I think that education is what brought Korea to where it is today and improved education is what will change Korea. Recently on CNN there was a story about a man (a mixed race Korean) who started a "rainbow" school, a school where children of mixed races could learn and feel comfortable, because unfortunately in normal Korean schools they are often made fun of since Korea is incredibly racially homogeneous. Google the article. It was an excellent and inspirng story. 

As for the obsession with appearance--I think this is a problem worldwide but Korea takes a different approach. Here is an interesting article on this topic:

I use the word blessed a lot but it's the best word in the English language to describe how I feel about this experience and the opportunities I've had so far. While I'm not exactly overjoyed to be living in this cold weather right now and there are many things I find frustrating, Koreans are definitely the hardest working people I've ever met, most generous, and by far the most honest (probably why this country has virtually no crime). I'll leave you with some quotes from my students today while we learned about Europe (they made my day):
"Goodbye Teacher! Ahhhh! I don't want to go home! I want to study more!" He was so excited about what we learned today :) 
After teaching my 6th graders about wind turbines in Denmark: "Teacher! You so smart! Engineer!!!!" haha! Sometimes the amount of reverence I get is a little scary. 
"Teacher you are world traveler!!" (I want to be!)
My 6th graders are brimming with enthusiasm about traveling and the world. It's so exciting to share some of my passion about traveling with them. If all Korean students can catch the travel bug and bring this back to their home country I think everything will change!

Hope this e-mail corrected any negative thoughts anyone was having about Korea. Every place in the world comes with its good and bad. If we were all the same, the world would be an extremely boring place. Traveling teaches you to more closely examine your own country for its strengths and weaknesses and tests your ability to adapt to and understand a different way of life. 

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