Monday, November 5, 2012

We Need Your Help!

Want to help out the awesome students of Kids Land? Take on a travel notebook and help them learn a bit about your part of the world! The project goes like this...

-My kids write in a notebook about who they are, and about life in South Korea.

-I send this notebook to someone (maybe you?!) living in a country other than Korea

-When you receive the notebook, you send the student a postcard letting them know where their notebook is, and then write a few pages in the notebook about who you are and where you live.

-When you finish your entry in the notebook, you send it on to someone you know living in a different country, and they repeat the steps. (When the journal arrives in the 6th country, that person sends the notebook back to the student in Korea.)

If you would like to take on a notebook from one of my students, please send me a message with your address, and I will get one in the mail to you soon! My email address is...

We have received postcards from all over the world, and the kids are so excited to see where their books are going and to learn about new places. More notebooks are in the works as we speak, and I need the help of more people to keep this project going! Here are a few small catches...

1. Because I am paying for this out of pocket and I am a poor poor seoul with a shopping addiction, I unfortunately can not afford to pay for the shipping of these journals to all of their 6 destinations... so I have to ask those who receive journals to pay for the shipping of both the postcard to Korea and the notebook to its next destination. That being said... the notebooks are small, paperback books that are very cheap to send internationally!

2. The kids are very excited about this project, and it has been hard for some of  them to watch their classmates receiving postcards from all over the world,  wondering why they haven't received a card from a journal sent several months back. Your kindness in accepting a journal is appreciated to no end, but please only take one if you have the time to fill in pages and get it sent out within a week or two of receiving it!

If you would like to take on a notebook from one of my students, please send me a message with your address, and I will get one in the mail to you soon! My email address is... 

Thank you so much for your help


Peter Teacher

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Totally Not Scary Ghosts of Halloween Past, And the 2012 Kids Land Halloween Extravaganza

Halloween in Korea is a day recognized seouly by members of two distinct demographics, those involved in the Western bar scene, and those working in or attending an English academy. As an active member of the latter, I have found myself heavily involved in a holiday that I normally would choose to shy away from. Kids Land, my place of employment, celebrates the day with a class cancelling event, a party that allows our students and their friends who don't attend our school to frolic in Halloween festivities for 4 hours of spooky fun, 4 hours which annually have proven to be some of the most exhausting, bruise-worthy hours of my whole damn year.

The amount of time I have remained in this country is testimony to the fact that I really do love my students, and most of the time, I am blown away with their ability to understand foreign concepts. Exceptions to this statement include such instances as disgusted gags and groans as they tried Guacamole for the first time, including Los Angeles, London and Costco in their list of U.S. states,  their firm belief that I fly home to Colorado after work every day and back to Korea in the morning... and finally, the Korean child's ability to rock (or, not rock) Halloween.

A key element missing from the Korean Halloween experience is the Halloween costume, a market that is a massively untapped in the Republic of Korea. Most grocery stores will have a bin with a few witch hats in it, hats which most children will not purchase. Despite the fact that really most of them will not be in costume, the it is a simple expectation of the students that the foreign teacher, being the only who has truly experienced Halloween in its costumed glory, will arrive  decked out in terrifying monster gear. Before we continue with my tale of Koreaween, (Hallowea? help?) allow me to demonstrate with photographic historical evidence, just why exactly I am not really up to the challenge of creating a costume intended to terrify...

Clockwise From Top Right: 1989 Raggedy Andy, 1994 The Year of the Peacock, 1991 Wizard, 1990 Mickey Mouse,
1992 Pinnochio (Missing Photos: The Blueberry, Free Willy)

This year I decided to arrive at work as an Angry Bird, a costume I was told before the event, was not scary enough to fill my expected role of scaregiver in Kids Land Halloween Extravaganza 2012. So plans were changed, I became Angry Bird Zombie, and the costume was given the official Kids Land seal of approval. When I arrived at work the day of the event, I found Lake, my boss, decorating the room with a cheery banner that read 'HAPPY HALLOWEEN' in bubble font, a banner which would actually never be seen by anyone as it was being placed in the room with the windows blacked out and the lights turned off. Lake turned to me with a devilish grin, and giggling, she said, "I think they will cry!"

Traditionally, at the beginning of the party the foreign teacher is locked in the dark room. They are told to scare the children, entering two at a time, ask each child three level appropriate English questions, DJ the scary music (downloaded on my phone), pass out candy, be extra entertaining for the friends of our students so as to encourage their future enrollment, and keep each pair in the room for aroud a minute. The first challenge presented itself in the minute allotted time in the dark room to free scary music track on my phone ratio. The one song I was able to download lasted :48, and when it ended, the next on the playlist was none other than the track downloaded for last week's lesson on generational fads...

you guessed it...

The Macarena.

Finally, because your average Korean child probably hasn't spent much time around big foreigners in bird costumes, their sugar infused instincts naturally tell them to do one thing... beat the living daylights out of said foreigner, who, let me remind you, is me.

So, to review, the task list is as follows:

1. Be really scary, bonus points awarded for making kids cry
2. Ask grammar questions
3. Prevent the impending Macarena
4. Make sure each child ends up with only one bag of candy
5. Be a marketing guro/entertainer for potential future students
6. Deal with hundreds of tiny fists beating you senseless

At the end of the day, I was able to make several kids cry (a big plus in the eyes of my boss), learned that in the year of growth since last Halloween, lil' David no longer pees when scared, AND received several compliments on a much scarier costume than last year's Shrek.  Who knows... if I stick around to see another Halloween, I may even be able to one day pull off something truly terrifying.

Until then, I move forward with a smile on my face, only slightly suffering from abused teacher syndrome, but still quite satisfied with life as a teacher in South Korea. Until next time...



Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mr. Peter's Neighborhood: The Faces of Gocheok Dong

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
It's a neighborly day in this beautywood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,
I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.
So let's make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we're together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?
Won't you please,
Please won't you be my neighbor?

Fred Rogers

Hi Internet neighbor, I'm glad we're together again.

Before we voyage into more tales of life in Korea, I'd like to tell you a little bit about my mom and dad. They are two lovely people, people who usually share similar stances on most issues, yet have polar opposite opinions on others.  One such difference is their respective approach to the neighborhood.

My father took a page from the Mr. Rogers book of community etiquette. He could be gushing blood and driving himself to the hospital, and, should he come across one of our neighbors, he would most likely pull over the car, roll down the window, and strike up a conversation. He may not even particularly like said neighbor, but because their house is within walking distance of our own, he feels a civic responsibility to make small talk.

My mother, on the other hand, has a finely crafted technique of neighborhood small talk avoidance, a technique that involves a smile, a wave, and pressing her foot down a bit harder on the gas pedal.

Before coming to Korea, I lived my life sharing my mother's approach to neighborly etiquette. And in defense of this stance, the avoidance of initiating a conversation is actually well intentioned. Often times, these small talk situations are successfully avoided because, with all likelihood, your neighbor is also hoping that they will not have to talk with you. I like being social, but on my own terms, and when I am on the go, I often prefer to be a bit anonymous...

Anonymity in the Gocheok-dong community, however, is next to impossible. Though at times this can be irksome, I have recently come to embrace the Mr Rogers approach to friendly neighborhood living. My relationships with my Korean neighbors are often unconventional, but I am a proud member of the Gocheok community. So, without further delay, I would like to take you on a tour of my neighborhood.

I'm a creature of habit, and one such habit is picking up a coffee every morning before work. One of the employees of this cafe is an old woman who is of the judgemental persuasion. She sighs and tisks because I don't speak Korean as well as she would like me to, and she thinks the extra shot of espresso that I order in my latte is unnecessary, an opinion which she shares with me thorough sighs and head shakes. But, underneath the layers of judgement, there is a big twinkle in her eye that tells me, no matter how much she may criticize, we are chingus (friends). The most recent me quirk I presented her with to judge came in the form of my newly crafted duct tape wallet. Upon seeing my bright green sticky wallet, her face lit up with the most judgement I have ever seen come from a single person. Elation. Twenty seconds of silence were followed but a very sudden burst of hysterical laughter. The laughter ended almost as quickly as it began and the lines on her forehead showed me that my wallet had made its way through her judgement filters, and the verdict came back that this was not an age appropriate wallet. She grabbed it from me, examined it thoroughly, sighed again, and returned it. That day I spent my lunch break purchasing a nice pleather wallet appropriate for a 25 year old who looks 40 to most Koreans, and got to work on doing what any normal person would do in this situation... I started making her a duct tape wallet of her very own.

I have had this wallet sitting in my locker at work for weeks, trying to build up the courage to present my cynical elderly friend with her new gift. Finally the time came, and in what was perhaps the most confusing two minutes of my life, I was able to explain to her that yes, this wallet was a gift, and no, I would not be taking it with me when I left the coffee shop. In my mental land of make believe, I like to think that she uses it and loves it and tells stories to her grandchildren of the nice foreigner who orders an unecessary extra shot of espresso in his daily latte. Next step, get this woman a facebook page. I have a feeling she would rock the poke feature.

Next door to the cafe is our friendly neighborhood Kimbap shop. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Kimbap, I will quickly provide you with the Wikipedia description of this great, cheap Korean food.

"Kimbap is a popular Korean dish made from steamed white rice (bap) and various other ingredients, rolled in kim (seaweed) and served in bite-sized pieces."

I often will grab a roll of Tuna/Kimchi Kimbap for my lunch, it is only $2 and tastes pretty great. The two middle aged women who work at this shop speak little to no English, and like to use the time they spend rolling my Kimbap to have mini English lessons. I have taught them classic words such as "Tuna", "Seaweed", "Delicious" and "Long Time No See." I go through phases of not going in for a few weeks at a time, but every time I pass the shop, they smile and wave, and sometimes chase me down to give me free bits of dried squid. Recently, after a particularly long period of no Kimbap for lunch, I decided to go and say hi to my friends. I walked in the door and instantly Kimpap lady #1 turned to me and said, "I love you!"
Pause pause pause... Kimbap lady number 2 bursts out laughing, "No! You like he! LIKE he!"
"Ohhhhh," nods K.L.#1. "I like he."

The next stop on my tour of Gocheok Dong is the supermarket Dream Mart, just one door down from the Kimbap shop. Recently, Dream Mart hired a young guy to work the front cash register, a guy who hates his job and loves to talk. Conversations with him usually go like this...

"Ohhh! It's you!"
"Hi, how are you today?"
"Today is very very sucks." (the explanation is given in the form of a gesture indicating the cause of suck to be the whole of Dream Mart)

The initial greeting is always followed by an unrelated story, a story which, on a good day, I understand 7% of. One story went something like this...

"Angry. Very very angry old man Chinese. He the Chinese. I angry and he grandfather. He go Korea now and I very scary. Understand?"

"Yes." I reply. "See you tomorrow!"

Last week our encounter went as follows,

"Hi brother!"
"Hi, how are you today?"
"You handsome guy. I go your house?"
"Hmm. Not today."

Only in Korea would this not be a pickup line. That day, Dream Mart provided me with a bottle of water, Peanut M&Ms, and an ego boost.

The final stop on our tour today is an old woman who I have never spoken to, but see frequently. One of the first nights in my new apartment, I heard what sounded like a brutal poodle fight a few buildings over. This dog fight happens once or twice a week, only lasts about 15 minutes, and, is fought between a yard full of small dogs, and a tiny hunched over ancient Korean lady. This timid looking woman will hobble up to the fence, look the dogs in the eyes, and begin her 15 minutes of barking. She pays no attention to those of us who stop to watch, and when she has had her fill, she stops barking and continues on her way.

The venerable Mr. Rogers once said, "You always make each day a special day. By just you being you. There's only one person exactly like you in the whole world. And that's you yourself, and I like you. It's such a good feeling, a very good feeling, the feeling you know that we're friends."

So, to my neighbors, thank you for embracing this strange foreigner who refers to himself in the third person as Peter Teacher. I can't say for sure, but I think it is quite possible that Mr. Rogers spent some time in Gocheok Dong.

Until Next Time,

Peter Teacher

Saturday, June 2, 2012

... But My Friends Call Me Peter Teacher

I think I read somewhere once, probably in one of the countless scientific journals that I subscribe to, that all people come to a point in life when they realize that they have taken on the mindset of a 7 year old Korean child. They then take this realization a step further, and begin to understand that communication occurs more naturally with like-minded people. This then brings on the dawning of yet another groundbreaking realization, as you look around you and notice that you really don't have any friends who are your own age, and that your peer group is full of nose picking, pant wetting Rilakkuma fanatics who begin 90% of conversations with the words, "Angry Birds." This healthy dose of self reflection and realization comes with an important decision. Do you leave your life in Korea behind, head home and enroll in a rigorous therapy schedule, or do you sign on for another year of fun with your baby friends?
Today is the first day of my third year in Korea, and as I look back on the past two years, I truly cannot believe how quickly it has gone and how much I have changed. Making the decision to stay on for a third year was not an easy one to make, and I am still not convinced that it was the right thing to do. Going home after year one was really tough, I can only imagine that readjusting after year three will be even more difficult. Fingers crossed that my friends and therapists will humor my new 7 year old Korean-isms.
I haven't posted in 6 months. During the past 6 months not much has changed. During the past 6 months a lot has changed. Here is what has been happening in the ROK.
My family spent two weeks in Korea over the holidays. There is truly nothing like watching your parents sing Elton John at norebang on New Years eve to put things in perspective. The busy holiday bustle in busy busy Seoul, the freezing weather, the non-vegetarian friendly Korean culinary offerings... traveling as a group can be difficult, but I still wouldn't change a thing. It was a really touching thing to be able to share my life here with family and friends, and I am so happy to hear that my family will be making a return trip to Korea in the not too distant future. One of the best moments of the trip was a holiday show my dad did for my students. Having a chance to watch my parents interact with these kids I have grown to love over the past year was the best gift I received this Christmas.
In March our Kindergarten opened its doors once again, this time we have only two students enrolled. Little David from Kindergarten round one is back, this time he is joined by 3 year old Toby. Boogers, poop, and that same minute and 14 second song that goes along with The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear that has been on repeat every day for the past two months... there are elements of the Kindergarten experience that could be confused for torture methods, but these kids make me smile, and when you are lucky enough to have a job that you look forward to going to each morning, you have to give thanks where it is deserved, and I would like to say thank you to David and Toby.
In April I saw Lady Gaga's opening concert in Seoul for her epic 2 year Born This Way Tour. I do not at all regret dishing out the 80 bucks for tickets, she is a top notch entertainer, and it was a very enjoyable two hours... but there was nothing that stood out as very memorable from Gaga herself. She was loud in just the way I expected her to be, weird in the same way she is always weird, and it felt kind of short. The stories I have to tell from the show are all from the people who attended and everything going on around Seoul Olympic Stadium that night. It is amazing to me how much hate and anger people have towards someone who is spreading a message of acceptance, a very poppy meat dress megabuck earning message, but a message of love nonetheless. Upon exiting the subway I was greeted by an old white man, holding a sign asking Gaga to please go home so as to not negatively influence the sexual purity of the 50 thousandish people inside the stadium. These old  gentlemen were scattered throughout the crowd, but politely posed for pictures, so thank you for that, strange sirs. Closer to venue we came across a big circle of young Koreans speaking in tongues in protest... this is without a doubt one of the strangest things I have ever seen. I thought speaking in tongues only existed inside Netflix documentaries... turns out it is actually a real thing!
A few weeks before the show, thinking Gaga to be too pornographic, the Korean government decided to make the show an 18+ event, a newsworthy decision in itself due to the thousands of young people who had already purchased tickets to the show months before. Lady Gaga addressed this saying, "Your government decided to make this show 18+... well let's make it 18+... Korea, remember, you are as free as you want to be!" In typical Gaga quote fashion, I laughed, paused, and a question mark floated above my head for a brief moment of time until it was popped by a glow stick behind me.
The people watching in this stadium was extraordinary. I like Gaga's music, it is fun and catchy, and I think it is really impressive that she has been able to spread a great message to so many millions of people, but I am not jumping up and down with a 'Little Monster' name tag, don't call me a monster please Lady Gaga. I am just Peter. But in looking around the stadium, I was able to see how Lady Gaga personally connects with so many of her fans, and she connects in a way that other pop stars often can't. Again, not identifying as a Gaga Monster, but for that two hours, I was happy to be a part of the very diverse and undefinable crowd.
There was the stern looking German woman sitting in front of us who attended the show on her own, did not crack a smile the entire time and left before the encore, yet you could somehow tell that she was having the time of her life. There were goths, hipsters, queens, old drunk Korean men, families... My personal favorite among the monster mash, however, was a really striking looking woman sitting two rows behind us. She was dressed in a sheep costume and was wearing atiara. I was intrigued, and couldn't stop making awkward eye contact throughout the show, which led to introductions after it ended. Her name is Angel, she is from England but is half Russian half Korean, and has an accent that sounds like a weird hybrid of Ozzy Osbourne, Russel Brand, a lot of vodka, and something that was uniquely her own. Angel told us that she had just come from a lunch with her friend, Lee Myung-bak, who is the president of South Korea. She then proceeded to tell us that she was here for a month, and would be moving to North Korea in May. When she asked where we were from, Jenny said that she is half Indian. Angel squealed, pressed her face against Jenny's and pulled her hair, saying, "I KNEW IT! I COULD TELL! I KNEW IT!" I of course saw this as an opportunity to contribute to the blatant lie session I was currently in the middle of, and told her that I am from Sweden. "I KNEW IT! I KNEW IT!" she squealed as she pressed her face against mine and pulled my hair. Of three things I was absolutely certain. One, Angel is a liar. Two, Angel is a bit crazy. And three, I am hopelessly and irrevocably in love with her.
The Monday following the concert, I moved apartments. I could not be happier in my new place. It took leaving my old apartment to realize how much I did not like living there. It was old, dark, dirty, drafty, and even though I was one of the few lucky foreign teachers to end up in a multiple room apartment, it wasn't a good place to be. I am now in a really bright studio apartment with a sliding glass door and a giant private balcony. I am a two minute walk from my school, am doing grown up things like buying couches on the Internet, and am cooking, writing and painting, things which I didn't have the motivation or kitchen space to do in my old place. Things are looking up.
I always end posts with promises that I will write again soon. Seeing as my last blog update was in November, I have decided that this post will not end with a promise of more posts. So, instead, I will end it with a link to a music video to an English song from a Korean indie band that I really like. Like Angel, it doesn't make much sense, but is really fun.
Peace Love and Glow Sticks
Peter Teacher

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oh Hey, A Life Changing Concert, Booger Swapping, New Directions

Oh hey, November. Where did you come from? The thing I dreaded most about my return trip to life as Peter Teacher was the really horrendous Korean summer. I am sure there are a lot of people out there who have experienced summers way worse than one will find in Korea, and to these people, I must now politely say I have little to no interest in hearing your opinions. I hate summer here. The bugs, the heat, the ten minute walk to work that leaves you drenched in sweat as you jump around trying to entertain large groups of children who come from a race of people who don't sweat, and therefore don't understand your pit stains the size of a Dakota. Not fun. I guess I spent so much time mentally preparing myself for the upcoming summer, that I didn't really notice that it came, was not that bad, and passed. And here we are. November. And with each passing day, I find myself working steadily towards the half way mark of my second year in Korea, which is now less than three weeks away.

When we last spoke, I was spending a large portion of my mornings working with a group of kindergarten students, aged 3-6, who, on a daily basis, brought a smile to my face and demanded, on an average per student basis, 87 in the air high fives. In early August, we began preparing for the annual kindergarten concert extravaganza. This event brings students' families together to listen to classic English numbers performed by toddlers who don't speak English. Adorable.

Days before the event, I made a comment to one of the Korean teachers, who seemed unusually stressed, about how well the students were doing. And to be honest, they weren't doing that well. The line "What is Sally wearing today? Shoes, socks, pants and a blouse," at best, sounded like, "What sorry wearing day? Shocks, shocks, pans and brouse." As the most fluent English speaker in the room, I of course understood that little Sarah was butchering this song, but my comment about how well she was doing was me working under the assumption that it was a universal understanding that a little kid singing a song is cute. I mean, how can one really expect a person to master a song in another language when said child has yet to learn how to use a toilet? The Korean teacher's reply was something along the lines of, "Are you insane!?" She explained to me that Korean parents do not work under the same, 'my child is adorable' mindset that parents of kindergartners do in the West. She said that this concert is kind of a test for the school, and that parents expect their children to be flawless in their renditions of "What is Sally Wearing Today?" I didn't take this concern too seriously, not realizing how serious it actually was.

The day of the concert came, the children performed, butchered it as usual, and once again, I thought they did an excellent job. I was wrong. Boy was I wrong. Two weeks later our little kindergarten closed. The Korean teacher, the same one who weeks before, with panic stricken eyes, told me that the kids weren't good enough, was forced to say goodbye to a job she had held for 8 years, the same amount of time that our kindergarten had been open.

Korea, a country of limited natural resources, considers their children to be their greatest resource. This mindset, though in some ways is maybe really sweet way to value your kids, places a huge amount of pressure on students. This is something I have noticed since arriving in Korea nearly two years ago, but I never thought the expectations extended all the way to kids this young. And while I would like to say that I am very open minded to all cultural differences, I can't help but question this practice and mindset. I love Korea, I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity given to me and thousands of other Westerners to come here and help educate their natural resources, but I can't help but feeling sorry for these kids who are stuck in an educational system that all but robs them of a childhood.

Fast forward to today, I am still happily employed, my academy, though once heavily supported by Kindergarten tuition fees, still hosts around 200 elementary and middle school aged students. My schedule is much more like it was last year, I begin my day at 2 and finish around 7 or 8. I love my kids and couldn't be happier with my boss and the environment of the school. And I even got to hang on to two of my favorite Kindergarteners. David and Rosy, who you may remember as happy couple #1 from July's Kindergarten wedding, still attend the school an hour a day for private lessons. This means I get to spend a lot of time with two of my favorite people under the age of 5. We do really fun educational things such as shuffling around the room making peace signs and pretending to be lobsters (I don't really see the connection either, but David gets it, and that is the most important thing). David* has even started calling me father. We have also had lots of fun bonding moments like that time I made him pee a little bit when I popped out from behind a table on Halloween dressed as Shrek, and that time I watched, in what felt like slow motion, as he picked a giant little something from his nose, extended his hand, and then stuck said something in my own nose. As scarring as this may be, if I had to choose a single person in the world to put their own booger in my nose, it would be David, hands down.

What else is there to say? Life really hasn't changed that much. When I am not saying "Listen and repeat, 'film!' 'pillim!' 'No, FFFFFilm' 'pillim!' 'FFFFFIllllllmmmmmm!' 'PILLIM!' 'good job guys! moving on!'," I spend my time watching every reality show with 'New Jersey' in the title, hanging out with my few, but high quality friends, and talking about how we really need to buckle down and start saving money. I miss blogging, I miss talking about my life in Korea, but the more time passes, the more this place begins to feel like home. The things that stood once out as being really crazy culture shocks are now, at most, small differences in day to day life in a home that is surprisingly comfortable and welcoming. I miss my friends and family (who will be visiting in less than two months!) an insane amount, but I am not quite ready to say goodbye to this great little country. It really scares me how fast this six months has passed, and I am yet prepared to let go of my life here and strap on a name tag as one of the countless, unemployed twenty somethings in the United states. The American job market is not one I feel a strong desire to claw my way into, and I am having a hard time justifying leaving a well paying job that I love just because it is in a country that doesn't match my passport. I have decided to extend my contract for an indefinite amount of time, with an end goal of being home for Christmas in 2012.

In closing, I must admit that my comfort in Korea has made writing in a Korean Culture Shock themed blog harder than it was in the past, but I have realized that I still have a lot to say. I am working on a concept for a new online magazine/online community with a great friend from college, a project which I will keep you updated on in future posts. Love to you all, even those who I have never met, and I wish you all the best.

Until Next Time,
Which Will Hopefully Be Sooner Than It Was Last Time,
Ohhhh Time,

Peter Teacher

* Ladies and Gentlemen, I proudly introduce you to David, as he wishes my brother a happy birthday...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

2-4-6-8 Err'body Immigrate

In December of 2009, I landed at Incheon International Airport for the very first time. Eyes wide and full of innocence, I made my way to customs, pretty unsure of what to expect. I looked over the different signs indicating which group of people should go where, and had a difficult time figuring out in which line I belonged. I was certain that I did not belong in the returning Korean citizens line, was pretty sure that the big fancy Visa in my passport disqualified me from the tourist line... this left the immigrant group, but that couldn't possibly be it, I am not an immigrant, I am an American... where was the American line? Hamburger? Anyone?

Then the realization began to dawn, I am an immigrant, and all of the stigmas and stereotypes, benefits, drawbacks and blatant racism that comes with being assigned this line at customs, suddenly belonged to me. Now that a year and a half has passed since the dawning of my identity at the customs counter, I have found myself frequently examining my role as an immigrant. Is everything I am doing now reflecting not only on myself, but foreigners as a whole, or more specifically, foreign teachers in Korea? Should I be taking offense to the mass numbers of people who come here thinking of it as nothing but a year long vacation, and never acknowledging the fact that Korean families are paying a lot of money for their kids to be educated by foreign teachers?

I will rewind a moment and make the honest statement that in my year and 2 months in South Korea I have felt incredibly welcomed. Almost all of the people I have met here are very hospitable, and any different treatment I have received because I am a foreigner has mostly been embarrassingly in my favor. That being said, the demographic of Korean people who are less than thrilled about the invasion of the foreign English teacher on their homogeneous nation is small, but not insignificant.

When Korean school owners hire foreign teachers, the only contact they have with said teacher before their arrival in Korea is often a simple phone call and a photo. And while many of the foreign teachers here are very qualified for their jobs and their bosses are happy they made the hiring choice they did, it isn't uncommon to come across someone who is, how do I put this nicely... a massive weirdo. The incidence of the weirdo population amongst us immigrants has led to the invention of our technological replacement. I have to imagine that grocery store clerks feel about self checkout lanes the way I feel about this little gadget, designed specifically to replace the foreign weirdo in the Korean classroom. Blog readers (mom)... allow me to introduce you to the aptly named, English Teaching Robot.


According to an article on, $45 million will be spent by the South Korean government to bring the English Teaching Robot to 500 preschools and Kindergartens by 2011, and 8,000 schools by 2013. The plan is in motion, if the robot is as successful as tests have indicated it will be, to bring the robot to Elementary schools by 2015. And in all fairness, with how technologically advanced this country is, this robot is maybe not a terrible idea. Honestly, it probably does a much better job than some of my previous coworkers...

The robot is a peaceful solution to the discrimination against the foreign teacher, but some people have taken it a step further. Check out this article from the LA Times entitled "Korean Activists Target Foreign Teachers." ( The article shines a light on a middle-aged Korean man named Yie Eun-woong, who spends his free time heading an anti foreign teacher organization which specializes in researching (pronounced stalking) foreign teachers with hopes of catching them in an 'immoral act' which they can then report to schools, parents of students, and, when appropriate, Korean authorities. The article says, "Then he follows them, often for weeks at a time, staking out their apartments, taking notes on their contacts and habits." Fun!

A simple Naver (Korea's Google) search of 'Anti English Teacher' brought me to this image, depicting the different sections of an English Teacher's Brain.


Again, in all fairness, this is a not entirely an unfair stereotype when looking at a small percentage of English teachers in Korea. But, on a larger scale, is this stereotype not applicable to a decent sized demographic in any population? And, to go back to my original question, are all immigrants expected to conduct a personal lifestyle under the assumption that every action will reflect the morals of their parent nation and or immigrant status as a whole?

An article in The Global Post attributes a big uprising of anti-English teacher sentiments to a Halloween party at a club in Seoul in 2008, where several foreign teachers were photographed with scantily clad Korean women. Though these women were dressed in Halloween costumes (which, if you have seen Mean Girls, you understand is synonymous with scantily clad) and were at the party based on their own choosing, the publication of these photos, in the eyes of many Korean traditionalists, reflected negatively on the English teaching population. These photos, mixed with a few highly publicized drug arrests of English teachers, inspired the formation of the activist group "Citizens of Right Education." The group, which currently has over 17,000 members, has a mission of eliminating foreign teachers from South Korea.

Though those who support the presence of foreign teachers in Korea far outnumber those who oppose it, the activists' statements have not been entirely ignored by the government. The activist inspired fear that the spread of HIV was due to the new influx of foreigners has resulted in the mandatory HIV testing of all Visa holders upon entering the country.

This blog post has gone in a different direction than originally intended, and I will leave the examples of anti-immigrant feelings in Korea here. I again feel that I strongly need to emphasize that I do not feel unwelcome in Korea. For every 1 person who dislikes the presence of foreign teachers, there are 100 smiling students and parents thanking us for moving across the world to help educate Korean children.

I guess the biggest thing I have learned from my immigrant status, beside the understanding that my actions do not only reflect myself, but my demographic as a whole, is that we all have to have a bit of understanding for immigrants in own countries. When I returned home last December, I felt aggressively defensive when I heard comments along the lines of, "and my gardener doesn't speak a damn word of English, you are in our country, learn our language." Moving to a new country is a huge life step, one that comes with many challenges you wouldn't expect. Your gardener, waiter, taxi driver, English teacher... they are all working a full time job, and are trying to support themselves and maybe an entire family with probably not a very high paying job. (And not everyone is as lucky as I am to be an immigrant in a country with such great health care...)Learning a language is hard, and you have no right to assume that they are not doing, to the best of their abilities, what they can to learn the native language. The most important thing to remember is that we are all people, and with that human title, you will find a lot of really great individuals, and some massive weirdos in the mix, but you should not judge someone based on their immigrant stamp in a passport.

Much love to you all, unless of course you are Yie Eun-woong...

Peter Teacher

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Eating My Way to South Korea

Today, I would like to invite you to try some of the food I have been missing/craving since I left Korea in early December.

I have made this recipe a few times, and it is nothing short of really, really great. I replaced white sugar with brown sugar, and added slices of Kiwi to tenderize the meat. For vegetarians, or those who don't eat red meat, this recipe works well with portabella mushrooms, tofu, salmon and chicken.

Beef Bulgogi Ingredients
1 pound flank steak, thinly sliced
5 tablespoons soy sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
1/4 cup chopped green onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1.Place the beef in a shallow dish. Combine soy sauce, sugar, green onion, garlic, sesame seeds, sesame oil, and ground black pepper in a small bowl. (If you prefer your food spicy, add Chili Powder to taste. Pour over beef. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
2.Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat, and lightly oil the grate.
3.Quickly grill beef on hot grill until slightly charred and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes per side.

Beef Bulgogi is really good over rice, or with lettuce to make Korean lettuce wraps, but I am a big fan of serving it over the Korean noodle dish called Japchae.


12 Ounces Korean Vermicelli (Sweet Potato Noodles)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once it is boiling, turn off the flame, and add noodles. Allow the noodles to soak for 5 to 10 minutes until they are pliable. Strain the noodles and set them aside.

1/2 Cup Shitake Mushrooms
1/2 Cup Regular Mushrooms
1 Cup Onion
1 Cup Carrots
3 Cups Red Bell Pepper

Slice all vegetables into thin strips and mix together in a bowl. Add to the bowl 3 cloves of minced garlic, 4 Teaspoons Soy Sauce, 4 Teaspoons Sugar and 4 Teaspoons Sesame Oil. Allow the vegetables to marinate for a few minutes, before sauteing them in vegetable oil for 3 to 5 minutes. Set the vegetables aside.

To make the sauce for the noodles, called Yangnyumjang Sauce, you will need...
3 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 Tablespoon White Sugar
1 Tablespoon Brown Sugar
1 Tablespoon Honey
1 Tablespoon Rice Wine
1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil
1 Tablespoon Sesame Seeds
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Black Pepper
2 Tablespoons Chopped Green Onion
1 Teaspoon Grated Fresh Ginger
1 Teaspoon Minced Garlic

1/2 Cup Fresh Cilantro (Cilantro is not used in Korean food, but, let's face it, this is not Korea, and cilantro is damn good)

Mix all of the sauce ingredients together and set aside.

Heat 1 Tablespoon of Vegetable Oil in a pan over medium-high flame. When it begins to sizzle, add half of the Yangnyumjang Sauce and 1/4 Cup Water. Add the noodles, stir-frying for 5 ish minutes.

Combine the noodles, the vegetables and the remaining sauce in a large bowl. Serve chilled or room temperature.


On a side, somewhat related note, check out my friend's blog, My Vagabond Kitchen, featuring delicious recipes and stories of her travels. Check it out at