Saturday, June 18, 2011

Daegu E-2 visa-holder shindig

[I should warn you: This post is very long and contains a good deal of ranting. Be prepared.]

Earlier this week, my coworkers and I received notice that this Saturday at 9:30am, we - as holders of the E-2, or English teacher, visa - were required by law to attend a meeting: the 2011 Daegu Foreign Language Instructors' Seminar.

My initial response was chagrin. As I've mentioned before, due to my work schedule (2pm-10pm), I don't usually get out of bed until around 11am or so. The idea of being thirty minutes across town by 9:30 on a Saturday morning wasn't particularly appealing to me. Looking over the schedule of events for the three and a half hour event, it really didn't seem like something that would be useful to me at all. The information listed on the schedule included "legal status and duties of E-2 visa holders," "local laws useful to foreign instructors," and "information on living in Daegu" - among others. Y'all know this ain't my first rodeo; this is all information I've known for years. Still, the law is the law, and if all E-2 visa holders were required to attend, then attend I would.

I posted a notice on facebook, and tagged some of my fellow E-2 visa friends (including "
John") to notify them, in case their schools hadn't been quite as on-the-ball at spreading the word as my school was. Take a look at the responses. Well, mainly John's response.


Let's quote that again: "However, even more annoying is how indignant some of the foreigners look and act at the simple fact that the government is trying to remind them that this isn't their country - and that we should be mindful of some of their rules."

I agree wholeheartedly with this comment; HOWEVER: the dude sleeps with prostitutes on a regular basis! I am aware that (in general) the Korean police tend to turn a blind eye to the flourishing red light districts, but it is still illegal here. Those of us who know of John's proclivities debated whether or not we should reply with something allong the lines of, "It's amazing how many foreigners are unaware that whoring is illegal in Korea," but in the end we just left it alone.

And now for the event itself. I'll start by addressing the actual presentations.

Following half an hour of registration were three hours of the actual seminar itself. It was held in an auditorium located in the library at Keimyumg University's Daemyeong campus, a fairly decent place for coralling the 850+ E-2 visa holders of Daegu.

The first hour featured cultural demonstrations, and it was by far the best part of the whole event. I was seated near the back of the auditorium (in between John and my coworker, J), and was not in a decent position to take any photographs. Additionally, I hadn't brought my pocket Nikon, and my DSLR doesn't do video. I rarely find myself longing for my pre-DSLR pocket Nikon, but I would have loved to have taken some videos.

The first demonstration was the most kickass taekwondo exhibition I have ever seen live. They were incredible: poomses (품새) choreographed to music and performed to prefection. These were followed by an amazing demonstration of jumping, flipping, kicking, board-breaking, and sparring. I was quite impressed to say the least. It really made me regret not keeping up with taekwondo (I might even still remember the first 품새...) but my knees are gimpy enough as it is without me subjecting them to such torture. Ahh well.

The other cultural demonstrations included traditional Korean dance, a Korean folktale performed in English by a professional storyteller, and some professional opera singers. (They sang four songs, only one of which was opera - from La Traviata. I normally don't dig opera, but that song in particular was simply wonderful.)

The seminar pretty much went down hill after that. The following two hours consisted mainly of people reading PowerPoint slides verbatim. (PowerPoint is great for showing graphs, illustrations, photographs, and bullet points in order to enhance a speech. One of my biggest pet-peeves is when someone puts his or her entire speech onto PowerPoint slides and then reads them to the audience. This isn't a Korean-specific problem by any means; it's a world-wide phenomenon and it drives me batty.)

Some of the information was useful, such as what you need to do regarding your visa status if you are fired or quit, or if you have finished your contract and want to stay in-country and look for a new job. The police officer who spoke was definitely the best presenter - he was witty and to the point, basically listing things foreigners shouldn't do: carry weapons (including kives), do drugs, molest children (!), prostitution (at the mention thereof, I turned to John and pointedly said, "John!" and he at least looked somewhat uncomfortable), commit violent crimes, drink in public, etc. The information from the In Daegu guy would probably have been very useful to Korea-newbies looking to get involved in the ex-pat community, and the information on Korean oriental medicine probably would have been interesting had the presentation been clearer (but I'll return to that later in this post). I was pretty excited to learn about HerbHillz, which is apparently located not too far from where I live.

A lot of the information was completely useless. We sat through a lengthy PowerPoint spiel on the requirements for an E-2 visa and how to get one. Seriously, folks. Everyone in that auditorium already had their E-2 visa; was this really necessary? Additionally, one of the segments in our schedule was "Financial Transactions Guide for Foreigners in Korea." This could have been useful. Instead it was merely a presentation by a representative of KB Bank (one of the sponsors of the event), extolling the virtues of KB Bank and encouraging us all to open accounts with KB today at the tables set up just outside of the auditorium. Yeah.

Dear Foreign Language Education Association, I have some suggestions:

If at all possible, could this event be held once every three months, with attendance required only at the first one held after an E-2 visa holder's arrival in Korea? For those who have been here six months or so, or those whose contracts are nearly over, the useful items from today came a little too late.

Following the super-awesome cultural events (which you should definitely keep!), the rest of the seated-in-an-auditorium event should definitely be shorter. I would suggest limiting presentations to the information from immigration and the police. Following the presentations, teachers could visit information booths for such things as ex-pat organizations, information on oriental medicine, HerbHillz, KB Bank, etc. This would enable teachers to stretch their legs, mingle, and get information about the things which interest them.

And now to what really bugged me: I was completely embarrassed by the behavior of so many of my fellow E-2 visa holders today.

It started with the unprofessionalism of the foreigner who was the emcee of the event, who kicked off the event by making a joke about how good it was that we did without a Friday night of drinking in order to make it to such an early event on a Saturday... or maybe we didn't, hahaha. Seriously? This is how you kick off what was supposed to be a professional seminar? And it totally set the tone, let me tell you.

The emcee then led us in a word-association icebreaker - which resulted in a wide variety of juvenile word associations, mostly involving drugs and alcohol. (The chairmen and women of the Daegu Foreign Language Education Association, plus numerous school owners, and representatives from the police and immigration were present at this event. How exactly does shouting "SOJU!!" as an association with 'teaching' seem like a good idea??) Sadly, one of the phrases used for the word association activity was 'oriental medicine.' This ellicited most of the loudly shouted drug references, plus some jackass in the back of the room screaming "BULLSHIT!" over and over at the top of his lungs. And there was an English speaking representative of the Association of Korean Oriental Medicine sitting in the front row, who was one of the presenters scheduled for the event. (I mentioned this several paragraphs ago. When she gave her presentation, she obviously just skimmed through bits and pieces of a pre-prepared presentation, and looked - and sounded - like she might start crying at any moment. Maybe she was just nervous about public speaking; maybe it wasn't a result of the actions of the foreigners in the crowd earlier in the event. I sincerely hope it wasn't. It might also have had something to do with audience behavior; see the next paragraph.)

Following the obnoxious icebreaker, the cultural demonstrations began. As I mentioned above, they were quite entertaining, and as such, the crowd was pretty well behaved. However, audience behavior turned to shit as soon as the presentations began. I should mention here that when we checked in at the beginning of the event, we had a paper stamped, which we are all required to hand over to our employers as proof of attendance. The paper stamping really should have been done at the end of the event, as I bet you can guess what happened. A good chunk of people simply got up and walked out as soon as the 'entertainment' portion of the event was over. A lot of them walked out while the first speaker was speaking. As the final two hours of the event progressed, more people left. Many, many of those who stayed got up and were walking around the auditorium, chatting with their friends. Many were having really loud conversations.

I didn't want to be there, and I wasn't particularly interested in a lot of the presentations; HOWEVER, I sat in my seat politely, attentively, and respectfully. To walk out, or to walk around and carry on loud personal conversations while people are giving presentations is incredibly rude. I was completely embarrassed, as were John and J. (Yeah, people. Your rude behavior embarrassed John.) The presenters had obviously put a lot of time and effort into the event, and yet so many of my fellow E-2 visa holders completely disrespected them. I felt terrible for the presenters, and embarrassed at being associated by default with the behavior of my compatriots.

I know how I feel when I'm teaching a lesson and my students ignore me and talk to their friends. As every E-2 visa holder is a teacher, I would venture to guess that every one of them has had that exact experience on more than one occasion... and yet they still behaved this way. And at least our students have the excuse of being children.


Fred Kilgallin said...

Ugly Americans, ugly westerners, and the kicker--ugly teachers. As a teacher, I am continuously appalled at how we behave as a group at presentations. I see it at every continuing ed session, convention, etc., I've ever attended. I actually had one teacher get mad at me because I shushed her while she was nattering on to her friend during an ESOL class we were both attending. "Professionals don't shush professionals" she hissed at me. "They do when they can't hear the speaker" I hissed back. Teachers are absolutely shameless at exhibiting behavior in presentations that they wouldn't tolerate for 10 seconds in their own classrooms. If this is the first time you've seen it, I'm a little surprised it took so long. It's culture-wide, though, in America. I can't stand to go to the movies, theaters, most concerts--the behavior is absolutely swinish, and there's no support for trying to curtail it. I'm sorry you had to endure that. On a positive note, the Koreans definitely noticed who was and wasn't behaving. Your stock just went up.

Anonymity said...

I didn't shush anybody, simply because there were too many offenders! It was tempting though.

What makes it so much worse is that here the offenders are obviously "the other" - and in Korea we "others" all tend to get lumped together. Grrr.

G said...

Many Koreans also behave poorly at events/presentations. Hell,some K-teachers at our school can be shockingly rude to S at meetings or in the staff room....

Nonetheless, no excuse.

Anyone half paying attention knows that English teachers as a whole are thought of poorly by the general public. People who know that and still don't care need to get out. People too clueless to know that in the first place need to get out.

Mario said...

"I know how I feel when I'm teaching a lesson and my students ignore me and talk to their friends. [...]"

Oh, Anonymity, I've seen the same thing here in the states. I worked in public high schools and middle schools for a few years as a substitute teacher, long-term sub, and student teacher, and I've attended some mandatory professional development days where I've been absolutely appalled at the behavior of some teachers.

I've seen teachers be well-behaved when the principal is speaking; but if it's a guest speaker or whatever, here are the kinds of things I've seen. Some will listen, yes. And some who won't listen will at least be quietly grading papers, in their "stop wasting my time when I have work to do" manner. But a number of them -- enough to be noticed -- will chat, make "jokes" in an attempt to show off to the rest of the audience, and basically just act unprofessionally. The first time I saw this I was absolutely shocked.

I work in corporate America, presently, which as you may know has no shortage of inane meetings. But even in the large meetings -- the company-wide powwows -- people behave themselves.

I swear that one of the occupational hazards of teaching is that people begin to act like the kids. It's shameful.

Anonymity said...

G - Have they not heard of 'Anti English Spectrum' or 'English Teacher Out' or even Gusts of Popular Feeling or the Marmot? It's such an uphill battle anyway to prove that we're not all criminal drunks who hate Korea, and then groups of waygooks get together and roll us all back down the hill again. Sigh.

Mario - I edited your post just a tad to remove my name. Hope you don't mind - I didn't change anything else.

I do think some people who teach begin to act like their students (I've seen this happen in the US), but not everyone, obviously, or you, me, G, and Mr. Kilgallin wouldn't be annoyed by such behavior!

Eve said...

Oh my god, this sounds like my orientation to me. When I first GOT here.

Why we need to go to these types of useless workshops when we're already here is beyond me.

"(Yeah, people. Your rude behavior embarrassed John." -- hysterical.

The sad fact is that the MAJORITY (IMO) of foreign teachers here in Korea are young, stupid and totally disrespectful.

But from the government's point of view, there's really no way to tell us apart.

Anonymity said...

Eve - Sadly, I have to agree with your assessment of most of the foreign teachers here. Obviously it isn't all of us, but there are a damn lot who fall into that category. :-(

HK said...

OK, I'm going to give a rant of my own in your comments, since I don't have a blog.

First of all, it's not a simple matter of a seminar to remind foreigners of Korea's rules. Tell me if any other rich democracy not only requires such a seminar, but does it on a whim, without any indication in the visa process and with very little notice.

The notion that he needed to remind us of Korea's rules is absurd. The three main things he reminded us were that we shouldn't use drugs, molest children, or be a public nuisance, while giving the implication that the first two are strictly foreign perversions. All of these are obvious, and the fact of the matter is that in both pedophilia and a host of other crimes the statistics show that E2 foreigners are much better behaved than the general population. As for the public nuisance--all of the things he listed are a bigger problem with Koreans than with foreigners. The music electronics stores play would constitute noise pollution where I come from, and I have seen very little spitting in the streets and no public urination back home.

All of the things he told us were painfully obvious (and not the reserve of foreigners), while he didn't tell us a single thing about Korean culture I didn't know, that might have helped me avoid offense.

And then he told us that we all needed to get more exercise and drink less soju, as if his implication that we didn't understand Korea's drug and sex laws, and are all unusually ill-mannered in public wasn't condescending enough.

I agree, the immigration bit was useful, and the policeman was so unintentionally funny I enjoyed his presentation. I would have certainly gone if it wasn't mandatory, and went despite it being mandatory because of how funny I heard it was.

Finally, there was absolutely no reason for you to stay if you didn't want to, and certainly no reason for you to actually pay attention. No, they didn't plan it carefully--they threw it together on a moment's notice, as the failure to advertise and state of the presentations showed. And of course if they really cared about attendance, they would prevent people from leaving. The Korean government certainly didn't care if we payed attention, they just wanted to demonstrate their moral superiority.

No, I wasn't loud at the presentation, but I watched only the parts that interested me and wandered outside for food or read during the parts that didn't. I wouldn't have been tactless to shout "bullshit," but Oriental medicine is about as legitimate as traditional Western medicine with humors and leeches. I left during her lecture to wander around the building a bit.

If they'd made clear why they were having this presentation, given us adequate notice, and made it genuinely useful, I would have sat respectfully in my seat. But respect is a two-way street, and both the manner of its organization and the content of the presentation were disrespectful to us.

Anonymity said...

During the times I've spent in Korea (31 months, nonconsecutive, both teaching English and as a US government employee) I have come to the conclusion - based on personal experiences, as well as the experiences of friends in the ESL world and friends based here with the US military - that Koreans in general have a tendency to do things at the last minute. To be honest, I was surprised to learn about the meeting on Wednesday as opposed to Friday night. As such, I don't at all consider the short notice we received to be 'disrespectful' - instead, I consider it an example of modern Korean culture.

Additionally, as I mentioned in a previous comment, just because the presentations were bad does not mean that the presenters didn’t put any time into crafting them or, as such, were being disrespectful. Preparing a presentation in a foreign language is difficult, and giving a presentation in a foreign language in front of several hundred native speakers of said language is incredibly stressful. If the audience is behaving badly, that is totally going to have a negative impact on the presenter’s performance.

I completely agree that the notion of English teachers as criminals, drunks, and pedophiles is horribly overblown by the Korean media, and that the fanning of such paranoid, anti-English-teacher flames is, no doubt, what leads to meetings such as the one on last Saturday. From my perspective, such gatherings of E-2 holders should be a time for us to prove that hey, we are actually decent people. Instead, I think a good 50% of the attendees failed at that.

Lots of countries have laws and regulations that control the things that foreigners are required to do by law. For example, in Russia - whether living and working there or traveling as a tourist - you must officially register your presence everywhere you go, even if you're just going somewhere for the weekend. You must ALWAYS carry your passport and registration. (Not a copy, the real thing.) You can be stopped at any time and asked to show it to a police officer for no reason other than hey, you're foreign. You can be arrested (or at least be forced to pay a bribe) if you don't have your passport on you. I detest that aspect of Russia... but I've been there four times because I love the country and if I want to spend time there, I must abide by their rules.

We're in Korea. If we want to stay, we need to abide by Korean rules, no matter what we think about them. And when we as a group behave badly, it merely reinforces the negative stereotypes so many already hold about us.