I wanted to steer clear of serious negativity in my blog updates, but I also felt a need to provide a comprehensive picture of my experience out here.
The other day at lunch I had the pleasure of eating in the school cafeteria with my co-teacher. Note the italics, and duly note the sardonic tone. The lunch started off as usual, not much conversing other than the, “Hi, how are you” or “today’s lunch is pretty good, no?” formalities that I’ve learned to use to hide my distaste for Kim Hyuk Teacher (as Nathan and I have been ordered to call him).
Side note: Sarah, the teacher that was at my school before I arrived, was told to call him Johnson. When Nathan and I arrived, he asked us to call him Kim Hyuk Teacher. And now that Sarah has gone back to the states, and we’ve gotten another native teacher, Kim Hyuk has asked her to call him Mr. Kim. So, me thinks this is a guy with some serious power-trip issues.
Back to the story. Lunch: kimchi, rice, and some meat. At the table to the left of us are two kids playing around; some kind of tag game from what I saw. This is lunchtime, mind you. This is what kids do during their free time. But this was unacceptable for KHT who stood up, called the two students to come to him, and in a diatribe appropriate for murder, began verbally deriding and physically punishing them. Similar to the record skipping at a dance, the cafeteria heard this and halted all activity. The spotlight was now on KHT and the two kids. What was he to do now? Why, seize the opportunity to inflict fear in the entire student body all at once, of course. His voice was booming and unrelenting. There were numerous times that I picked up in which he called them idiots. He repeatedly hit them on the forehead and poked them in the chest, even as they exhibited signs of retreat - stepping back, cowering, lowering their heads, and hunching their shoulders. This lasted for a solid 5 minutes. Enough for anyone to lose their appetite – I lost mine.
What is the right thing to do here? A quote that I heard a while ago (can’t remember the source) is that “indifference to evil is more evil than evil itself. It becomes a way of life; it begins to permeate every nook and cranny of culture. It reinforces cowardice and the worse of what we are as human beings.” In another program that brings English teachers to Korea they actually tell their teachers that they are not here to bring about changes in the education system; they’re to teach English, and if they witness anything unnerving, turn their heads. Not a comforting set of instructions to start your teaching career. Everyone has a threshold, and this experience forced me to take a look at mine. At what point would I intervene? It felt like a Stanley MILGRAM psych experiment.
I guess part of living in a foreign culture is learning to live with the uncomfortable norms. None of the Koreans seemed too bothered. Well, besides the two victims…er…students.