Thursday, March 15, 2007

Teaching English for Free

I recently walked into my local "Dong" office and told the guy at the biggest desk in the office that I was interested in volunteering my English teaching services for the community. He seemed, at first, a bit confused but eager to listen to my ideas and take my information so he could get back to me. He asked me several questions about my availability and for how long I would be willing to teach the classes and we parted ways with an enthusiastic handshake.

A few days later, it was a done deal. We worked out a time schedule and the class was advertised around the community via posters, signs and fliers (even one on the bulletin board next to the elevator in my apartment). This week, on Tuesday, I began teaching a group of 31 people, mostly housewives and all were women, save 2 elderly gentlemen. They are all rank beginners but seem eager enough to learn and I assume that since they only have to pay for the book they are quite pleased with themselves for finding out about this class.

Really, I knew what to expect for a class that begins at 2 o’clock in the afternoon and I got exactly what I expected. I know that there are a few out there who either think I am nuts for teaching for free and still others who question my motives. Admittedly, my motives are not completely altruistic, but a good sense of volunteerism and community spirit are at the heart of it. Volunteerism is growing in Korea but I believe that in a land where everything is centered on the family and close acquaintances there is not near enough of it and the foreign community in Korea really needs to be able to step up and do it not only for the sake of their individual communities but for the future of the foreign community at large. I may be waxing a bit optimistic on this but isn’t volunteerism an excellent way to show our Korean hosts that we care about being a part of the community and not apart from it? Maybe volunteering to teach a once-a-week English class at your local neighborhood office isn’t exactly feeding the poor or even (like some of the US military volunteers do) teaching at an orphanage but it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Maybe some people who would never dream of paying for a hagwon or a private teacher will try it out and learn to love English and discover that it is really worth it. At the very least it is something new and I know that it is something that the "Dong-Jang" (the Korean equivalent of a local district councilman) assured me he had never heard of. And after the first meeting, I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment at pioneering such an idea in my neighborhood.

What was my motivation? Not too long ago, I saw an advertisement on the bulletin board next to my elevator advertising Chinese, Yoga, Jazz dance and other lessons available at the local ‘dong’ office. I recall wondering why English was not one of the offerings on their plate and then thinking that they probably would have a hard time finding someone who could teach for free (keeping visa restrictions in mind, very difficult for the average E2 holder but with my F visa, no problem.) I really did not think about it too much after that but I have been meeting from time to time with a retired professor from a local university for language exchange (he learns English and I learn Korean) and he and I were discussing the things that a “full-time instructor” (전임강사) would normally be doing to obtain tenure and make the step to “assistant professor” (조교수). Among the things he mentioned was community service, publications, on-campus service for student clubs and organizations, etc; basically, the same things that would be expected for tenure almost anywhere in the world. One of the things he emphasized was that the universities want to see how the professor is “spreading his brainpower and increasing the profile of the school.” So, I thought, “why not?”

My college is one of the few in Korea where the foreign staff is treated with a good deal of respect and a higher than normal level of equality. I even understand that one of the former foreign teachers was offered the professor position but had to decline it and leave Korea due to family matters. So, if there are ulterior motives for my free class then that is it. The school is aware of my volunteering for the community and it has received a good deal of publicity around this area. My name as well as the school I teach for has been well advertised in the community and that hopefully makes everyone giddy.

On the opening day, I was treated to a brief shindig for the inauguration of the class. With the new students looking on and a local public television crew on hand to film the presentation, a big sign lined the back of the stage announcing the inception of the class and a beautiful bouquet of flowers was presented to me in appreciation. I made an all too brief, impromptu speech in Korean in which I humbly promised to do my best and the councilman said a few words of appreciation and introduction and then it was off to the classroom. After it was all said and done, I felt pretty good about it.

Keep checking back to find out how continue to feel about it as it progresses. If you are interested in starting something similar in your neighborhood but are not conversant in Korean, drop me a line and I’ll see if I can help you.

1 comment:

Seoul Art said...

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