Monday, August 08, 2011

Native speakers seen as assets to Jeju

On March 28, 2011, the following opinion piece appeared in the Jeju Ilbo:
Native Speaking Teachers

This is the age of promotion. Everyone clings to promotion in the knowledge that regions, companies and one's own self is in fierce competition with others. If it's something that can be boasted of, anything can be found that people will sing the praises of.

In this case a word from a neighbour who knows one well is twice as effective as praising oneself.

Yesan Middle School, Chungcheongnam-do, 1975. During her first class, a tall blue-eyed female teacher neatly wrote as her name "Sim Eun-gyeong" in Hangeul on the blackboard. For the next year, she taught English conversation for two or three hours a day and made an effort to understand Korea and Korean culture.

In September 2008 Kathleen Stephens came to Korea as America's first female ambassador. 33 years after working as an English teacher in the Peace Corps, "Sim Eun-gyeong" returned as the American Ambassador.

Last November, a book detailing the story of Ambassador Stephens' time in Korea, "My Name is Sim Eung-gyeong" was published. At an autograph session on March 26, it could be seen that on the basis of her deep understanding she often plays a role as a communicator between Korea and the US.

Many native speaking teachers have passed through Jeju. Currently there are 166 teachers associated with the Jeju Education office alone. They are either graduates of 4 year university programs from one of seven English speaking countries such as the US, Canada or Australia, or are local residents who studied there from the first grade of middle school to the end of university.

Though the contract is for one year, the average stay is three years, and for those who live in Jeju for more than five years there isn't a corner of Jeju that they don't know.

It's been identified in a good many cases that for them Jeju is the next best place after Seoul to gain experience and qualifications for future jobs or continued schooling. It's estimated that there are 400 foreigners living in Jeju connected to foreign language study.

Competing to be considered one of the world's 7 greatest natural landscapes, according to the 'New Seven Wonders' homepage Jeju was ranked number one for three straight months. On the other hand, foreign internet voting turnout remained at the low ranking of 27th. This seems to show Jeju-do's international profile.

Right now the growth of foreign voter turnout is a pending issue, but idea of the 100 year long Jeju Free International City plan should, in the long run, be combined with effort to properly inform people about Jeju. After a certain period of time, native speaking teachers will return to their home countries. They are being seen in a new way as more than simply "foreigners who teach English," and as lifelong "ambassadors for Jeju." On Jeju-do, the buds of the "second Sim Eun-gyeongs" are blooming.
It's nice to see someone who views foreign English teachers as possible assets in promoting Korea. While it's hard to know what the exact figures are, I would guess that a great many foreign English teachers only stay in Korea for one year - or to put it another way, every year Korea probably 'exports' around 10,000 westerners who have taught English here. Considering the problems that exist in regard to contracts not being honoured and the number of shady hagwon owners out there (about which little is said in the media, though this article is an exception to the rule), not to mention such negative portrayals in the media and being the only group of foreigners (officially) subject to HIV tests, one has to wonder what kind of view of Korea they 'promote' once they return home. Considering the desire Koreans have to impress the west that can be seen in the media and in government announcements, this negative portrayal in the media, which various levels of government have based their introduction of 'strengthened' forms of screening, has long seemed rather short-sighted.

On the topic of Kathleen Stephens, an article about the announcement that she would become ambassador is translated here, while last week the Korea Times published an article about the effect Stephens had on one of the students she taught in 1975. Col. Lee Chul-won, now deputy chief of a border unit attached to the 3rd Army, and she were reunited recently, and he commented on his continuing of the legacy of the Peace Corps by teaching "English and Korean to children in East Timor on the sidelines of the Korean troops’ peace-keeping operation there."


Anonymous said...

Would it be safe to say K. Stephens had more influence as a Peace Corp(English teacher) volunteer in Jeju many years ago than as an American Embassy Ambassador in Seoul most recently? By this recent Jeju Ilbo article it's obvious she left a positive impression on Jeju(after how many years of volunteer work?) but if anyone compares that to her PAID work in Seoul while holding a MUCH higher position, I'd say she failed to leave any such impression on newspapers in Seoul other than for her own personal benefit or maybe(BIG ?) influencing the Hankyoreah to not routinely write discrimantory/racist stories on "WHITE" English teachers unlike almost ALL other S. Korean media. Of course I'm assuming she gives a bit of piss about other English teachers who weren't volunteers like her Queen Bee self. I thought I heard recently that the Peach Corp has a bad reputation for ignoring female volunteers who have been raped(Bangladesh and elsewhere) while volunteering? Is K. Stephens still associated with the Peace Corp, I wouldn't doubt it!

Todd T said...

Did you see this opinion piece in The Jeju Weekly?