I have had many people ask me if Korean students are easy to teach. Korea is very westernised and the ethos of unconditional respect for elders and those of greater learning is something of the past. Students here seem very similar to those at home in Scotland.
I encounter children who refuse to be quiet or sit down; severe exploitation of the language barrier; teenage sarcasm (thinly veiled in another language); sullenness; refusal to participate; clock-watchers; youngsters who are always late, some eating, some on rollerblades; and one boy who will not read unless we sing and will not write unless we draw pictures.
On the other hand, I am given sweets and cakes by them every day. Food sharing is a very common way of showing affection among Koreans.
My students are high-five fanatics and I am under the impression that game-playing in school is quite unusual. So any games that I have played, such as hangman, have been pursued with relish, especially if they are competitive.
My students display a competitive streak which has seen more than one young tough guy reduced to tears by a rather minor mistake.
For my students, days are long and there is a lot of expectation on small shoulders. I read recently that the money spent by parents on extracurricular activities, such as my English school, is greater than the entire education budget. Attending extra mathematics, English, music and tae kwon do classes is a matter of course.
Last week, as I was entering my first class, I was handed a bundle of test papers and told I was doing speaking tests for the rest of the day.
"What? With no preparation?" I muttered increduously, as I received a half-apologetic smile over the shoulder of my co-worker speed-shuffling in her flip-flops towards her next class.
While wondering what on earth my students would talk about, I struck upon: "What did you do during your last holiday?"
The most popular answer was: "I studied," followed by a detailed mosaic of tutoring classes, academies and other refinements. When I pushed them for anything other than study, some had no answer. These were all primary-aged students and I sincerely hope their English was at fault.
Colette Lynagh is gaining teaching experience prior to applying for a PGDE course later this year.