Friday, May 18, 2007

Teacher's Day in Korea

Here in Korea 스승의 날, or Teachers Day, is a big deal. Students bring gifts to their teachers like carnations or other small gifts. At the university that I attend, my department has a formal gathering organized by the students. At the gathering the teachers are presented with gifts from the students, we have short speeches (maybe a minute or so) and maybe even a small perfomance (the last one I went to the undergrads in our department performed a music selection.)

Also, teachers here will go on to play a bigger role in their students lives. I've heard of professors making speeches at former student's weddings. Some of that happens back home, for sure, but I've heard a few stories like that here and virtually none from acquaintances and friends back home.

Anyway, the students at the college where I teach bought a big banner which says 교수님 사랑합니다! ("We love you, professors!") I snapped a picture of it earlier this week, but didn't have time to blog it until now. (It's a little blurry because it was inside the teacher's cafeteria which dimly lit with those horrible fluorescent lights, and I snapped it with my camera phone.)

Now I know some folks might fire back "oh well, we have teacher's day in the USA too!" Sorry, no, the history of what we have in the US is a spotty at best and it's due to culture differences too. It's nowhere near being a big deal in the US.

This week at work my Chinese officemate asked me if we had Teacher's Day in the US. I overstated it, but I said "no, in the States students shoot their teachers."

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  1. interesting thing with sung cho, eh? over hear in the states at Va. Tech. i wonder ho that factors in. it seems the US can radicalize anyone or anything

  2. Hey, thanks for your comment!

    Yeah, well, honestly, I think that Cho has been very Americanized by the time he'd gotten to the point where he decided to kill people.

    I did think about it, of course. I think it's a lot of factors. Probably the most important one being Cho himself. I mean he had problems fitting in and being normal from when he was a kid. In Korea he probably would have been the 왕따 "wongdda" (the kid the other kids gang up on and pick on), so the stories about him being picked on would have held even here.

    I just think it's even more painful when you're an immigrant and the people doing the picking are different from you and point out your differences as something to laugh at. The one thing I've noticed is that in Korean society they don't really deal with "different" all that well. People go to huge lengths to conform here. Individuality isn't as regarded, and even back home you want to be in a crowd even if it's not the in crowd.

    I'm wondering how much support he got because it can be very tough. I'm not blaming anyone, no one could have predicted what he'd do, but I think he was left to process culture the shock, the anger festering in him about being picked on for being different, and maybe idealization of Korean culture and all sorts of stuff. I'm not saying any of this to excuse his actions. He made a choice, but I think the weight of his autism, his personality, being an immigrant from a culture that's very achievement oriented came together in a way that made him see the world in a really twisted way.

    As I said, Cho was probably much more Americanized than Korean. People talk about him being a Korean citizen but he'd been in the States since he was a young child, eight years old, I think.

    When I look at my students, a lot of whom are his age, I don't see the same problems and tendencies because they've been socialized differently. None are loners like Cho was because that's just not accepted here. Even my quiet students have a group of friends they socialize with and sit next to in class.

  3. well, i have a friend, sung choi, known him and his family since fifth grade. we're still best buds. i grew up eating at his house, listening to his parents and grandparents, i gained a descent korean vocabulary and understanding of cuklture. i spent thirty days over there travekling about. i like it and i understnad, when you say Koreans don't do different very well. same. same hair. same clothes, same.

    i like your blog, keep it churning

  4. Thanks for the compliment. I'll keep blogging, but now I've got to get some schoolwork done. The end of the semester is coming up quick and I'm behind in just about everything :(


Hey there! Thanks for visiting my blog. It's my first blog, and I'm glad folks are still stopping by even though I'm no longer living in South Korea. Feel free to comment. If you want a personal answer, leave your email, and I won't publish the comment. Nasty comments and spam links will not be tolerated.