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Hello? Hello? Where you from? Is it really that bad?

Hello? Hello? Where you from? Is it really that bad?
Admin - Apr 05 2015

One issue that comes up again and again from teachers that are in Korea is the issue of people coming up to them on the street and wanting to practice their English. For some teachers this is a source of constant frustration. “I’m not a walking dictionary”, one teacher put it to me. However, I’d like to raise the issue of whether or not this is really something to get bent out of shape over.

We all have days when we just want to be left alone. And you are going to stand out in Korea, particularly if you teach in a rural area. If you are going to teach in the countryside, be prepared to stand out. Those teachers in the countryside will know exactly what I mean. Teachers in the bigger cities will be able to be a bit more invisible, but there will still be days when you get attention while walking down the street and for many teachers this extra attention sends them over the top.

One thing that happens with great regularity in Korea, is a group of kids shouting out ‘hello’ or some other English expression. It’s usually the upper elementary and middle school kids that do this and it’s usually accompanied by giggling. Now this is the point where a lot of teachers get angry. On one message board, a teacher mentioned telling these middle school kids to f**k off and gave them the finger.

I’ve seen this very issue debated on message boards with one side arguing that it’s offensive and the other side arguing that they are just trying to practice.

I’d like to suggest that when teachers feel themselves getting frustrated by the “hello kids”, they keep in mind the following tips:

1) Remember they are just kids: I think this is a key point. Telling kids to f*** off or showing them the finger only makes the teacher look bad. We all have our days where we feel frustrated and have had enough of Korea, but showing it in public like that only makes the situation worse. These are kids and sometimes kids want to get a reaction from you. By giving them one, you are only increasing the likelihood of it happening again. If you feel frustrated or tired and really don’t want to answer, the best solution is to walk away and say nothing.

2) Talk to them: Sometimes that is exactly what these kids don’t want – to have to speak English. In many cases, they shout out one or two English expressions, but they aren’t expecting to actually have to use English. When they ask a question, answer it and give them a question back. If their English is good, they may appreciate a moment of your time and if their English is not good and they cannot answer your question, they may be less likely to shout English at you the next time.

3) Just tell them directly: In some cases, you may simply want to be left alone. In those cases just tell the person, but again, be nice about it. On that subway ride home at the end of the day, it can be annoying to have someone want a conversation when you are trying to read your book. In such a case, simply tell them you’re tired and wish to be alone. (If they don’t understand that, you might be in for a few more questions though). if the person persists, get up and move to another car.

In the years I lived in Korea, the “hello” kids were probably number one source of frustration among teachers. I knew teachers that would completely lose their mind when this happened and I didn’t fully get why.

How about other teachers? Does this frustrate you? How do you handle it?

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