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The cultural differences of working in the Korean classroom can be a real trip for a westerner! Korean culture can essentially feel like a real mystery. Either you’re left open-mouthed at every corner or you’re still trying to understand the Korean logic of things.
Back in March when I first arrived, I was just uncovering my new environment.
Read 10 surprising facts about the Korean school (Part 1)
Today, it’s become a routine. Yet as much as I live the daily idiosyncrasies and tics of my kimchi habitat, some of this stuff still boggles the mind.
10 (More) Shocking Facts about the Korean Public School:
1. Every Korean elementary student learns from the same textbook.
Occasionally around town, you may hear a fellow English teacher humming the most recent song of your 4th grade lesson. It’s a bit eerie. Call it the national curriculum, but every Korean public school teaches from the same textbooks. Furthermore, each grade learns the same lesson at around the same week!
So if you’re an NET and wondering why your Korean co-teacher is reluctant to stray ” off-book” (a gripe of some), just remember- your 40 min class textbook lesson is clocked by the entire nation!
The good news about this is that it actually makes it easy for Korean teachers and native English teachers to recycle and exchange lesson plan ideas and games. If you’re a teacher, www.waygook.org is the *best resource*; this site will lend you ideas of what Korean public students are currently learning.
And the bad news?
This shared curriculum changed as of 2011; schools are now responsible for choosing their own textbooks.
2. Korean school lunches are delicious.
Occasionally you’ll see weird things in your school lunch tray- soups with half bodies of fish floating around, squid or other mystery seafood.
The good news is that aside from appearances (and occasionally, off-putting smells), Korean school lunches are actually delicious and healthy. No microwaveable stuff here.
3. Koreans love their toothbrushes.
If home is where you lay your toothbrush, better bring your pillow to school. Koreans teachers keep a toothbrush at school and brush after every meal. With all the kimchi, fishy and garlic-drenched foods they serve at meals, I’ve come to keep a toothbrush at work, as well.
4. Toilet paper: Never leave the classroom without it!
Wouldn’t you think toilet paper would be one item your workplace would supply?
But no, the public school restrooms don’t always have toilet paper, even if it’s the teacher bathroom. In my school we must all bring our toilet paper to work and take it with us to the restroom.
How do elementary kids manage?
Each classroom has their own toilet paper roll. If a kid wants to use the restroom, they tear a piece from this roll and take it with them. Better wad up or learn to gauge well; there’s no second chances if you should find yourself half-wiped!
5. Hand washing: Cold vs Clean Hygiene
It’s hard to say whether Koreans kids practice good hygiene or not. Considering that the winter tap water is often ice-freezing, the bathroom never has any heat and there never being much soap by the sink, I’m thinking the answer is … not.
- Reason 1- Where’s the soap?
A school restroom is the last place you’d want to ration hygiene but like toilet paper, they also consistently lack soap! This lack however, is one of the major annoyances with public restrooms all around Korea. Half of the restrooms I’ve been to in this country don’t have either soap, toilet paper or both!
- Reason 2– Public bathrooms in Korea are seldom heated
During winter, public bathrooms in Korea are seldom heated. It’s because Korea doesn’t like to heat public places. Furthermore, tap water is often so ice cold, that your fingertips will go into shock as soon as you wet them! Getting the kids to wash their hands like the poster (above photo), is just as likely as getting shivering adults like myself to do so.
- Reason 3- Community soap
I’ve never felt dirty from washing my hands, until I moved to Korea. The culture appears germophobic with sick masks, house slippers and UV sterilized cups, yet many restrooms offer a “community bar of soap” for hand washing use (see Reason 1 for the exception ). When I went to public school, we had soap dispensers in the bathroom. Let me ask you– after “doing your business”, do you really want to clean yourself with the soap that everyone has used to clean themselves up with? This could account for the reason our teacher’s office has a huge bottle of hand sanitizer.
6. Water is for drinking after you’ve had your meal.
Forget what the West say about keeping well-hydrated. The East says something different. In Korea, you don’t drink your water until after you’ve eaten and when you finally do, you’ve got a kiddie cup’s worth to quench your thirst!
I wonder if Korea suffers from a lot of constipation?
In Korea, metal drinking cups are taken from a UV sterilizing storage cabinet.
7. Asians have bad vision.
Seems like the Asian genes may be recessive when it comes to 20/20 vision.
Do you know that , at least one- third of my students wear prescription glasses? This averages out to nine students out of a class of 27 kids (I’ve counted).
Lasik eye surgery is common in Korea, so I’ve heard… I guess now we know why!
photo by: sierraromeo
Faux glasses are the rage as fashionable Koreans buy glasses with no actual glass..
8. Children with disabilities in classroom.
The remarkable thing about the Korean public school is that it doesn’t discriminate.
From handicapped students with wheelchair disabilities to Special Ed,… the public school classroom is a mixed bag and I get them all.
9. Food allergies are uncommon
Nuts, wheat, strawberries, peanuts,milk, eggs, shellfish, soy... In the western culture, these foods are deadly to the growing population of those with food allergies.
When it comes to food allergies in Korea however, Koreans seem to have a special immunity gene. Perhaps it’s due to the fact, the Korean diet is fairly healthy with a lot of fresh foods? Aside from the abundance of carbs and chili pepper in their dishes, their foods are vegetable heavy and “fast” foods are still cooked home-style and without a lot of deep-frying, microwaving, preservatives or added processing.
10. Everything is ‘Ki Bi Bo’ !
Rock, Paper, Scissors (aka Ki Bi Bo!) is a game played by children across the world, but in my book, Korean students earn the Olympic gold medal for it. They can play it pairs, in groups and as a classroom. This however, isn’t the prize skill– it’s the speed at which they can play it.
Watching them do it in groups larger than five is amazing; somehow, among a sea of hands, they’re able to assess count and in one beat, do it again.
Best of all, you can collect the focus of your wildest class, just by playing this with them a few times.
Bonus video playlist about teaching in Korea:
Know of more interesting and shocking facts about Korean schools?