Austin Interviews Kathryn

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Interview with Kathryn

Thursday, August 30, 2007-7:44 PM EST

1. You live in a country where you don’t speak the language. Communication is difficult, how do you manage to travel, to buy food, to socialize when you don’t speak the language?

The nice thing about South Korea is that they take learning English seriously. So more often than not, you’ll run into someone who does speak English. Many of the signs for businesses and labels on things like food either have a picture or the name in English.

I’ve also managed to learn what I call “Survival Korean”. I know how to ask for simple things. I can count to five or so. I know how to say “please” and “thank you” and “hello” and “goodbye”. So I can at least be polite.

The Korean teachers are also really good about writing down messages to give to cab drivers, etc. Jeanie wrote down the name of the hospital so I could get there by cab and a message for the information desk worker so I could get to the right place in the hospital.

2. What do you miss most about the United States and what do you like most about South Korea?

I think I miss books the most. We have an ESL bookstore here, but you can’t get things like mystery novels or technical books (I’m a sucker for reading most anything about science). It’s great for buying kid stuff or textbooks to teach with, but not so much for casual reading.

I really like the people here. They are some of the kindest folks I’ve had the pleasure to meet. Last Friday I came home from the store with four big bags (that tends to happen when you don’t do any shopping for 2 weeks) and a guy outside the building took all of them and carried them up to my apartment on the third floor. There’s also the Korean concept of “service”. It’s people doing little things for you just because. When I lived in Yangsan, the lady at the convenient store (where I bought milk and water and juice) was always throwing little things in my bag. Sometimes it was an egg. Sometimes a little candy bar. Around Chusok (the Korean Thanksgiving) she put in some traditional rice cakes that she had made.

I also like the food. I never thought I’d like kimchi, but I do. When I moved home the last time, everything seemed so bland. I had gotten used to eating spicy food. And I can get most western foods when I’m having a craving. I went to Pizza Hut for dinner last night. And there’s a TGI Friday’s in LotteMart. The selection of western type foods is better here in Ulsan than it was in Yangsan. That’s true of both restaurants and groceries. I actually found chocolate pancake mix at LotteMart, and it’s fabulous. I make a very small batch on Saturday or Sunday for my breakfast.

3. When I first found out you were moving to S.K. I was worried but you were rearing to go. I thought you’d be living in a hut eating minnows and barely scarping by. What other common misconceptions have you heard about your new home?

I think a lot of people watch M*A*S*H and think Korea is still a war torn country. But it’s not. There are people who assume that people from the Far East have no interest in Western culture and language. There are people who assume that all you can get to eat is rice and kimchi

4. Are you treated with a cold shoulder because you’re an American? Do the people of South Korea expect you to be full of yourself, opinionated, rude and haughty the way Americans are rightly thought of in other countries?

I don’t think I’ve met anyone who has that opinion of Americans. But the bulk of the people I interact with have known and worked with Americans for a while. But you are right in that the stereotypical American is rude and haughty. I try very hard to be polite and do things that are appropriate to Korean culture.

5. As I understand it, this is the second time you’ve lived in Korea. Was there a time when you considered working in a country other than Korea or is there an attraction to that country for some reason?

I actually was offered a job in Venezuela but I turned it down because various things in the contract looked fishy. I would like to teach in Europe, specifically Germany and Italy. But those jobs are much harder to find. You generally need a TEFL certificate or an education degree, which I have neither. The nice thing about teaching in South Korea is that all you need is a bachelors degree from an accredited college or university.


Feel free to participate in this interview meme by following these rules:
I’d like to add an extra rule. In addition to leaving the invitation open for requests I’d like to ask others if I can interview them. My comments and additions are in red.

1. Leave me a comment (or email) saying “Interview Me.”
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions. (But you can tell me not to ask certain things.)
3. You will update your blog with a post containing your answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation (with or without my additions) and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

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About katm

I'm just your typical depressed donkey. I'm an abuse survivor. I deal with the pain and stiffness and other fun stuff that goes with fibromyalgia. I used to teach English for a living but because of my health, that isn't any option anymore. I love to cook and feel most in my element when I'm in the kitchen tinkering around.

5 responses »

  1. chocolate pancake mix – that is wrong in so many ways.

    is postage high in Korea? I mean, can you buy books off of Ebay or Amazon and not have to pay an arm and a leg to get them? I think with the lang barrier I’d be bored stiff and books would be a cheap way to entertain myself…that is if postage was cheap enough. You know, you can read books online too, the full book too. They have online libraries and stuff. Sometimes they let you download for free or for a low cost. You can read it that way. Just a thought.

    Austin

  2. Shipping from the US is actually pretty steep, especially if you want it before you’re ready to go back. Airmail is 7-10 days. The last box I got (which was pretty small) was about 45 dollars to send. Surface mail is cheaper but you grow old waiting for it. it’s 6-8 weeks if I remember right.

    I have a bunch of magazines I brought with me that I’ve been reading (Scientific American and Scientific American Mind – see I told you I was a geek). So it’s hasn’t been so bad. And I bought the last Harry Potter book from the ESL bookstore.

    A few weeks ago I found a site (DailyLit) that will send you a book via email or RSS in small sections at a time. The only catch is the copyright has to have expired or the author has to have released it under something like a Creative Commons license. Last night I finished reading Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (yes, it’s geeky). It’s a relatively short book. It came in 37 installments, so about 5 weeks to read the entire book. I just started a science fiction novel called “Overclocked” that comes in 107 parts. The nice thing about the site is you can get the next installment immediately by clicking the link they give you. I was thinking about reading some Dickens, but I found “Overclocked” and went for that. Still, as good as the DailyLit site is, nothing beats a dead tree book.

  3. we found this very interesting, reading about the Korean people and how they treat you. Your being nice and being considerate of their culture will get you some very nice treatment we are sure.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

    peace and blessings

    Keepers

  4. I have to say that you get in return what you give. If you’re a rude, condescending jerk (heh… I can think of a few recent threads in the WordPress support forums) then other people will behave the same way to you. If you’re polite and make the effort to understand others, then they’ll most likely treat you in the same way.

    It all comes back to Karma :-)

  5. you say “geeky” like it’s a bad thing. These days, geeks are cool. Shesh…thanks to people like the Microsoft guy people can proudly sport their geek cards. I’m not a geek, more artsy fartsy type but if I were a geek I’d have just as much company as I do in the artsy fartsy world. Sport your membership card proudly.
    Sport it girl, walk that geeky runway, head up, shoulders back, asthma inhaler in one hand and lap top in the other. Walk the walk girl, go ahead. I’ll paint the runway and you walk it.

    Aussie

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