Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My students' obsession with me...

So, the whole thing of being stared at in Korea is no new thing. We have already done a previous entry on the topic, and things have most definitely not changed since then. Wherever we go, people stare, wherever we eat, whole tables of people turn around and stare. It's something that was a little disconcerting at first, but to be totally honest, it's not something that bothers me anymore.

On occasion there will be a particular person, usually an older lady or older man that will hold their stare a little too long, but rather than it making you feel uncomfortable, it's more of an annoyance. But as I've said, for the most part it doesn't bother you.

It's usually very old people or very young children that are fascinated by us foreigners. The children, which are usually the most receptive to us, are the 6-12 year old crowd. These are the children that have enough fascination with us, and have the guts to simply come and approach us. They seem to see us as a quick opportunity to practice their limited English skills. These kids (a large part of them) have foreign teachers in their schools or hagwons, so one would almost expect them to be 'over' us foreigners...

The story seems to swing the other way once you enter the depths of such a hagwon. I work at 3 different schools (hagwons), and have on average about 70 students at each of these three academies. I see 2 sets of children twice a week, and one set of kids only once a week. This is a decent amount of 'exposure to a foreigner' to get over the fact that we look different; or so I would imagine. Turns out this isn't so.

There are several things about me that seem to blow my kids' minds' every so often. I would put my arm hair at the number 1 spot. Armhair? Whats so different about arm hair? We'll, for one, Korean kids have none. There are many Koreans that do grow arm hair once they get older, but like all the hair on a Korean, it's black, or at the least, very, very dark brown. Mine isn't. It's blonde. But blonde is not a term that Korean children know, possibly because there is no such thing as a blonde Korean. To my kids, my hair is "Gold".

Their fascination with my arm hair doesn't end with them simply pointing and saying :"Teacher hair gold!"
No, on a regular basis I (and hundreds of other foreign teachers in Korea) find our hair being gently stroked by the kids. All it takes is for me to walk over to a kid's desk, and make some corrections in their workbooks, and BAM! They are stroking my arm hair. Pure Fascination!

It still doesn't end there. Some of the braver kids have now starting testing my roots. They will come up to me, start stroking my hair, and another BAM!, they pull out my hair! Why they do this I am not sure, but it's not particularly comfortable!

Another one of the children's enthralments are my eyes. This one is a little more obvious to understand, and a little less painful than the arm hair hang-up. This is usually a matter of sitting down next to a student, to help them with things in their books, and as you sit down, their gaze turns from the book to your face. When you then turn to look at them to see why they are not looking at the work in front of them they will quite often utter some words of obsession:" Teacher eyes velly velly blue", or another one that is quite regular: "Teacher eyes biiiiiigggggg!"

Being this close to a child that is this fascinated by your eyes can be a wee bit hazardous to your health, or at least the health of your eyes. Many of the kids will use their hands to express their absolute amazement with your eyes, and will point at them, often bringing their fingers precariously close to my eyes. A couple of very strong willed kids have actually tried to touch my eyes. Not gonna happen kid!

I seem to be a non-stop fascination shop for a lot of my students. I have very blue eyes, I have a lightish brown hair colour, and I'm 1,89m tall, which is towering compared to most Korean adults. One other thing I have caught my children out on is them making fun of how HHHHUUUUUUGGGGGGEEEEE my nose is. Which it really isn't. I do know that I have somewhat of a bump on the top of my nose, but by western standards, it's nothing too extreme. Here, my little bump has generated hours of fun for my children to make a mockery of.

The root of this allure is that Korea has an incredibly homogenous society. There are very few foreigners here (although that number is on the up and up), and most Koreans look very similar in appearance. Don't get me wrong, Korean's look as individual as any society I have seen, with incredibly beautiful faces to be seen everywhere, but people all have black, straight hair, and very dark brown eyes, bordering on black. My children often refer to their own eyes as being 'black'. With regards to the straight hair, I get asked quite regularly if I have a perm! Which I don't, my hair just happens to curl a little!

Next time someone looks at you for a second or two and you feel like they are 'checking you out', spare us a thought in Korea, the land where people will stop their daily routines (even their cars), so they can have a good and proper look at this strange being that is the foreigner!

Post by Oliver


Kirsten Sittig said...

You must admit that you probably, to some extent, enjoy the extra attention...or that maybe you will miss feeling like a bit of a celeb when you come back home? I recall it being quite flattering when on holiday in Asia I was stopped by complete strangers wanting to touch my 'golden' locks ;-)

You can however find a way to capitalise on this and start selling your arm could maybe encapsulate them in a drop of resin and attach them to necklaces or bracelets along with some colourful beads...just a thought...

Either way, I'm voting for your blog!

Kirsten S.

Claudia and Oliver said...

The attention from the kids is quite cool in a cute kinda way, yeah. Adults staring at you...not so much. At some point you really think: Have you never seen a foreigner on TV. We're not THAT different.

I have thought about selling my arm hair...:) The kids have made jokes, offering me money for my hair, because it's made of gold, so its worth a lot. I do think you might have a point with the bracelets. Maybe a bracelet made of hair. Wait, no that's just creepy. Scratch that :)

Che said...

I work at the Paju English Village and often we get kids running up to us with pens and paper in hand - "SIGN SIGN!! " like we're some kind of celebrity. fun. .. for the first 10 minutes....

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