I have many points of advice for Koreans, Native English Teachers, Americans Abroad, ESL Students, etc. Here is my first tip, and it is directed toward Koreans, especially those born, living, and working in Korea.
My advice: Don’t talk about foreigners right in front of their faces.
Even the most 한국말-challenged of us can pick our names out of a conversation. We all know the word for foreigner, and we all know the Korean names for the biggest English-speaking nations represented here (Canada, USA, England, Australia, New Zealand…). So even if you refer to me as an Australian when I’m not, I’m going to pick up on it. We aren’t dumb; we notice right away when an entire group of Koreans bursts into laughter upon our entrance into the room. This may be a shock to you, but some of us even know some basic Korean vocabulary. So sometimes we can even pick up the gist of what you’re saying about us.
Talking about us in front of our faces without bothering to offer any explanation, even in the most broken of English, sends only ONE message to a foreigner: “we’re either making fun of you, gossiping about you, or both.”
This is considered very rude.
Even if you don’t care about hurting our feelings (which this behavior most certainly DOES–after all, even the least interested of us came here to learn something about Koreans and to hopefully make friends with a few), please do not engage in this behavior. You will only cause us to A) mistrust Koreans, B) become defensive, or C) retreat to Facebook or our fellow expatriates. The least reasonable of us might even resort to behaving maliciously in kind, lumping all Koreans together into one giant unfair stereotype, giving up on teaching, high tailing it home, or reacting in any other number of more extreme manners.
In short, in gossiping about a foreigner when he can see and hear you, you are driving a wedge between you and another human being. What practical purpose can this serve, especially if you have to teach classes with this person? Especially if you have the same goal–educating children?
I’m sure you’ve never thought about this. Or you have, but you are simply acting on group-think when it happens. You rationalize that we can’t possibly understand what’s being said, and so ‘what’s the harm?’ Or maybe you’ve heard this a thousand times, and you think foreigners whine too much.
All I can say is that it hurts MY feelings. And that it’s really confusing when I’m not let in on the joke and the joke’s obviously on me.
If you’re just commenting on my new glasses, or talking about what time I have class, why don’t you just let me know when I look up, ears perked at the sound of “waegukin”?
I get that I’m “from away”. I don’t have a problem being one small part of the 98% of the world who will ‘live and die a foreigner’. I’m not even asking for your respect. As a ‘venerated’ teacher of your children, I’m just asking you to consider using a little more tact to spare my feelings. Maybe you can start by sparing the feelings of those of us who’ve chosen Korea as our permanent home. At the very least, please save it for when we’re more than out of earshot.