As an attempt to do something besides work, drink and constantly be around American military, I have picked up teaching military English to a group of ROK Army ROTC students.
The class has 35 boys of whom, act exactly as you would imagine a group of Junior level University students full of future male army leaders. They are goofy, don’t understand what I am saying half the time and try their best to get the whole class to crack a smile (including myself) during any activity.
Through the few short weeks that I have taught the class, I have learned more things about the Korean culture than I did struggling to get some sort of international experience cramped into my studio-dorm on base.
For one, they refuse to let me drive to the class myself instead making me take the taxi provided for by the University. Second, they always give me an escort to and from class and third, they practically force food down my throat at the end of every teaching session.
This was a pretty funny experience the first day of class.
My escort (who’s English name is John) asked if I was hungry. Although it was almost 8pm, was starved having not had time to eat prior to class, I promptly said ‘no, I am OK’, the polite American response. Well, John, not to be discouraged by my response asked, ‘Do you like Hamburger’? ‘ Well, yes its OK’ said I. ‘OK we go to McDonalds’.
Let me preface this with the fact that I do not step foot in McDonalds in the states and absolutely refuse to do so when traveling.
We then got into a polite dance of ‘No I am really OK’ to ‘OK fine if you have to feed me, take me to your favorite Korean restaurant’. Which they did. Much to my surprise though, after sitting on the floor and taking off my shoes, them offering me a fork (another thing I refuse to do) and then ordering Bulgogi (the one Korean food that every American loves) – I noticed none of them were eating!
Then I felt especially rude. I had made them go to a Korean restaurant only to find out that it was polite in Korean culture to feed me because the class made me miss dinner (time is 5-730pm); they were trying to give me fast food and I was trying to get a cultural experience. To top it all, I was also not allowed to pay.
I still smile when thinking about it; everyone is doing their polite dance in an attempt to not be rude, but instead we are misunderstanding the etiquette of the other.