A piece of advice I often remember from my time as a student teacher is, “One of the most harmful things a teacher can do to themselves is hang out in the teacher’s lounge.” Now certainly this advice should not be taken literally. The teacher’s lounge can be a nice place to decompress during a tiring and stressful day. However, the harmful aspect of the teacher’s lounge comes into play when teachers habitually use the “lounge” (or other place of refuge) as a place to share their negative feelings about their students, administrators, parents, or other teachers. When a teacher is surrounding themselves with negative energy day after day, it absolutely affects the way they approach their job. Teaching is already hard enough! Even a teacher with the most optimistic disposition has their share of battles. Just imagine trying to handle hard situations with a chip on your shoulder; it’s only a matter of time until you crack! Either that, or just become so indifferent to your job that your students spend an hour of their lives every day with you and learn nothing.
The reason I bring this up on an expat blog is because I see the same trend in foreigner communities around Korea. Foreigners can become frustrated with so much; cultural differences, being a minority, miscommunication, the list goes on. Frustrations are not my beef. Learning to navigate a new life is super frustrating, and sometimes people are just straight-up dicks to foreigners! What bothers me is seeing the same foreigners gripe and complain about the same things that they cannot, will not, and should not care to change. I think that kind of negativity can fester in among a community and taint the way we interact with the culture around us.
I say this from personal experience. I know there are many instances of things in Korea that never bothered me or I hadn’t noticed before; sure enough, after I’d heard foreigners complain about it enough it started to get to me too! A simple example of this is when Korean children see you they shout, “Hi!” to you because you’re a foreigner. This doesn’t sound like it should be bothersome, but some people really hate it. It never bothered me before, and in fact, I actually enjoyed perking up and saying, “hi” back. But after two years here, I’ve heard countless foreigners complain about it. Complaining over drinks, on facebook, or on personal blogs. After hearing the repeated negativity, I started to feel like, Damn, I guess I should be more bothered by this too.
I guess I’d like to wrap this up by giving some advice, specifically to the foreign teachers in Korea. I know many of the foreign teachers out here are not trained as teachers and have no interest in being a teacher when they return home. However, make the most of your job and your time with the students. Many foreign teachers here say, “I’m not doing anything for these students. They’re not learning any English.” And with the lack of freedom many of you have to create effective lessons, I understand your frustration. I would urge to not let that affect how you approach your job. Be open, positive, and welcoming to students because you can find opportunities to be impactful outside of the classroom as well. Avoid the super bitch fests that will have you dreading your job every day. Again, teaching is hard enough! Being a foreign teacher is hard enough! Find the small victories and cherish them. If you’re having a bad day, go out for drinks and vent to someone who will listen and support you. Ask for advice from foreign teachers who have success in the classroom. Make the most of your time here as a foreign teacher and try try try to not get stuck in the teacher’s lounge.
I’d like to refer you expats to my friend’s blog as a recourse for more advice on surviving and thriving in your home away from home.