This week I attended several workshops on teaching methods and teaching ethics here at Sogang University. We’re still in the middle of the winter break, which is always unusually long in Korea. For about 10 weeks between Christmas and early March, there are no regular classes. Only the super-intense winter season, which I taught in January. With some extra time on my hands, I’ve been touring Seoul like crazy, but I also felt that I needed to do something truly productive, so when we were informed about these workshops I immediately signed up.

Being a foreign faculty member, I’m technically not required to participate, since the workshops are held entirely in Korean. Nonetheless, I figured that it would be a great opportunity to practice my listening skills and to widen my horizon.

The workshops spanned a couple of days and covered topics like “gender equality in the classroom” (key takeaway point: do not comment on the appearance or attractiveness of students of the opposite sex(!), and refrain from using examples with gender stereotypes during classes), “teaching in English to a Korean audience”, “integration of online learning tools”, and “dealing with minorities such as students with disabilities or students from North Korea”. All helpful and inspiring topics indeed.

The instructors were all extremely professional and dedicated and I really enjoyed being able to follow all of it even though it was entirely in Korean. I also participated actively in the discussions during our classes, and it really gave my Korean speaking confidence a nice boost. I can do this!

I’ve taken part in many similar workshops before moving to Korea, so I couldn’t help but notice the significant cultural differences. For starters, I would never be told in Denmark that I should not comment on my male students’ appearance. Simply because it would never even enter my mind in the first place to do so. Since I strongly believe in teaching ethically without discrimination, it honestly puzzles me that it’s even an issue that needs to be addressed. But apparently, and sadly, it is. During one of the workshops, we were told that several cases of sexual harassment of the students are reported each year, but also (surprise, surprise) that these cases are almost exclusively female students reporting male teachers. Since all participants in the workshop that day were entirely female, I was surprised that we had to cover this topic in so much detail, and what even surprised me more was that we never discussed the opposite scenario of male students hitting on female teachers. Four semesters in, I’ve learned to deal with this but a workshop on this before starting my position at Sogang would have been welcome.

Finally, we were told to always speak kindly to the students, never to act aggressively or violently (!) and to always speak to them in polite terms, i.e. not in the intimate Korean form. To me, this is an absolute no-brainer, since I always treat my students as equals, but it seemed that my fellow participants were taking notes.

In any case, it was a very educational experience. If not from a teaching perspective then definitely from a cultural perspective. I’ll get to apply my newly acquired knowledge 3 weeks from today when the new semester starts. So far, I’ve received around 200 requests for additional signup to my classes. There is no way that I’ll manage to fit everybody in, so over the next few weeks I’ll have to send out quite a few rejections. It always breaks my heart to turn away students, but limited seating in classrooms is a constraint I can’t really overcome.

Tonight, I’ll be meeting one of my friends downtown. We’re going to celebrate her birthday while crashing a party at the British embassy (no, really, we’re totally on the list) and watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Can’t wait! Happy Friday!

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