Project of Heart Tile

Hitting the Books

When last we spoke, it was August, and I was gearing up for my eventual return to university. For four months, time managed to pass at a reasonable pace. In Korea, weeks would fly by and months would finish just as they were about to begin. Before I knew it, I would be extending another contract and getting ready to spend another year abroad. 2015 was the first Canadian spring and summer I was able to enjoy in their entirety since 2006, and they passed by at a leisurely rate.

Prior to the start of university, I was perusing my schedule and thinking it didn’t look too intensive. I had one three-hour class on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. On Fridays I had two ninety minutes class. Wednesdays were reserved for our community service learning. By comparison, my Dalhousie schedule seemed a lot more intense through 2003-2007. I wasn’t going to complain though; free time is free time. I could easily use it for a part time job.

The faculty warned us on the first day when we were all gathered together in a theatre auditorium how intense the programme was going to be. I didn’t pay it much heed at the time. However, now it’s a different story.

The workload isn’t destroying my brain by any stretch of the imagination. I was able to get a really good bit of schooling in at Dalhousie that helped me prepare in a lot of ways. It’s not particularly difficult, and I don’t find myself in the position where I can’t comprehend what to do (most of the time). Despite having what seems like an inordinate amount of free time on my schedule, a lot of that time gets eaten up quite quickly.

Every class has a series of readings that needs to be read prior to entering it at 8:30 AM. Some classes have mandatory reflections on those readings you complete online. In other classes, you must give a brief presentation on the readings. Other classes have assignments where you must collaborate with other classmates for one-off exercises, or projects that are huge chunks of your final grade. Finding the time to meet up on campus to collaborate is another consideration. Then there is the research you need to do for projects that are coming up.

Not to mention the prep work that goes into your community service learning (which includes a 75 minutes bus ride, and a 4:30 AM wake up call for yours truly).

Now, a lot of this is by design. The programme is trying to teach us how to manage our time, so that when we become full-fledged teachers, we can handle the work that comes with the territory. At this point in the game, I seem to be just about as busy as I was in Gangneung. I’m not staying as late working on lesson plans and stuff, but all the commuting is adding up. Fortunately, there’s no real comparison when it comes to stress. My full time teaching gig(s) in Korea were a lot more stressful than this.

As I said above, even if the work isn’t breaking my brain, it is time consuming. Usually when I get home I spend 3-5 hours studying and doing “homework”. I then spend several hours at night catching up on other class stuff. There are so many different assignments, it is difficult keeping track of them all.

That being said, I am learning a lot. Korea taught me how to conduct myself in a classroom, and how to prepare in order to be successful. We haven’t really gotten into that aspect yet, as most of us are new to “teaching” (a lot of the other students are fresh from their BAs and BScs). The pedagogical stuff is interesting, because as an EPIK teacher, I never had the power to get into the guts of the curriculum and approach it from a very critical stance. Here we’re getting into the hows and whys we’re teaching what we’re teaching, and questioning everything. All this critical thinking is making me a happy camper.

I’m in the junior/intermediate programme, so that means I will teach grades 4-10. If I teach the lower elementary grades, then I am a full-blown elementary teacher, and have to teach all those other subjects. If I teach the upper grades, then I get to do my teachable, which is history. I would teach a lot of science and social studies when I was in Korea, but it’s nice to get into how to do it properly. Math muscles I hadn’t flexed in over fifteen years are snapping back into place.

Lately we’ve been dealing with the fallout of the residential schools. I guess I’ve been bashing away at them for a while now, but it’s refreshing to see other Canadians come to terms with the cultural genocide our ancestors had a hand in. There has been a lot of disbelief and anger, and many of the other students couldn’t believe they never learned about what had happened in school. I guess because of my homeschooling, I was less susceptible to government mandated history books. In university I had great history and political science professors to explore this topic more in depth.  I was in Korea when Idle No More began, and I followed it closely. I also smacked down ignorant trolls on news articles. I posted a lot about it on my personal Facebook feed, but I don’t recall any Canadians ever commenting on the stories (be they family or friends). It’s mainly my international cohort of expats I surrounded myself in Korea (thanks to our YouTube channels). It saddens me that so few of the Canadians in my life even choose to acknowledge the atrocities committed. I mean, some of these schools had a mortality rate of over 70%. Some used electric chairs on little children as punishment. The government used the children to conduct science experiments by intentionally starving them to test theories on nourishment. Kids were forced to eat their own vomit as punishment for throwing up when sick, or whipped to death, or paraded around with their urine soaked bedsheets tied around their heads. That’s before you get into any of the sexual abuse and pregnancies stemming from rape. Parents couldn’t see their own kids, because the schools were days away, or they couldn’t get government permission to leave their reserves.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was released this summer, and not a single Canadian friend or family member posted it on their social media feeds. Outside of my own posts, no one was even discussing it. Same for the Idle No More stories. Although it shouldn’t surprise me by this point, it’s disheartening to see systemic racism creep up right into your own “social” circles (quote marks because it’s mostly relatives who make up my Canadian Facebook contingent). I know not everyone has time for “social justice”, but pseudoscience gripes about GMOs, hysterical mania about ISIS infiltrating refugee intakes, and empty slacktivism platitudes don’t seem to have any problems cropping up.

To be perfectly honest, I think the history teachers of this country should be held accountable for their shoddy work. If they got a history degree at an accredited Canadian university prior to their BEd, then they should have run into the systemic abuses of indigenous Canadians. There’s no excuse for not stumbling upon it as a history student. Once discovering the injustices, they should have been teaching it to their students after they got their teaching certificates. The fact so few Canadians know about this dark chapter of Canadian history means the teachers were complicit in the cover-up… or were ignorant themselves. If you can go through four years of Canadian university history, and not investigate residential schools, then you hardly deserve to call yourself a historian. If you did learn about it, but chose to ignore it or downplay its importance, then you’re not a history teacher, you’re a propagandist.

As an EPIK teacher I was always rocking the boat by being critical of the government programme that employed me. I guess some things don’t change.


The YouTube Catch-Up Edition

I’ve made a few more videos since the FIFA one, so here they are:

A phishing scammer called my parents’ place, and I was there to pick up the phone. Once I realized what they were trying to do, I made some excuse to hang up (knowing they would call back) and get my phone so I could get a video of the exchange. I’ve seen similar YouTube videos where they try to string the scammers along as long as possible. I decided to see how long I could do the same.

I guess this would be the first video I shot in my new apartment. I had the idea for it, and then decided to film it right away, rather than wait. It’s not really an English lesson, inasmuch it was an excuse to do a comedy skit.

My balcony has a pretty good view of the Ottawa nightline, so I wanted to do a sunset video. I did the same thing in Gangneung, but had the camera run all night.


Despite having the GoPro for over five years, I’ve never taken it swimming. My apartment has an outdoor pool, and because it is cooling down, there aren’t too many in it when evening comes. I thought it would be a good chance to test out its waterproof features without worrying about other people in the swimsuits appearing on it.

With university starting up in eight days, I don’t know how much time I will have to devote to my YouTube activites. Here’s hoping I can continue to crank ’em out.


The Expat Outrage Machine

With so many expats in Korea writing in their own blogs, it was often difficult trying to make your own site stand out from the others. Gimmicky blog names with wordplay interchanging soul with Seoul had grown old before 2010. Just when you thought you had cornered a slice of Korean experience, you would find dozens of other people had written about the same thing, and often in better writing. Eventually the tedium of updating your non-too-original blog became too much, and more likely than not, you just stopped writing in it.

Others who stuck with their sites, and entered doldrums of their own, knew how to gain traffic. One of the quickest ways to get your blog noticed on the K-blogosphere was to feed the always-hungry expat outrage machine. This machine ground its gears over hot-button issues, and needed a steady source of fuel every few weeks. Once site administrators realised they could get a constant stream of hits (and ad revenue) from stories that got the expat hordes frothing, these kinds of stories continued to be typed out with increasing frequency.

A surefire viral sensation could be counted upon if expats felt racially stigmatised in Korea. If you were the first to sensationalise it, you could really milk it. If you kept your comments open, you could count on outrageous discussions continuing for a very long time, resulting in more visits to sites, as people argued with trolls. It’s a near perfect equation, and one you can see in practise all the time on active sites catering to expats in Korea.

My own site wasn’t immune to the effects of the expat outrage machine. My first real brush with it was back in 2010, when I wrote a series of pieces about a lecture hagwon owners were being compelled to hold for their expat employees. Expats (myself included) felt they were being singled out so they could be told about increasing crime rates, and how they were a source of HIV. I had had inside access to the inaugural lecture in my city, and had tried to have the tone softened. I was somewhat successful in that endeavour, but in the process my blog posts were being circulated as a warning to other hagwon teachers. Outraged expats voiced their concern over being singled out as a potential future crime statistic, and for a while it seemed that was the main topic in the Korean blogosphere.

Throughout this, I was concerned what would happen to myself. It was my blog which was being passed around, and I was never shy about having my name attached to it. Within a short time I was later asked if I could delete my posts, and a particular YouTube video I had shot during the lecture. I was told that by my refusal, I could put my future career prospects in Korea in jeopardy. I refused to delete the content, but going forward I was wary about stirring the pot unless the situation called for it.

Several years later, such a situation arose. A now infamous video was aired on MBC, once again singling out foreigners in Korea, and labeling them as potential crime stats. There was a transcript of the video, and after making a few tweaks to it, I added subtitles to the video and uploaded it on my Facebook page. I knew the video would cause discussion, and outrage, but I also thought more people needed to see what a state-sponsored broadcaster had aired. I put it on my blog, and it exploded online. I thought other sites would pick it up and report on it, with a small possibility of all the attention being focused back on my site. Perhaps it was because I was so well connected to other bloggers in Korea, and they were being polite, but they invariably linked back to me as the primary source.

My blog’s comment section had an avalanche of discussions happening simultaneously. At that point in the game, I thought everyone should have their chance to chime in. While the majority of the expat outrage machine was supporting my disgust with the video, it also ran into the nationalist outrage machine. And with that came a lot of nastiness, insults, and threats. My friends gave me kudos for handling it so well, but I wondered if it had been worth it. I wasn’t looking to get hits for the sake of getting hits; I just wanted to get the video out there. But once you feed the expat outrage machine, it’s easy for it to careen out of control. For more than a month, that video was a primary topic of discussion. Parody videos were uploaded, radio programmes discussed it, Facebook groups against MBC popped up, and it even made waves internationally.

In the end, all the outrage had increased awareness, but it didn’t result in sweeping changes to the Korean media landscape. When it was brought to MBC’s awareness, it barely resulted in an apology. The fires were never really cooled in the furnaces of the expat outrage machine, and the original video still pops up on different sites. It seems that the machine has a very long memory.

Do I have a theory as to what makes the outrage such a potent force amongst expats in Korea? I do. It may not be scientifically sound, but bear with me. A lot of the K-blogosphere is directed towards expats working the EFL market in Korea. For years (I guess you could say decades at this point), there has been a hierarchy for hiring expats to the EFL market in Korea. I’ve said this before, but since a long time back, whites were the race of choice by Korean employers. There’s no getting around it. It’s why the photo you attached to your application was so important to recruiters and hagwon owners.

Now this large expat workforce of primarily white EFL teachers comes from countries where whites hold the keys of power (or had held). While they were in their home countries they had all the benefits of white privilege to give them a comfortable life. Or at least a life where they weren’t media targets as criminals. If they did encounter racism directed towards them, they knew it wouldn’t be echoed in the government (or establishment), because the deck was stacked in their favour. Personal racist attacks on an individual scale wouldn’t become a constant stream of bombardment they would need to learn to cope with.

When they arrived in Korea, they eventually realized their white privilege didn’t cast a wide enough defense to always protect them. For the first time in many of their lives, they suddenly encountered what it felt to be a visible minority, and to have elements of the media be perpetually against them. Now they looked different from the establishment, and had no firm voice in how the establishment treated them. While they thought they had lived their lives treating everyone equally, they got into a tizzy when they realised they were no longer being treated as equals. What they perceived to be a non-stop barrage of microaggressions was funneled into the online expat outrage machine.

You can tell that many of the expat outrage machine still cling to their white privilege. Although they are quick to rail against the racism against foreigners in Korea (which directly affects them), they rarely cast a moment’s thought to the reverse happening in their own countries. It’s been an interesting experiment of mine over the years as I matured in Korea. I would pay attention to which people would be sharing stories of foreigners being victims of racism in Korea, and how many would in return post similar stories of institutionalised racism against visible minorities in Canada (or America, or Australia, etc). I also kept an eye on people who left Korea, and hadn’t been shy in slamming the country over its racism. It proved to be a depressing experiment, but the outcome was what I had expected.

The vast majority would fail to comment upon race relations in their home countries, as it simply didn’t affect them. They would often say how glad they were to be away from the racism they experienced in Korea, and yet failed to see the racism in their own society. The recent highly-publicised spate of white North American cops gunning down blacks has barely gotten a peep on my social media feeds. If Korean cops suddenly decided to target EFL teachers with violence, my social media feeds wouldn’t be able to contain the expat outrage. The death of a lion named after a white supremacist was more widely discussed than white supremacists murdering citizens with impunity.

I went to Korea to teach. That was my primary focus while in the country, and you can see it in the blog. A lot of people are in Korea to teach, but that’s not their primary reason, or focus. A lot are there to travel first, and teaching is a distant second priority. Many of these EFL’ers will share pithy motivational quotes on their social media, on how everyone should travel because it will expand their minds. And yet despite how widely they travel, or how many stamps are in their passport, not too many return and begin to critically question their place in society. If they are capable of identifying inequality in one instance, I wonder why their expanded minds are incapable of mustering up the same outrage in another instance.

This isn’t to cast aspersions against the expat outrage machine. It can be used as a tool to increase awareness on pressing social issues. More often than not, however, it’s a bandwagon to be jumped on by drones wishing to express heated opinions. Opinions given voice by people only interested in inequality as far as their lives are concerned, and not an iota more in most cases. If these people were to cast an equally critical eye on their own countries of origin, then they might be a force of actual positive change. Until then, their participation ensures nothing more than website revenue.