In response to “18 Things About Korean Students (part 1)”

After reading @michaelegriffin ‘s post “18 Things About Korean Students (part 1)” on his blog ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections, I had two responses. First of all, it felt incomplete. Not just was it only 9 of the 18, but not a single one of them seemed to tell a whole story. The second response tagged along from the first – after each point I read, I found myself saying, “…and yet…” and being unable to finish the sentence. I’m not saying that he is wrong. I think I agree with his points so far. I feel uncomfortable about the generalizations, but I realize one cannot write a post of this sort without them. I think what I am responding to is the mismatches with my own experiences and so in this post, I want to respectfully attempt to align the original with my own experiences.


My thoughts:

Caveat 1: I recommend reading Mike’s post first, if you have not already done so, or refreshing your memory even if you have

Caveat 2: The thing about making broad generalizations is that they might feel incomplete or even wrong to people who have had a different set of experiences


  1. School is a big deal.

Yeah. It is. It really is. Students spend hours and hours there. I agree that this is something someone living outside of Korea and teaching Korean students needs to know. And yet….

This is only part of the picture. High school students spend legendary numbers of hours in school, especially if they are in university-track schools. I think more to the point is that (I generalize, but) Korean people seem to believe that the only way to learn something is through studying it in a class, with as many materials and gadgets as possible.


  1. Expectations are high for teachers.

Traditionally this is true. In some ways it is still true. However, I think that the respect given to teachers is no longer commensurate with the responsibility required of them. Students seem to expect teachers to spend hours preparing for each class and to prepare specifically for their class and they seem to expect teachers to spend extra time with them and go out of their way to help them. Then they don’t turn up to class, don’t hand in their homework, sleep through the day, and try to argue you into a B for the course. That said, I whole-heartedly agree with the tip about defining expectations from the outset and I’d like to add that it is equally important to define what the teacher expects and does not expect from the students.


  1. Hard work is valued (differently).

Yeah…. and yet… Korea is a bit of an enigma with this one. There are many aspects of daily life that seem to indicate that quality is not valued over speed – construction being one prime example. In business, many people spend a lot of long hours at work, but some of them also say that the majority of that time is not spent doing work. Their bosses tend to give them urgent projects an hour before closing time. On the other hand, the definition of “hard work” might be quite different between our cultures.


  1. Busywork is almost expected

Yeah… and yet… often my students, especially teenaged students, but sometimes university students as well, ask me to justify the worksheets I give them. They seem to want to know there is a purpose for what they are doing. I will not get started on “fun”. #curmudgeony


  1. Plagiarism is different

I smell a rant. Plagiarism is different. I think this might (also?) be because students are taught to regurgitate and not taught to analyse or synthesize. I have heard that it is respectful to repeat the ideas of the professor and experts (yes, even without citation) and that obviously the student’s ideas are not his or her own. I do not have a citation of my own for this information, so take it lightly.


  1. Tests are a big deal

Yeah…. and yet… many many many students, teachers, parents wish they weren’t. I wish they would wish louder. Great point about assessment = test!

  1. English is a big deal

Yeah… and yet… “English” for many people does not mean acquisition. I’m still not sure what it means.


  1. “Native Speakerism” is alive and well in Korea

Yeah… and yet… over the years I have had fewer and fewer students claim their goal is to sound like native speakers. I have also had the surprising pleasure of being allowed to recommend so-called non-native speakers to positions at my school (one from Yemen and one from Uzbekistan). They were the most popular teachers in that program. This is likely an exception to the norm but I hope it will become a more prevalent exception.


  1. This is a big deal

Yeah… and yet… well, the “and yet” has been dealt with in the tip.



I guess it is a difficult topic and I am still not really satisfied even with my additions to bring the points closer to my own experience. I wait in keen anticipation for 10-18 and applaud Mr. Griffin for being able to in some way quantify why education in Korea is so weird.

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  • G. Hall  On December 27, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    I’m intrigued by the issue of plagiarism here, and wish I could study it (or, had access to a library right now to do research on any research which may already have been completed regarding the topic). I think this post has a slightly better grasp of plagiarism – in the sense that it aligns slightly more with my own experiences of it. I think, however, that what I ought to say (from my experiences) is that it simply isn’t a concept that’s taught (the idea of “stealing ideas” or “misrepresenting one’s own ideas & intellect & innovation” isn’t a proper concept for many Ss). Quite possibly, of course, because of the reasons you have mentioned in your response above when you discussed plagiarism. I don’t personally want to rant (except to say, “it’s awful that plagiarism – and proper citation – isn’t taught properly…in so many places around the world!”), but I do want to learn more about what their concepts of ideas, idea ownership, originality, research, honesty, and so forth are in order to better educate them about plagiarism. I have tried to teach it (and will continue to try) but I haven’t yet devised a clever and helpful way to find out my students’ understanding in order to best approach them and head them off in the right direction without so much confusion.

    Thinking about the issue now, I realize that, in my most recent semester, I probably didn’t do enough to really discuss the concept of plagiarism, in and of itself, before I began discussing citation. (I probably felt they were too interconnected to deal with them so separately & distinctly.) I hope I can remedy this.

    • livinglearning  On January 5, 2013 at 9:55 pm

      Yes, I think you make a good point. There is too much we don’t really know about the Korean (Asian?) perspective on ownership of ideas. More knowledge and research might help us teach them about American (Western?) expectations in terms of academic integrity.

  • mikecorea  On January 3, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    Hello Anne (and G. Hall)
    Thanks so much for the post and comments. I think it is really interesting how our different perspectives (and assumptions?) yielded different impressions. As you probably know, I was a bit leery about writing such a generalization ridden piece but in the end I am happy that it prompted this response and a lot more thought on my end.


    • mikecorea  On January 3, 2013 at 3:40 pm

      (and for the record “so weird” were Anne’s words and not mine.)


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