Showing posts with label Korea. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Korea. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Meet My Flatmate

Canadian Ian MacMillan on the Black Sea

My flatemate, Ian MacMillan, and I are sharing a flat for the one month we live in student housing while we take our TEFL course. Saturday, November 29th was his birthday so I decided to interview Ian to celebrate his 27 years of wisdom.

Where did you grow up?

Penticton, British Columbia, a city of 30,000 people. My dad was an immigrant from Scotland who originally moved to Australia where he met my Canadian mom. She was on vacation there. They settled in Penticton.

What’s your city known for?

An American movie from the 1960’s called “My American Cousin” was filmed in Penticton. They used our peach-shaped concession stand in the movie. We’re known as the peach city because peaches grow nearby.

Penticton is between two lakes. One lake is known as Okanogan Lake. The Loch Ness monster’s cousin, the Ogopogo, lives in Okanogan Lake. We even had a Japanese research team investigating it. They have a $1,000,000 reward for anyone who comes forward with evidence of the Ogopogo’s existence.

What connects the two lakes is “the channel.” People from outside always call it the “canal.” It’s not the ‘canal’ it’s the “channel” and you can float from one lake to the other.

We also have Ironman Canada, which is held in Penticton.

Why did you decide to go to Budapest, Hungary for graduate school?

I read an article in the Economist Magazine that said lots of new, private universities were opening in Eastern Europe that were innovative and different. That got me thinking about Europe.

A professor told my undergrad class in Canada if we were interested in history and thinking about graduate school we should go to Europe and see where the history took place.

Central European University had the best website of the universities I looked at.

Tell me about Central European University. How did it start? What is the mission of the university?

George Soros, a Jewish billionaire born in Hungary, started it in the early 1990s. He donated $700 million to get it off the ground. It’s the second largest endowment in Europe.

There were three campuses. One was in Prague, one was in Warsaw, and one was in Budapest. His mission was to create a university based on liberal democratic capitalist principles and to promote those principles in post-Communist countries. There is now just one campus in Budapest.

The higher reaches of the administration hire professors who innately believe in those principles and promote them to the students to create change in their home countries. They view each student as an agent of micro-change throughout the region. I’m not sure a university should have such an activist attitude.

What was your thesis about?

My thesis was on Scottish history and how the idea of liberty changed in the 18th century. Because of this change, Scottish nationalism did not develop. Scottish liberty had always been based on martial ability. People’s liberty was protected by the nobility.

In the 18th century, Scots went bankrupt. The Scots were starving and the British House of Commons ensured their liberty and gave them access to trade. Scotland went from being a feudal society to a modern society through commercial trade.

The Scots don’t have a “nation state” per se, is there Scottish nationalism today?

My opinion is Scots don’t need a nation state to know their Scottish.

The Opera House
in Odessa, Ukraine

Where do you live now and what is it like?

I normally live in Odessa, Ukraine, a city of 1,000,000. It’s a resort town on the Black Sea. It has a very beautiful opera house. The Odessans always say "we have the second most beautiful opera house. Everyone knows. The architect was the same one who did the Vienna Opera House and it's the most beautiful. We are second."

Odessans are known for their sense of humor. One of the biggest holidays there is April Fool’s Day. They have a big parade on that day. Their sense of humor isn’t for me. It’s too simplistic.

Ian and Sasha on the Danube

How did you end up in Odessa?

I met my wife in Budapest. We studied in the same program. She ignored me for a month. We started talking at a party. We didn’t talk the whole next week. We went to another party and started talking again. Then we went to a Halloween party together. She was dressed as a princess and I didn’t have a costume. I had my KGB shirt on which was good enough and very funny for everyone. We really started dating when I showed her pics of the Halloween party.

Sasha and I decided I should move to Odessa, her hometown. She is working on her Ph.D. in history there. People from Odessa love Odessa.

What is your job there?

I’m an English teacher in a private language school. My students are teenagers and adults. I usually teach adults one-on-one.

How have your studies about nationalism and language impacted your understanding of Ukrainians and Russians?

It made me understand both sides of the argument of “what is Ukraine.” Some Russians don’t think Ukraine is a country and doesn’t really have it’s own history.

Ukranians, like Slovaks, are known as a “non-historic” people because they didn’t have a kingdom of their own before becoming a nation state.

In Canada and America, our citizenship is self-defined. If we say we are a Canadian or an American and we have citizenship, we are. But a Russian or a Ukranian will always think of himself as defined by ethnicity not nationality. There is no difference for them between ethnicity and nationality.

A Russian passport for a Moscow native of Georgian parents would be stamped “nationality: Georgian.” A Slav who came to one of our countries would always be thought of by Russians as a Czech, or Russian, or Ukranian, not as an American or a Canadian.

We don't consider this ethnicity. Canadians think that a person who is of German descent who is born in Canada would never be thought of as German. He's Canadian. And a person who's lineage is East Indian born in Canada would never be thought of as East Indian; he’d be thought of as Canadian. Russians don’t think I’m from a ‘real’ country because I’m from a nation of immigrants. They would view me as Scottish, not Canadian, because that’s my heritage.

There isn’t necessarily pan-Slavism though, the way there is pan-Arabism or pan-Africanism.

Russians love Russia passionately, but they try to leave whenever possible.

What other cultures are known for their strong nationalism?

Serbs. Western Ukranians, they are militant about Ukrainian independence. Americans.

Why don’t Canadians inspire dislike around the world?

We stay out of the way. We’re culturally aware.
Americans are culturally tone-deaf.

What’s your favorite thing about Prague?

The Czech sense of humor. It’s very dark.

Different landscape views of the castle and other sites that I saw with Sasha.

Where else have you lived or taught English?

South Korea. My experience there was not very good. In a different time of my life, it would have been better. It’s for young people. Teachers work 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and then they party. And you have to teach kids. I don’t like kids. South Korean kids are not allowed to be kids because of the highly-competitive over-scheduled lives they have. In every class of older kids I taught, everyone knew someone who had committed suicide.

Why did you go to South Korea by yourself if you were already married?

I went there to make money. I received free airfare, a free apartment, and $2,700 a month plus overtime. I only had to pay for food. I worked there for four months and came home with $9,000 in savings.

Where else would you and your wife Sasha like to live?

We’d both like Scotland, Italy, France.

I would like to live in India. Maybe Dubai, if the money was good.

Sasha would like to live in Prague. She loved it here.

Thank you, Ian, for sharing your Canadian perspective.
I wish you and Sasha the best in your future travels.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Teaching English to Koreans

School District Revenue Alert: Koreans are so hungry to learn English and compete personally in their marketplace, which is competing with our marketplace, that they are sending their children overseas to learn English in a native-speaking setting.

According to the New York Times (link to the story via the title), usually Mom and child go overseas by themselves, leading to the term "penguin fathers" to describe the Dads left at home. "Eagle fathers" get to fly over a couple of times a year to see their families.

What an unconventional source of revenue and culture infusion this could be for American school districts! Imagine a school district with declining enrollment slipping a Korean student or two paying cash for their education into each classroom. School districts could avoid raising taxes. Wouldn't all members of the American education establishment get more respect when the locals see how highly valued their product is by the world? This practice would even help the balance of trade. Civic entrepreneurship! I love it.

Since Koreans consistently score at the top of the globe's measures of academic performance, bringing in a family so motivated that they travel half way around the world to learn can only be a good influence on fellow American students. Telling Americans they are falling behind isn't changing behavior. They are not yet shutting off the television or putting down the video game. Showing them, in their own classrooms, could possibly do so.

Since the Korean moms are prevented from working due to visa restrictions, here is a source of parental classroom support a teacher could rely on steadily. Tiny rural American school districts could expose their children to the diversity that often makes their learning environments too sheltered for the kid's own good.

According to this article in the New York Times, Koreans are so clamoring to learn English that the prime minister has promised to hire 10,000 English teachers immediately so that families can live together in the home country. TEFL certification, while appreciated, isn't required to teach in Korea. That's how hungry they are for native speakers. What Koreans could teach the world is how to foster an atmosphere that reveres education that much.

I've thought a lot about whether or not to go to South Korea or the Czech Republic to teach. In researching various possibilities, I've gained great respect for what the South Koreans have accomplished with their country in one generation. I keep coming back to my love of Czech culture, as I know it so far, and my trust that the Lord will provide.
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