As we all know from my frustrations with the visa process to come here, the Korean immigration authorities are very strict and faultlessly thorough.
One of the things they’re very clear about is that you can’t work for anyone other than the employer named in your visa application – an annoyance if you decide to change jobs, since you have to leave the country and go to Japan or somewhere, so you can re-enter Korea on a new visa.
In Daejeon in particular, they have campaigns to catch foreigners breaking the terms of their contracts. This puts paid to my original idea of earning extra cash through giving private lessons. Do you know a foreigner charging money for private lessons? ask the posters. Report them, and we’ll deport them! Well, something to that effect, anyway.
The most annoying thing is that practically every Korean you meet is desperate for you to give them or their child some English lessons. Unlike in the current situation in the UK, my friends and I constantly find ourselves swamped with offers of very well-paid work. It’s very tempting, but I won’t be risking it. If I was, you can be sure I wouldn’t be writing a blog post about it! ;)
However, money aside, I can think of no better way of getting to know people in this country than by making use of our shared passion – learning about each other’s languages and cultures. I’m developing some “language exchange” friendships, which is where people basically meet up over dinner or coffee and practise conversation in both English and Korean. But what I really want is to get to know a real Korean family in their own environment: experience their lifestyle, hear their conversations, spend time in their home.
That’s why I agreed to give lessons to the son of the woman who works in the corner shop near my apartment. I won’t charge them a fee, however insistent they are. Instead, I tried to explain in very bad Korean with bits of English and wild arm gestures thrown in, I will help him with his schoolwork and give him extra tuition once a week for free, if you share some Korean culture with me. Let me share the family evening meal with you after the lesson, or help me with my Korean lessons.
I’ve just returned from their home, after our first session, and I think it’s going to be great. The child is 12 years old, and better at English than any of my students at school. Very bright, very keen to learn, very sweet and friendly. He’s good enough at English to be able to act as an interpreter between his parents and me, as long as we keep the conversation simplistic – and the parents seem to want to adopt me, even though we can only communicate through their child. After the lesson, I was asked if I liked kimchi. My enthusiastic response got me a huge container (the size of my freezer) of fresh, home-made kimchi that will last me (and Alex, since there’s no way there’s room for all that in my freezer!) for weeks, as well as fruit grown in their garden, and a big bag of home-made bread and pastries. Next time, the mother is making a family meal of bulgogi (another popular Korean dish), which the four of us will eat together after I help the boy with his schoolwork. Our meal will be accompanied by Korean conversation, as we sit Korean style: cross-legged on the floor cushions around the low coffee table.
And, you know, I think that that’s better than extra, illegally-earned money any day. :)