Korean students by and large seem to be way too shy to raise their hand in class--which is a big problem for me, since in the States, my classes are 90% discussion based, and now I have to switch to 100% lecture-based--so in classes like Analytic Philosophy (which is for Juniors), they just sit there in postures of attentive concentration, then after class I usually go out for lunch with a few of them and we talk about things that have nothing to do with Philosophy. In my Western Classics class (which is for Freshmen), they jostle around in their seats like bored high school students. (In that class, I'm dangerously close to feeling like I'm just lecturing to the two English-speaking foreign students and the one Korean professor who's been sitting in. I hate that, but unless I can figure out a way to get them to talk, I'm not sure what to do about it.) Analytic Philosophy is a lot more fun to teach than Western Classics (Phil of Art is somewhere in between), but one way or the other, it's never easy to tell how much of the lecture any of them are following. So, actual laughter about Russell & Frege? Laughter that implies that they remembered last week's lecture as well? Awesome.
The rock music class had a bumpy start--I wanted to show them Almost Famous, but the video wouldn't load up in time--but, interestingly enough, it's way better than the three philosophy classes in terms of people being willing to talk in class. Maybe, for whatever reason, Sociology majors learn more English than Philosophy majors here? In any case, on the first day, I actually managed to get them to go around and talk about themselves a bit, which is something I've been totally unsuccessful in coaxing students to do in the other classes.
Last weekend, there was some kind of opening ceremony for the Philosophy Department, with all the professors and tons of students in attendance in a big lecture hall kind of room. It was all in Korean--I was asked to give a little speech about myself (as the New White Professor, this happens a lot)--and one of the Korean profs translated it for me. The biggest "we're not in Kansas any more" moment came when some of the Koreans started elaborately bowing in front of a little plastic pig set up on the table, and putting money in its mouth. The only explanation I got from the Korean professor sitting next to me about what was going on was that "this is Korean custom" and "the money is for soju for later." So...uh....who knows.
Sadly, in these last three weeks in The Mysterious Orient, I've only been able to set aside time to write on two days, but I'm hoping that that'll change as I settle into things here. I still have to whip my MFA thesis into shape--although that's almost entirely a matter of revising old stories rather than fresh writing--and I have all kinds of new stuff simmering. I'd been making some headway on the long-dormant screenplay before I left, and I really want to get back to that soon. So, maybe, I should stop writing this and go back to that.
Random Cultural Observation of the Week:
Koreans have some strange ideas about pizza toppings.