I received this email from someone that is currently writing a book about his time in Korea. All I can say is that
I want to sit down with him and hear more stories!
I "fell into" English teaching back in 1974 in Seoul. I was a broadcaster
at AFKN (Now AFN) from February, 1974 until June of '75. I liked the place
so much, I got out of the Army, bought a one-way ticket back (with a tourist
visa) and picked up on my old contact right away.
I did not go to college. (Unless you count Defense Information School, where
I earned broadcasting and journalism titles or my Nuclear Instructor and
Classroom Subject Developer Certificate) Instead, I stumbled across a
Hoq-wahn in Namdaemun and ended up jumping straight into the job. A
sidewalk loudspeaker was playing my own voice, reading a two-month old
newscast, recorded off of AFKN.
Inside, a hard working student was trying to transcribe my own words to make
class room material. When I announced who I was, the place went wild.
The upshot was, I ended up teaching for almost 5 more years on my tourist
visa. Seoul AFKN English Institute had me transcribe movie dialogues for
$300 a pop. (I can transcribe almost as fast as a person speaks in clear,
printed longhand) Movies took 3-4 hours each. I also transcribed the TV
show "One Day At A Time". It was a daily, 30-minute comedy that ran on
AFKN. I was paid $15 an hour (3X hog-wahn rate) for the hour a day it took
for me to transcribe, then tell him what the grunts and snickers actually
meant to a native speaker. His classes filled.
About this time I had three lucky breaks.
First, I was given a $35/ hr advanced English Conversation class at Sam-Sung
Mulsan Corp.. It was in the Dong Bahng building @ 7-8a.m.
Second, I invented a unique, chalk talk style of teaching that
revolutuionized the concept. It was not so much of an English Conversation
class, but an "Accent Removal'' EXERCISE.
You see, Jason, as a person who "read the News" I can stand up in front of a
crowd and deliver. As a broadcaster, I also did the weather. (That is,
stood at a chalk-board map of Korea and drew in the meteorology.) Also, I'm
a graphic artist. They used me at AFKN to draw up story boards for our
live, Black and white performances. Then there is my current part-time
Instructor Position at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.
Third, I recalled a movie about Helen Keller. When this genius was taught
to speak by placing her hand over her teacher's and learning to form the
necessary sounds, a light bulb went on. I developed a kind of symbolism
that looked like Ancient Aztec "Glyphs" for the students to follow with the
harder-to-pronounce parts of our language. (See the attachment)
The movie made me realize something. Koreans move their mouths very little
when speaking Korean. Their language uses tone, we use accent. I had to
wrestle countless time with students to get them to show their teeth. Some
of the ladies of my Korea Airlines account, had to actually hold their hands
in modesty over their mouths in my class.
"Mr. Don! My mouth hurts from speaking English!" I heard that line over
and over but I knew I was winning the battle.
My "Glyphs" consisted of a single-line contour of a human head, showing the
nose, the teeth of the upper jaw, roof of the mouth, tongue, teeth and lower
jaw. With this tool, I found I could get rid of those pesky habits of "Sis"
instead of "This" and "Rub" instead of "Love. I developed a glyph for all
sounds that are difficult for Koreans to make. They copied it in their
notebooks and I prospered.
For the "V" in love, I'd draw a glyph, show them how to curl the lower lip
under the front, upper teeth and gently hold it there. After the "LLLLLL".
Pop the lower lip foreword and say "Love"! To see 140 students at Korea
Explosives have it "dawn on them" was extremely satisfying. I felt honored.
I also liked their $30 an hour... a month in advance.
Then came the final revaluation. It was in two parts.
See, I taught very advanced business students, airline stewardesses and
They could, with help, speak each word properly. But it sounded artificial,
computer generated. I taught them to SPEAK like an American.
First, notice how we jam our words together. (Must be the German in us.)
See how I've written "How are you today?" Spoken, it comes out "Hower YEW
today? I'd exercise them with "YEWt'day, YEWt'day, YEWt'day." until they
Second. I came up with a method to show accent throughout a written (read
aloud) sentence. On my attachment, you can see the line running through the
normally presented sentence. I'd have them saying, "HOW are YOU today?" in
no time. It is hard to put into print. But once you see the value of that
little line, they can take all their workbooks and add this helpful device
with fantastic results.
At the end, I actually taught mostly private students and companies.
Sam-Sung, KoreaExplosives and Ewah University (just to keep my
hand in a classroomsetting) were among them. In my day, a university
campus could become a battle ground.
If I found a student was going to visit, South Carolina, for instance, I'd
actually teach them a "Southern Drawl". Being born in New York City,
raised in Kentucky and well traveled, I was able to duplicate almost any
(even Canadian) accent.
Having "performed" on camera since I was 16, (Dad owned an early Cable
channel TV Station in the early 70's. I had an "American Bandstand" style
show.) this came naturally to me. I mean, who can't fake a British accent?
It might sound silly but it WORKS! To have them realize the almost unfair
fact that if you are doing business with an American Firm and your English
is not up to snuff, they are viewed as "less intelligent". It's just human
nature. So I tailored their accent to the customers they'd meet.
Now and again, I made $300 per book to place my "accent lines" in their
"English 900" texts. Mostly they did it themselves as class rolled along.
And roll along it did. I was making $4500 a month in a place where my
grass-roofed traditional house on Mountain #6 in Ohyadong (near Seongnam-Si)
cost $16 a month, including the woman and breakfast in the morning. I
married her, kept bouncing "kata-wata" between Korea and Japan and generally
had a grand time.
Then President Park Chung Hee was killed.
When Chun Do-Hwan took over, the rioting got so bad I couldn't even get to
work. A couple of my private students were government officials. Some went
to jail. Others disappeared.
In mid-May 1980, we fled south, trying to get to Wando Island, near Mokpo in
South Cholla Province by train. The train pulled in to Kwangju station the
night of May 17th, 1980. We took a inn for the night, two blocks from
Kwangju's Provincial hall. The next day we were smack-dab in the middle of
"The Kwangju Massacre".
We literally walked out of Cholla province, at one point being smuggled past
the military check points, in a pig crate, covered in Korean radishes, by a
kindly farmer. We hitch-hiked back home, robbed at gun point, beat up and
stunned by what we had seen. Still I wanted to stay.
Making it back to Seoul, I taught English when the rioting would permit
until October 1980. A massive riot at Namdaemun Gate saw me trapped and
trying to get home from my Sam-Sung class on my Honda 350. (I'd smuggled the
entire thing into Korea in parts from Japan in my knapsack.) Someone got a
picture of me struggling to ride through a cloud of CS gas. Another got a
shot of me leaving a certain Transportation Minister's home after his class.
They came and "collected" me and my wife on October 6th.
Her, they let go. Me they threw me into Suwon Prison. I had seen too much,
known too much. Gen. Chun's Korea was under martial law. They did not need
Having managed to sneak out a letter, written on a sheet of toilet paper,
hidden in a fellow inmate's blanket hem, to my Dad (The Kentucky
Governor's photographer) I was merely held one day pastmy visa
expiration date and deported with two years probation. That was the
day before John Lennon was killed, December 8th, 1980.
My wife and I divorced back in '86. (She's now yelling at someone else.)
But I have often thought of returning to Korea, just to SEE. I could walk
into Sam Sung, mention a few names and maybe get to teach a few classes just
for old time's sake. I left Korea for less than a year in 75 and was
stunned by thechange when I returned. I cannot imagine what it would be
I chose to live in 1925 conditions. Grass roof, ice-water hand pump, heated
floor and "Miss Oriental July" to keep me warm. I could have lived
"Western" if I wanted to but that was not the show I'd come to see.
With a race bike (While everyone else rode KIA-Honda 50 & 90cc Auto-bikes),
my commute was about 20 minutes to Ietaewon, then zip through the Namsan
Tunnel and there was Namdaemun. I did it in minus-18 degree conditions a
time or two. Brrrrr!
In short, I would not have traded my time as a teacher for anything. I work
at a nuclear plant now. Sometimes I teach the particulars of reactor repair
to mechanics, sometimes I illustrate the exploded-views necessary to show
them the way, other times I turn wrenches with them. But they all stop and
listen whenever I talk about Korea.
I just finished a book on my adventures. It took 5 years to write. I have
over 100 photographs to go with it.
So what do you think, Jason? Does anybody still teach "outside of the
system" like I did? Is it still possible to just walk in a start teaching?