Accessibility Navigation:

Interview with Kiho Jeon

Jeon, Kiho
Englishman, Robyn
Date of Interview: 
Relationships with people and places
Kiho Jeon talks about education in South Korea and English classes in the US.
Charlotte Narrative and Conversation Collection
Collection Description: 
Robyn Englishman interviews Charlotteans to collect stories for a class project at UNC Charlotte.
RE (Robyn Englishman): Today is February the fifth, 2003, and this is Robyn and Kiho and we're going to talk a little bit about education in South Korea. What were your classes like in school?
KJ (Kiho Jeon): Um, I cannot understand the statement you ask me. I need a more specific question.
RE: What, what did you, what was school like when, when you were living in Korea-.
KJ: Mm-hmm.
RE: -And you went to elementary school, for example? What was it like in elementary school?
KJ: Usually in my country the whole uh, education is uh, focused on memorize system of information and knowledges.
KJ: Usually we, we have different, a real different education system then with the USA In my country usually in class, the professor, the teachers don't ask the questions. Usually the, uh, teacher is teaching on the board and the, the students are supposed to write down and memorize the whole thing. It means in, we don't, uh, in the class the students usually don't ask the questions. Just so we follow the teachers and the professors. So in U, uh, USA when I study, it is a real strange. Many students raise hand-.
RE: \\ Mm-hmm. \\
KJ: \\ -And ask \\ ( ) right? But in my country usually, uh, we uh, we don't have any conversation with the teacher in the class. Just the teacher, the teacher teaching the, the ( ) to write down and uh, yeah memorize.
RE: That's very interesting.
KJ: [Laughs] Yeah, interesting, but it's not good.
RE: It makes it hard, doesn't it, to study in the United States?
KJ: Yeah. It is difficult, because in the class we have different education uh, uh, system.
RE: How long do most students go to school in South Korea?
KJ: I think these days, elementary six years, middle school three years, high school three years, college is four years. I think these days uh, um, more than 50 percent, uh, of the guys that study go.
RE: That's a long time.
KJ: Yeah, that's a long time.
RE: In the United States most students study 12 years.
KJ: Yeah.
RE: Some go on to college but, but not everyone.
KJ: ( ) I think more, maybe 70, 70 or 80 percent of the students study 16 years.
RE: Wow.
KJ: Yeah, I think so.
RE: Is education very important in South Korea?
KJ: Very, very important. As you know in my country, in my country we don't have enough, uh, natural resources, so it means we have to study hard to get a job and to compete with the international countries. Because if we don't have any natural resources it means we need the knowledge and intelligence for some company and the whole uh, country requires education. Yeah, it's the main reason why we have to study in my country.
RE: OK. Does everyone in South Korea study the same classes? Does everyone go to the same classes, or do some people go to certain classes and then go on to college and other people go to other classes and then go and get a job?
KJ: OK. Hmm. As for colleges, around five years ago, when, um, when, when we entered the university, already our majors are decided. I mean before entering the university we have to decide our major. But these days a real change is happening. After entering the university, we have to, uh, choose our major. There are little changes these days.
RE: That's good.
KJ: It's better but, some, uh, very popular, important, um, department is ( ) many people, many people, but very uh, not uh, important and unfamiliar uh, department is starting to get, get some students. Do you understand?
RE: I understand.
KJ: Yeah.
RE: Very interesting.
KJ: Yeah.
RE: How many years of English would a student study in South Korea?
KJ: Uh, as for me, I start with the, the English Education from I think in middle school. But these days I heard that, uh, elementary school started English in their program.
KJ: Yeah.
RE: So you've studied English for quite a long period of time then?
KJ: Yeah, quite a long period of time. But as you know, I don't know you know, that Koreans cannot speak English very well because we have very badly I think, uh, education system. Yeah.
RE: Do you do a lot of memorization-?
KJ: Yes.
RE: -In your English classes? Or what would an English class look like?
KJ: Uh, just we focus on grammar and vocabulary. I mean it means that we don't uh, practice the hearing and the speaking in the class, so it's a problem. When we uh, get uh, English testing, I think the Koreans have a good score on grammar and the reading sections, but listening and speaking sections are very bad. This is a problem when we come to study in USA.
RE: OK. How often would you study English in South Korea?
KJ: Much time is spent. We spend a lot of time on English. But, we have still problems because the language it, uh, require, I, I mean the, the very young age. I mean when we uh, learn the English or the other languages when we're very young, it's very nice to try to acquire the languages. But, uh, when we get old, older, when we get older, it's not easy to understand and to memorize the other languages. We spend much time, but it's not good. Yeah.
RE: Not quality time?
KJ: Yeah, not quality time.
RE: How many students were in a typical English class that you would have taken?
KJ: Depending on the university and depending on the English institution, it's a different uh, size. Usually the uh, English institution, maybe 15 students.
RE: Mm-hmm.
KJ: But in the colleges, around 20, sometimes 30 students in class.
RE: Did you study at an English Language institute?
KJ: Yeah one time. But that, it's not good, because, uh, except the teachers, all students are Korean, right? At the time we are speaking, when we cannot understand, uh, the English, we, uh, speak the Korean. It's not good idea.
RE: Are the teacher's typically Korean or \\ are they? \\
KJ: \\ No, no, no, no. \\ Usually they are Canadian, Australian, sometimes they are American.
RE: So the teacher would speak English to the class but the students might choose to speak Korean to each other?
KJ: Yeah. The, the teachers speak the English and the, the teachers give us some homework. But we cannot understand it sometimes, after, in the class or after class, the Koreans speak in Korean. "What, what's the homework? What's this?" Yeah. Big problem, because we don't improve our English and we have to speak English all the time, yeah. So these days many, many students, college students, travel to uh, study, usually one, for one years. They visit to the Australian, Canadian, and USA to learn English. I think, yeah, the percentage is around 20 to 30 percent of the college students have to study and visit many other English countries.
RE: Do you think it's important for students from other countries to come to the United States and study?
KJ: Yeah. If, uh, uh, the guys uh, want to improve their English in the short-term, short term period, this is very important. Most of all, we can experience other cultures.
RE: Mm-hmm.
KJ: Yeah. Culture is very important to understand their country, their languages.
RE: Mm-hmm.
KJ: Yeah.
RE: Very good. Who was your favorite English teacher?
KJ: Uh, Traci, uh, he was, uh, English teacher over my college. Yeah, he teaches, uh, English conversation section and uh, composition section.
RE: And what did you like about his class?
KJ: Excuse me?
RE: What did you like about Traci's class? What \\ made it your favorite? \\
KJ: \\ Because it, \\ uh, he makes the students uh, feel comfortable. I mean sometimes she understand the Korean culture, sometimes, so he make the students to join the discussion very, very easily and very, very comfortably. Yeah.
RE: Very good. In your English classes, what kinds of tests would you have?
KJ: Uh, yeah, English composition and, uh, dialogue or conversation, yeah.
RE: Were they written tests or were \\ they oral? \\
KJ: \\ Yeah. \\ Written tests. Sometimes written test and sometimes verbal tests. No, no, no, speaking, speaking, yeah, \\ speaking. \\
RE: \\ Oral tests? \\
KJ: Yeah, oral test.
RE: Mm-hmm. Very good. Do you think the tests you took were fair?
KJ: [Sigh] Usually the Americans and the Western people very fair. [Laughs]
RE: Why? Why are American tests fair?
KJ: Because sometimes the Korean professors and teachers the, uh, does not follow the, oh, I cannot explain. Sometimes the, the students, uh, English ability on the oral tests is not good.
RE: Mm-hmm.
KJ: But the students try to improve his English, see? Uh, uh, if they, for instance, study harder, the professor considers that point.
KJ: Yeah. I think many students, many professors consider this, the students and, uh, even students' campus life. If the students study hard but the score is not good, but professor consider that.
RE: But a Korean professor would not consider those things or?
KJ: They consider but, uh.
RE: They would also?
KJ: Yeah.
RE: How else did teachers tell you how you were doing in an English class? What, what was, were there, any other ways, other than giving you tests, to tell you how you were doing, or what kind of progress you were making in your class?
KJ: No, I don't have a, the professor, uh, speaking in the class-.
RE: Mm-hmm.
KJ: -Because the students listen. I think that many Koreans don't want to talk with the English people because they always got it in mind that because their English is not good.
RE: Ah.
KJ: When you, when you meet the Koreans in the USA, the Koreans don't, actually they want to meet the some, uh, foreigners, ( ) the Americans, but, they, sometimes, uh, how, how can I say? I need the vocabulary, yeah, actually, yeah, uh, what I say is that the Koreans want to meet the, uh, English guys but they don't want, do you understand?
RE: \\ Right. \\
KJ: \\ Because \\ of their English problem.
RE: They're worried about how well they can speak English.
KJ: Yeah, that's right.
RE: And maybe they're intimidated, or nervous about-.
KJ: Yes.
RE: How an American would respond