Friday, January 14, 2005

a fearful earful

As much as we expats like to paint Koreans with a wide brush, it simply isn't true that all Koreans think alike.*

Today was a case in point. I had two students tell me how much they disliked Korea and were hoping to get out and find better jobs (as well as a better life) elsewhere.

Then in walked Miss Nationalist. Let's call her Ji.

I'd interviewed Ji when she first came to EC; her English was already pretty good and I could speak to her full-speed. She's hoping to study international relations at a foreign-language university, and is taking classes at EC to brush up on her conversation and interviewing skills. She normally takes classes from a different teacher, but tonight she had me.

As part of her university entrance requirements, Ji apparently has to answer a series of politically-themed interview questions. Among the ones we covered tonight:

1. Why was the US attacked?
2. What can we do to protect the environment?

Both of these questions elicited boilerplate, blame-America responses. The US was attacked, Ji contended, because it wants the oil found in Muslim countries, and has an aggressive foreign policy that has oppressed the Muslim world for far too long. Ji answered the second question by saying that American resistance to signing the Kyoto Protocols was a major factor in the world's pollution problem. It was therefore the world's job to persuade America to get on the ball.

When I pointed out that Ji hadn't bothered to take note of the ideology driving certain Islamic factions, she smiled in embarrassment. She'd never considered the possibility that the people who'd attacked the US on 9/11 were all rich, not driven by poverty, but by a larger Wahabist vision of the reestablishment of Dar al Islam. I also pointed out that US resistance to the Kyoto Protocols dates back to the Clinton administration, and isn't a stance original to George Bush. At the same time, I was willing to grant that the US isn't above reproof in all this: we've been part of the problem, too.

To her credit, Ji took my responses in stride. My suggestion to her was to approach geopolitical problems not with pat answers, but with open questions, and to try to seek a balanced view where possible. The only blunt suggestion I made to her was, "You need to learn a lot more about Islam." We'd wandered into the subject of missionary religions and tolerance. I'd asked Ji whether she'd submit to a traditionalist Muslim husband and she-- a modern woman-- recoiled at the thought.

The session ended well. I was delighted to meet a young, sharp, opinionated mind, but disturbed at how deep the brainwashing already was.

*That's not meant to condescend to my Korean readers; rather, it's to set the record straight in the minds of certain non-Koreans, many of whom have put their ignorance on display in various Koreabloggers' comments threads.


No comments: