Narrating Waegook identity: building transitory foreign-teacher community through folklore in the Republic of Korea

Roubo, Kelly (2019) Narrating Waegook identity: building transitory foreign-teacher community through folklore in the Republic of Korea. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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With increasing global mobility, itinerant expatriate groups – whether of teachers, retirees, students, or backpackers – constitute transitory folk groups easily overlooked by folklore studies. This thesis is an ethnographic study of a transient folk group of foreign teachers in Suncheon, Republic of Korea, and of how narratives about their experiences inform their sense of identity within that community. My observations of such groups in the Republic of Korea include working as a foreign English teacher in the 1990s, conducting fieldwork as a participant-observer from 2006-2008, and through additional research in 2017-2018 via the Internet. As a former foreign teacher, this work is auto-ethnographic in nature, as my time in Korea has informed not only my approach to this research, but who I am today. Alan Dundes famously suggested a folk group may be comprised of as few as two people (1965, 2). Folk groups can also coalesce for brief periods, even the duration of a conversation, wherein the content of narratives facilitates construction of shared identity, as in the “transitory community” of foreign teachers I studied. With little else in common, foreign teachers share narratives – of their work, the challenges they face, and personal experiences of life abroad. This creates bonds and equips them with vernacular knowledge specific to that community. These exchanges develop connective tissue for this transitory community, provide a mechanism for survival in an unfamiliar environment, and help create a sense of belonging in Korea, despite the teachers’ outsider status. Esoteric knowledge is employed within the transitory community as a status marker, providing evidence of competence as well as channeling information to those who need it. Additionally, the themes of some narratives reflect feelings of marginalization among people who, as white Westerners, sense a loss of standing and power. This change of status is often contradicted by how they position themselves in their narratives, wherein they present themselves as more competent, worldly, or knowledgeable than Korean counterparts.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
Item ID: 14320
Additional Information: Includes bibliographical references (pages 317-334).
Keywords: narrative, Korea, occupational, folk group, identity
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Folklore
Date: 15 October 2019
Date Type: Submission
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Teachers, Foreign--South Korea--Folklore; Expatriates--South Korea--Folklore

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