Today was a rough day for me as a teacher, as a person who holds a degree in religion, as well as a human being.
One class that I teach has been exploring the English language through the concept of travel this month. Their book offers questions about their favourite season and where they would like to travel, what foods they want to try etc. Today we were talking about customs in other countries.
Me: Question 4 asks what custom would you like to try on in that country. So think of Honbok. Honbok is traditional clothing for Korea. Think of the country you chose, do they have any special clothing?
Hanbok is traditional Korean wear. It’s still used on special occasions.
D: Teacher, what is traditional clothing for Canada?
Me: Um… we don’t really have anything? I don’t know like a hockey shirt? *laughs*
D: OK! I like hockey shirts, and poutine.
Me: L, if you are going to travel to Dubai, what clothing would you want to wear?
L: Teacher, I don’t know.
D: What about a hijab.
L: *speaking Korean* What’s a hibaj? I have learned to register the Korean word for “what does that mean” through all my time here haha.
D: *makes hand motions around his head as he explains to L*
L: ooo no! I don’t like.
Me: L, you don’t even want to try it? It just covers your hair, some people make them look very fancy.
L: No, I don’t like.
L: Because it is Islam. And I don’t like Islam.
Now if I were in Canada, in a class room I would ask why she didn’t like Islam, but even then it’s a subject that as a teacher I am not really suppose to approach with my students. And I kind of get the same feeling here in Korea. Most Koreans will tell you they are Christian, although they do still follow teachings from such Eastern philosophies as Confucianism and Buddhism. I wanted to explain to her that wearing fabric on your head doesn’t mean she would be support Islam, if she didn’t want to. But I also wanted to know why she didn’t like Islam. And how respecting the tradition of a country doesn’t mean that you are showing support for a certain religion.
As a teacher this frustrates me. I can’t have that honest conversation with my students. Even if we did speak the same language fluently. As a person who spent 6 years of her life studying different religions and cultures, it frustrates me how people can still have such a closed minded opinion of certain religions and cultures. As a human being, it saddens me that even in 2016 society still can not see the good things that have come out of Islam and the Islamic faith. And how just because an extremely small percentage of extremists are involved in terrorism, the whole religion suffers for it.
To quote my student in her limited abilities with English: I don’t like.