Thursday, December 17, 2009

The French foreign language teacher scandal of 1984

The French foreign language teacher scandal of 1984

Prelude 1: The 1983 Law "Limiting Aliens' Residence Period" and banning "unqualified" foreigners from working.
Prelude 2: "Koreans have a weakness for Foreigners"
Prelude 3: 10,000 illegal sojourners or immigration cheaters... the days and nights of Itaewon

Part 1: Le Monde and what came before
Part 2: Korea is "Ali Baba's" Cave
Part 3: Seoul Should not be a Workplace for Parisians
Part 4: In private foreign language classes, there are a lot of ‘fraud teachers’
Part 5: Jibberish
Part 6: 'I Want to Strike it Rich in Seoul Too' - Continuous Job Inquiries by the French
Part 7: Foreigners Enjoy Better Life With Mother Tongues
Part 8: Foreigners and Foreign Languages
Part 9: Sickening Face

Part 10: Barking Up the Wrong Tree
Part 11: The First Sanctions on Foreigners Working Illegally
Part 12: All Private Lessons by Foreigners Prohibited
Part 13: Institutes Asked to Hire Eligible Foreign Teachers
Part 14: "Seoul Wind"
Part 15: Foreign Language Teacher Shortage
Part 16: Troublemaking vagabond foreigner story finally airs

Part 1: Le Monde and what came before

Earlier this year, when the Marmot's Hole reported on English teachers filing complaints with the NHRCK, some interesting commenters talked about what it was like to teach English in Korea in the 1980s, starting with this comment by Sanshinseon:
When I was first working for the hagwans here there were no checks of any kind, you didn’t need to show that you had a degree, just if the owner invited you to be an employee, and agreed to “sponsor” (take some limited responsibility for) you, then you got the working (teaching) visa. But then that hagwan owner didn’t “own” you, you could quit (or be let go) and work for someone else, or go entirely independent teaching privates, whatever — until your one-year visa ran out.

In that “freedom of employment” factor it was much better. It should be noted that there were relatively very few Westerners teaching English here in those days, nothing remotely like today; those that were here were more appreciated for “helping Korea get modernized” and were not any kind of a negative social issue (the G.I.s handily filled the role of disparaged foreign demon).
I asked the commenter, Professor David Mason, more about what it was like in those days (thanks to him for answering my questions):
It was more of a "Wild West" feeling I guess, few rules to go by, few other people to talk to about how it goes or get teaching tips or what to avoid, etc. We had no Internet, and even the Lonely Planet books were quite inadequate back then, so it was really a totally different deal -- the lack of information and contacts -- there were just the other foreigners you could meet in the cheap hostels, a few in Itaewon, some places with bulletin boards where you could read a few posted notes and get leads for jobs.

There were so few native-English-speaking people here in 1982-83 (my introduction) that weren't in the Army or with the embassy or some big corporation -- but the demand for learning English was already getting pretty high, more for young office workers than for the kids -- just walking down the street Koreans would sometimes come up to you and offer jobs. Universities only had a few available teaching positions, and they were always looking for somebody else to hire.
Regarding university jobs, he wrote that
Any native speaker with at least a B.A. (and light skin-color) who could teach English classes (hopefully without causing a scandal with the female students, which they sometimes complained / warned openly about). They've always had a pretty fair turnover-rate, far above the rate for Korean professors, as native-speakers went home or to other countries for various reasons, and the best teachers moved on up-the-ladder to better jobs -- I guess that's still the same these days.

Especially the universities outside of Seoul were always searching, often going a semester or two with the job unfilled, because back in those days most of the native speakers only wanted to live in Seoul, for the obvious reasons of less language barrier and more amenities / entertainment.

Most of the jobs available outside universities were with private institutes (hagwan), public schools didn't use native speaker teachers. Some companies, especially exporters, wanted classes for their guys directly in the offices, but that was illegal, just a side-job. Ditto for classes of wealthy children, held in the homes. Sometimes even government officials wanted it for themselves or their kids, and even though that was illegal you were protected from getting busted... All that part is still the same these days, I guess.

If one of the relatively few operating language hagwans or export companies that wanted a teacher sponsored you for a visa, it meant that you could work pretty much any job you wanted to for that one year, and even if that hagwan fired you or you quit, you could still work until the visa was over. So there was a lot of job-switching and freelancing. No degree at all was required for these jobs except at universities.
Clearly, the rules were far more lax back then. As to when this changed, in his original comment he wrote,
It was like that until 1984, when the French scandal impelled the government to impose restrictions such as the original visa sponsor becoming your slave-owner. Many good and self-respecting teachers left Korea at that point, in a kind of protest.
Inquiries asking for more information about this 'French scandal' received the following replies, first from commenter Seouldout:
If memory serves me right there was a Frenchman who was arrested for illegally teaching. English I believe – this is long before Quebecois overran the place. There were allegations of sexual hijinks; not rape or molestation or train groping, but lots of consenting fornication with Korean women…who ought to have paid better attention in the Korean ethics class. They must’ve been worried they’d be caught outside after curfew, so they hooked up with him – those were the days. Anyway, upon his deportation at Kimpo the press (all of them, the entire nation’s) recorded him announcing how much he enjoyed banging their women. And how much the Korean women enjoyed being banged. He may have even declared, “I shall return. To bang again. Au revoir.”

The new laws effectively stopped future scandals.
Sanshinseon replied:
The way i remember the 1984 French Scandal differs just slightly from seouldout — as is typical with folklore — my feeble brain does not include airport boasting, but says that he returned to France he published an article bragging about how easy it was to make money teaching English despite being French, and how easy it was to seduce/bang naive Korean virgins, tell them any kind of BS. A Korean guy in Paris sent a translation of it to all K newspapers, and a shitstorm broke out. We got new laws. I would guess that details on this could only be found in old K papers — the Times & Herald didn’t usually publish much scandal back then — just as today, they still cover much up…
More information was provided by Michael Breen in his introduction to ATEK's English teacher's guide to Korea:
I don’t know if this was the start, but I recall a howl or protest about 25 years ago after a Frenchman wrote an article in Le Monde, the French daily, describing how he had enjoyed life in Korea, drinking, seducing women and teaching language despite being completely unqualified. After this, people started looking askance at foreign teachers, and the authorities introduced regulations requiring them, some what unnecessarily as many were just conversation teachers, to have university degrees.
After reading this, I asked Tony Hellmann if he could ask Michael Breen if he knew anything more; he didn't, but suggesting searching the Chosun Ilbo's archives. I didn't realize at the time that pre-1990 archives were available online, but after a discussion with Benjamin Wagner, he found a Korean-language article referring to the Le Monde article, which led me to the closest university library, which has Le Monde on microfilm.

Jean-Pierre Doumeyrou then provided this translation.


Le Monde, August 12, 1984:
Making Won in Seoul

Some young French found in South Korea the opportunity to "make won" and earn a very decent living. There was a need for a good knowledge of English and, above all, their mother tongue. The Koreans are indeed fond of translations and lessons to develop their commercial relations with France.

Seoul. - Luc landed at Kimpo airport on a summer day in 1981 with a cheap cardboard suitcase as his baggage. After India, Thailand, the Philippines ... travels for nothing. He wanted to forget this crisis and the thirty-six poorly paid and depressing "small jobs" that led to nothing in France.

"I got there by chance. Truly at the end of my rope. I met a guy in Manila who told me about a Frenchman in Seoul who wanted to share an apartment. A Professor. He said it was possible to work . I still had a few dollars for a ticket. Now it's been two years. "

Luc hardly looks like a Young Turk. He blends in discreetly with his surroundings with his out-of-fashion suit, outdated tie and his 50 franc Made in Korea shoes . But he has a chance here: he is French and speaks with ease a high school level English. As a result, many doors have opened. To his dazzled eyes, they open the caverns of Ali Baba where dollars can be picked up with a shovel. But it would be hard to find here the Forty Thieves. Koreans pay on the nail.

Because Korea is to host the Olympic Games in 1988, and because it is after the African market, French became the second language taught after English, supplanting German and even Japanese. The general-president Chun Doo-hwan has registered his daughters in the French Language Department at Seoul National University. The Land of Morning Calm feels bulimia for our language. Some young Koreans choose the literature, but most, more pragmatic, usually study French 'in order to work in export' or to later study specialized fields in France: Design, architecture, fashion ... Alas! Korean Teachers have made of Rivarol’s idiom a somewhat unattractive 'wooden language'. Students know this and therefore prefer native French, so French lecturers have a bright future ahead of them.

By teaching his mother tongue, Luke needed only a few months to have a comfortable apartment. He goes twice a year on vacation. For one, he takes the grand tour of Southeast Asia in good hotels – revenge on the 'road' – and for the other he goes to France to 'see family' and spend his American 'green paper.'

"Here," he says, pleased, "I have the advantage of belonging to a small foreign community - less than three hundred people -thus much in demand. Unlike us, the Koreans do not want to throw out their immigrants. "

Pierre's Miracle:

Michel, too, had his share of tough times in France. Teaching in a northern village in France with a simple BEPC [Junior High Degree equivalent], his future seemed gloomy. In a few years of teaching, he had lost faith. "I could not stand to fight constantly with unruly students anymore,” he sighed. "There is no such problem here; students are motivated and the teacher still represents something ... "

At twenty-eight years, he seems much older. Small, rather unassuming, he lives with a couple of friends. Pierre, who is married, is a French teacher at the university of foreign languages, Wae Dae. He followed a path different from that of others. Tired of selling insurance in the country with his father, he came to Korea 'to try to see it' after a long holiday in Indonesia and Hong Kong. He dreamed thereafter of going to Japan and Canada.

"I was in Seoul for one week, when a Korean addressed me in the street. It was the director of the French service of Radio Korea. It happened just like in a film; he asked me if I spoke French. Yes. We met the next day, and he offered me on the spot a proofreading position and a very good salary."

This miracle happened four years ago. Since then, Pierre has married a woman from a very good Korean family he encountered in a chic club in the city. Michel has not had the chance to get a permanent contract in a university. He sells his French a la carte by juggling between Universities. He also records from time to time, at the Ministry of Defense, voice-overs of films to be presented to French-speaking military delegations. Some private corporations, such as Pohang and Lucky can pay almost 10 000 francs for thirty to sixty minutes of recording, provided that the intermediary wins a below-the-table equivalent. "At this price, we do not dare say anything. On the contrary, sometimes it happens that we are paid by others just 2,000 francs for the same job!" Not too shabby! *

This is the charm of an enterprising country where one can succeed by working. There is no question of earning a living dishonestly. The police are vigilant and it’s easy to end up in jail. But the young high school graduate or university drop-out stuck in an unsatisfying situation can find a job here. Yet must they pass through the "French lobby" of diplomats, business consultants and other key personage... Some appointments and smiles: French in Korea like to host [or receive] each other. The diplomats, certainly appreciated, do not play a decisive role. The country is expensive, tough, and foreigners have a tendency to help each other.

In less than a year, Luc was awarded two contracts in two different universities. Both nine hours per week. Both 9000 francs a month. More than six hours of 'little lessons' with him weekly at 150 francs each. His reputation as a teacher has snowballed. Thanks to the students and their parents, he found translation jobs for the ministry of sports, English-to-French, for 200 francs a page of a thousand letters. It is not uncommon for him to receive three hundred page jobs. Speaking like a Stakhanovite, he said with a smile he'd still like to teach at the French Alliance, but doesn’t really have the time!

All those who newly arrive do not have the same luck. But their drop-zone is the same: the Embassy, the Cultural Center and the French Alliance. Who to see? Who has power? First,the cultural adviser, the Education manager at the Cultural Center and the president of the Alliance. All three have well garnered address books and act as an interface between the newcomers and Koreans. Each year they award hundreds of hours of work per week in the universities, schools, banks, corporations in the francophone sector, in the same way that they have their connections in French radio and television broadcasts, lesson programs at the National Assembly and the French-language newspaper, Le Courrier de la Corée.

The more enterprising candidates do not hesitate, moreover, to market to themselves and place, for example, ads in major bookstores in Seoul, as soon as they have a fixed address and telephone number. They make themselves known in places that channel anyone interested in French in South Korea.

The most favorable time for newcomers is two weeks before the bulk dispatching de jobs by the cultural center (which this formulation would not delight**), and renewal of contracts by universities before the fall semester. Later in the year, a successful installation [in Korea to live and work] would require more time.

Korea still has a bad reputation - probably less deserved than before - which probably explains why it still has ‘niches’ available. All the French met in Korea say they want to 'move to Japan'. But few are so lucky. Though arrangements can be found with the Korean government, the Japanese are hunting systematically all those who try to move to Japan to work.

A foreigner is irreplaceable to teach his language. However, it is known in Japan that foreigners are not so necessary anymore, while Koreans, more modest, are more welcoming. French teachers in Seoul, waiting to 'make yen', 'make won'.

Pierre works from Monday afternoon to Friday morning and escapes every weekend with his wife to Tae-Chon beach or Mount Sorak, or to Fukuoka in Japan. A dream life. Yet they give themselves five more years in the land of the morning calm to earn enough to "have a business of their own on the French Riviera...". Michel explains: "It was nice to make lots of money, but Korea will always remain just a step [before eventually going somewhere else such as Japan]."

Marc Charuel

* Pardonnez du peu is a sarcastic idiomatic expression making fun of somebody who is complaining in a situation where he should be glad.

** Because dispatching and jobs were English words used in the article, going contrary to the French Cultural Center efforts, they would be angered to see them used in a Le Monde article.

Many thanks to Jean-Pierre Doumeyrou for his translation and comments. He also offers an interpretation of the picture:

"It is also to be noted that the cartoon accompanying the article might be a reference to Le Petit Prince (the way the character is drawn, the hair style and the face especially), which is exceptionally well done because the St Exupéry book is one of the first weapons of choice used in teaching French as a second language. This drawing is also to my eyes extremely decent and respectful of both French and Korean culture. You really have to be twisted to see anything wrong with it."

From Le Petit Prince

As it turns out, things were certainly found to be wrong with this Le Monde article. Within just over a month, the situation for foreign language teachers teaching in Korea went from "Koreans do not want to throw out their immigrants" to this, as David Mason relates:

I left back to America in the fall of 1983, the French scandal happened in 1984, and when I returned in early 1986 there were these new rules. No teaching at all on a tourist visa, and when a school or company sponsored your teaching visa they became your "owner" -- you couldn't have any other jobs unless they officially approved it. And if you stopped that job for any reason you just had to leave the country within five days, returning if you had another job that would sponsor your visa, or if not, not. Reentering on a tourist visa to find a new job, if you hadn't found one before your left, would be your only option. I remember some good quality longtime teachers who left in disgust and protest between 1985 and 1987, because they felt disrespected by all this.
As can be seen from the exaggerated way the 'French scandal' is remembered above, and as one can assume from the legal changes that quickly followed, the Le Monde article was blown out of proportion once the Korean media got a hold of it and called for changes to keep penniless, unqualified foreign vagabonds from coming and making larges sums through language teaching and going after their female students.

Doesn't sound familiar at all, does it?

I've found 25 Korean-language articles from that time with titles like "Korea is 'Ali Baba's Cave'", "The French Language Boom is Regretful - Seoul Should not be a Workplace for Parisians," "In Private Foreign Language Schools there are many 'Fraud Teachers,'" "'I Want to Strike it Rich in Seoul Too' - Continuous Job Inquiries by the French," "Ministry of Justice: Foreign Tutoring Ban" and "On TV Tonight: Vagabond Foreigner Attacked."

Of these 25 articles 7 are in the process of being translated. If anyone reading this would like to help with translations, that would be very helpful. Feel free to contact me at mattvanv at yahoo dot com. The way the media and government look at foreign language teachers today is not anything new, as the story these articles tell of the Korean media and government's first reaction to the "social problem that has recently come to light of the illegal employment of unqualified foreigners on temporary stays" will seem very familiar, but with one noticeable difference in the final chapter.


Mister Baekseju said...

Say, brother, do you have the copy of the microfilm article in French? This is a very very interesting post of yours, but after two paragraphs of the "Le Monde" article, I feel that the translation is leaving behind the true sense of French idioms and expressions. Still, it seems like a very good translation.

Keep writing, I seldom comment, but I'm always eager to read your posts.

Cheers !

Anonymous said...

Wicked good post.

Helen said...

Interesting story!
I've never thought about foreign teachers in around 1980.

holterbarbour said...

Fascinating article. One thing that struck me is the quaint little companies they mention named "Pohang" and "Lucky". Pohang went on to become POSCO, and Lucky became the "L" in "LG" (Goldstar being the "G"). said...

This post was a really good read. It makes you realize how history and popular movements work in cycles. You certainly did your homework on this one.

Stephen Beckett said...

Excellent stuff. If you want more on the French experience of Korea (and from a female angle), I'd recommend 'Ida au pays du matin calme' by Ida Daussy. However, it's only available in French, as far as I know.

Anonymous said...

le pays du matin calme, eh?
thank goodness nothing cliché...

matt said...

Mister Baekseju:
I've put scans of the original Le Monde article into the post - they're here and here.

To everyone else, thanks for the kind words. Keep in mind, this is just the first post on this subject. There are 25 articles, and I'd like to get about 15 translated (there's repetition of information in articles in different papers, so they don't all need to be translated, though a few might need partial translations. About 8 1/2 translations are in first draft form, so if anyone wants to help with translating or proofreading, let me know!

F5Waeg said...

I can help with some French to English translations

GI Korea said...

I have always said that the anti-foreign sentiment in the Korean media runs in cycles between English teachers, GI's, and 3D workers. GI's took the brunt of this from about 2002-2006 and since then the English teachers have been taking the brunt.

Fortunately I have always found the Korean media's sentiment to be much worse than what most actual Koreans think of GI's. It is probably the same with English teachers.

Mark Russell said...

Bizarrely, most of the journalists I have met in Korea are really interesting, smart people. But for some reason, when they get behind the keyboard, they turn into something else. Much as academics in Korea seem to think they have to be wise old gas bags, journalists seem to think they have to be crusading heroes.

(Also, the editorial structure at the Korean newspapers I know seems to be designed to maximize the worst aspects of journalism).

Anyhow, I find it so interesting that Korean media are so driven by populism, but the Korean people have so little trust in and regard for journalism. Coincidence?

Anonymous said...

... but there seems to be nothing in this article about French people teaching English, or seducing ad libidum...

David said...

Very interested in contributing to the translation project. Please contact me at



Anonymous said...

A couple of months ago there was a movie on TV from the 80's that basically painted foreigners as sexual deviants (it was the only premise of the movie). I wish I had written down the title.

Anonymous said...

Excellent research. My hat is off to you.

I noticed that there was nothing in this article about him sleeping with Korean women. In fact, it mentions that he had a wife whom he would travel with on weekends.