Friday, May 15, 2009

Some commentary on perceptions of English teachers in Korea

Here is some commentary about English teachers and media/official perceptions of them. The first is a comment that Benjamin Wagner left on another post here, which I think should get more attention [note: I added the hyperlink to the Lady Kyunghyang article (translated at the Marmot's Hole) ; also, for older views of foreigners and their fraternization with Korean women, see here].
The view of the "foreign English teacher" has shifted in the Korean public consciousness from being a respected and distant figure (the Confucian default) to an exotic, sexualized (and approachable - thus the danger) "entertainer/consort" of sorts.

I see the law trying to keep pace with this shift in the E-2 visa policy, especially the HIV test.

Have you seen the Lady Kyunghyang (women's mag) article on dating foreigners? There was a poll taken by XY in Love and the Lady K where they asked Koreans (men & women) how they tried to hook up with foreigners for sexual encounters.

The number one answer (120+) was trying to meet English teachers through language hogwans. Respondents were about 6 times more likely to attempt a hook-up at a hogwan than at a Hongdae nightclub (20). (Clubs where E-6 type workers would be found weren’t even mentioned.)

The law sees sexualized foreigners as a dangerous public health risk.

Korea's "Prevention of AIDS Act" (No. 7451, March 31, 2005) requires ‘risky long-term stay foreigners’ to receive HIV tests before visas will be issued. Foreign English teachers are not defined as one of these risky types of foreigners under this Act. (The E-2 visa ad hoc policy memo fills the gap though, I would argue).

So who are the risky ones? A separate ordinance of the AIDS Prevention Act defines them as follows: “Those who enter the country with the goal of sojourning for 91 days or more . . . to engage in performance entertainment/show business, sports and other entertainment-related businesses or activities in order to make a profit . . ."

(The new E-2 visa, an E-6 visa for men?)

Again, I'd argue that in the current Korean consciousness the foreign English teacher falls squarely in the "other entertainment-related business" category. Thus, the E-2 visa HIV test is less of an aberration than it seems. It really has very little to do with the goal of protecting children as it claims. I'd suggest that, just like the de jure E-6 visa foreign "merry-maker" already covered under this Act, the E-2 visa English teacher has been identified as a de facto foreign "merry-maker" that the law needs to protect the public against.
The second piece worth reading is by Scott Burgeson, from the introduction to his new book "더 발칙한 한국학":
At this point, the meme of "low-quality native English teachers" has become so pervasive and powerful in the local media that I believe Western English teachers in Korea have become the new "GIs" in the eyes of many South Koreans: Just as GIs have traditionally been seen here as a "necessary evil" who are only tolerated for "the good of the country," and were widely resented in the past when they were still relatively "rich" by local standards, it seems that many South Koreans today view native English teachers here in much the same harsh light. During WWII, a great many GIs were stationed in Britain as part of the Allied war effort against Nazi Germany, and a popular expression used at the time by Brits to describe them seems to mirror the way many Koreans feel about native English teachers here today: "Overpaid, Oversexed and over Here."


Anonymous said...

Seems like as good a time as any to refer back to Ian Buruma's THE MISSIONARY AND THE LIBERTINE, a book all about how East and West and regularly viewed each other in the yin/yang, male/female, strong/weak, moral/immoral dichotomy. From what I can see, it is a constant process, but these days, for many middle-class Koreans, the hagwon is the area they are most likely to encounter a foreigner (or at least a Westerner), so naturally the English teacher has become a focus point for a lot of these issues and concerns.

After all, there is plenty of Korean-Korean teacher-student hooking up going on at all sorts of non-language hagwons.

King Baeksu said...

Not sure if I agree entirely with Mr. Wagner's point about visa law for native English teachers here being driven by official concern over "after-hours fraternization" with the locals. Pretty sure it was more in reaction to the high-profile John Mark Karr and Christopher Paul Neil cases, among others. Would need to see more hard evidence or statistics to back up such speculation. In fact, I would argue that the Lady Kyunghyang article referenced, which is pre-Karr and pre-Neil, may be somewhat out-of-date at this point. It is my contention and gut instinct that the much increased demonization of native English teachers here in the past few years has probably somewhat dampened the desire of many local women to "fraternize" with their native English teachers at the local hagwon, although it may be hard to quantify such an assertion, of course. However, it does seem to be the trend of the current local zeitgeist, in my opinion.

Brian said...

On that note, King Baeksu---and pardon the self-plug---but I was interested to see Wall Street Institute (an adult hagwon) promote themselves this way:, Caucasian native speakers are noticeably absent.

Anonymous said...

KB - you make a good point. the Lady K article is assuredly dated. As for the locals dampened interested, I couldn't really say either way, but I suspect you're right on that one as well.

Be that as it may, I never pinned my speculative musings (and that's all they were, just a random post really) on the "truth" of things, but rather the what policy makers "believe to be true" (or perhaps have an interest having having believed to be the truth).