Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Parents tremble at 'pleasure parties' thrown by foreign instructors

Ilyo Seoul, who in March 2010 published a creative writing assignment titled "The Seriousness of Foreign Teachers’ Ugly Double Lives Cannot Be Measured", offered readers a new and wonderful follow up on December 23 (Merry Christmas!).
The truth about the 'pleasure parties' thrown by foreign instructors
Parents tremble inside

▲ This photo is not related to the article

Last summer, American foreign instructor H (24) was booked without detention for assaulting and choking a middle aged man on a bus. While H was speaking loudly with others, a middle aged man told him to shut up in English and was assaulted. For this reason, public opinion buzzed as demands for verified foreign native speaking instructors were made, but with no particular solution it soon died down.

However, on December 2, the Seoul Eastern District Prosecutors' Office, arrested A (23), an Australian native speaking English instructor, for smuggling J(trillion)-018 called 'Spice,' it was announced on the 5th.

With the domestic situation in confusion, this problem has not been greatly highlighted, however parents who send their children to hagwons with foreign native speaking instructors have once again had to bury their feelings.

As the demand for native speaking instructors continues to grow, the number of foreign instructors teaching foreign languages grows as well. However, with this increase in demand, the number of problems caused by some unverified foreign native speaking instructors grows day by day. We will examine this.

At a street full of hagwons near Mok-dong Station before 10pm lines of cars wait for students. On rainy weekends in the evening one or two lanes of the street become a parking lot. It's a queue of parents waiting for their children.

This occasionally ties up traffic, but but there is no particular reaction from most of the residents who live here because most have had the same experience.

One can often see foreign native speaking instructors around the Mok-dong hagwon area. Of course, it's not just here, but in any big city across the country one can see foreign native speaking instructors without much difficulty.

However parents carry anxiety with them in a corner of their hearts. Sometimes when they hear of an incident involving drugs or assault by native speaking instructors reported in the news parents cannot conceal their worry that it might be [their child's teacher].

The deviation and illegal acts of some native speaking instructors

In fact, on December 6 I met two native speaking instructors on the subway who were drunk. Luckily it was not crowded, but they had a loud conversation with each other not caring about the others around them.

As no one was restraining their behaviour, this reporter requested, "This is a public place, please be quiet," and after looking around they wore an apologetic expression. Their voices also quickly became quiet.

It just so happened that they got off at the same stop and we walked in the same direction transferring to another line. Getting up the courage, I asked after them.

Brendan (30) was a tall Australian and native speaking instructor, and Osborn (29) was a short American.

After a short conversation with them I arranged a time to meet for an interview.

Both of them really liked Korea and said they were very embarrassed about illegal activities of some native speaking instructors.

However they hoped it was recognized that some were a little distorted.

Brandon explained that, "In truth, very few native speaking instructors commit illegal acts, but if you look at what has happened, there are many cases of it being due to misunderstandings caused by not being able to communicate or cultural differences.

Osborn complained that "You can see that things that are not [illegal at home] are illegal in Korea, and I hope we can all recognize these differences."

There are 'pleasure parties' but they are not well known.

In June 2009, the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency Drug investigation unit caught 84 people including foreign instructors, university students, famous entertainers, and adult entertainment workers. They were charged with habitually taking and dealing drugs in Yeoksam and Cheongdam-dong area clubs.

Over 80 people were caught by police, but a big stir was caused by the knowledge that foreign instructors and Koreans who had studied in foreign countries had secretly brought drugs into the country.

After this, the government intensified its crackdown, and following this many of the so-called "wild parties" disappeared.

However wild parties are still taking place secretly, the two teachers told me. Of course, they never attended the parties themselves, but sometimes when socializing with other foreign instructors or foreign students in Hongdae or Itaewon they hear talk of these parties.

The two said there are problematic things about these secret parties which are sometimes thrown. However they don't know the details of the parties attended by a very secret minority.

On the other hand, most parties are not problematic and see the gathering of people who share a similar culture and who drink, chat and dance through the night, they explained.

There are cases where people get so drunk that they lose their senses and start arguments or use violence, but these people are also in the minority. In particular, Koreans find it difficult to understand foreigners who are a little more sexually open and can see them as being promiscuous, but they are all not like that, they explained.

Osborne said, "Among foreign instructors there are also people who have caused minor problems in their home countries. However there are never problems related to teaching children. People like that could not come to Korea."

He also said, "The reasons for coming to Korea are all different, but in my own way I feel pride as a person who teaches a foreign language here and gives children a chance to learn a language."

There is a need to make mandatory confirmation that one has an E-2 visa.

Last August people were shocked when Mr. Kim (38), who was a gangster in the US who was deported to Korea after serving a 10 year sentence obtained a fake degree on the internet and was hired as a native speaking instructor.

Ultimately while demand for native speaking instructors explosively increases, the biggest problem is that of hagwons hiring instructors who have not been properly verified, but in fact the fundamental problem is that there are few ways to verify the backgrounds of foreigners.

So how does one distinguish good foreign instructors from bad?

Currently there are approximately 25,000 native speaking instructors working in Korea. In order to work a native speaking instructor, they must be issued an E-2 visa.

In order to receive an E-2 visa from the ministry of justice, they must submit a criminal background check and health verification, as well as go through a consular interview. As well they have continuous in-depth verification such as blood tests to confirm whether they take drugs.

In the end, a hagwon which plans to hire a native speaking instructor absolutely needs to confirm that they have an E-2 visa. As well, parents need to investigate to see if the hagwon has verified the person through the ministry of justice.

Brandon, who teaches elementary school students, said, "Every time illegal activity by native speaking instructors emerges, parents look at us with fierce eyes." "But it would be good for them to know that most instructors come to Korea through a legitimate process.

Osborne said, "I feel bad that [teachers] are treated like lawbreakers because some cause problems like secretly throwing wild parties. However it would be good for native speaking instructors to know for certain that these acts are clearly problematic."
I love the 'unrelated' photo at the top of the article.

So let's see... the article brings up several cases from over the past few months, and seems to feel bad that one case "soon died down" (hence the need for this article, perhaps). Lamenting that "parents who send their children to hagwons with foreign native speaking instructors have once again had to bury their feelings," it states that "parents carry anxiety with them in a corner of their hearts." I'd tend to think the purpose of that statement is to be prescriptive more than descriptive.

The reporter then bumps into two (drunk, of course!) foreign teachers on the subway and stands up to their noise, shames them into being quiet, and then happens to be getting off at the same spot and asks for an interview. After a chat about conflicts caused by cultural differences, they reveal the "wild parties are still taking place secretly," but don't know much about them as they are attended by a "secret minority." This is reminiscent of the party that turned Koreans against foreign teachers during the English Spectrum incident in 2005 (an incident I plan to revisit before long), a party so secret there was an advertisement for it up on the internet beforehand, as well as plastered on the wall of the bar itself:

When photos of it (some of which are here) were found at English Spectrum (its Ask The Playboy forum organized the party), netizens frothed at the mouth in anger and formed the 'Anti' cafe that's still with us today. It's this party the article is drawing on when referring to 'secret parties,' but instead, it tells us that in June, 2009, police arrested Yeoksam and Cheongdam-dong area clubgoers for taking drugs, and that
[o]ver 80 people were caught by police, but a big stir was caused by the knowledge that foreign instructors and Koreans who had studied in foreign countries had secretly brought drugs into the country.
Much like Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, but the big stir was caused by Winston Churchill being hung over that day. Hey, I can rewrite history, too!

The busts referred to above were reported on June 3, 2009, but it was the entertainers who were arrested which drew the most attention, with the media even revealing at least one of their names. That's not to say no attention was paid to the small number of foreign teachers involved.

Newsis reported that entertainer(s), native speaking teacher(s) and university student(s) were charged with smuggling and taking drugs, as did Yonhap. Another report said native speaking teachers/ instructors were arrested, while the Munhwa Ilbo wrote the most about the foreign instructor busts, saying that four native speaking instructors were arrested, giving details on one who smuggled 150 ecstasy pills from Canada for 2 million won and sold them for 80,000 won a pop in Itaewon and Gangnam clubs.

At almost the same time, photos of (mostly Korean) clubgoers at a club in Chungdam-dong were reported by Yonhap to be causing a scandal online. What was amusing is that, though only 4 or 5 photos of the 140 posted had foreigners in them, I still managed to find a Korean blog post at the time which railed against 'foreign teacher bastards with Korean women' (no complaints about the Korean guy posing with a white woman) - talk about ignoring the forest to look at the trees.

I also enjoyed the article explaining that "a hagwon which plans to hire a native speaking instructor absolutely needs to confirm that they have an E-2 visa." They also might want to confirm that they have sponsored that E-2 visa.

At any rate, the article has at least served one purpose - via this translation it lets foreign English teachers who read it "know for certain that [secretly throwing wild parties is] clearly problematic." Remember - you need to advertise your wild pleasure parties!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Books more satisfying than native speakers

Yonhap posted this article on January 23:
"For English conversation education, reading an English book has a higher level of satisfaction than the native speaker's class"

Yun Sunsaengnim English Classroom parent survey

Parents with elementary school-aged children prefer native speaker English classes over reading English books when it comes to English conversation education, but the method that brings true satisfaction is reading an English book, survey results found.

On the 23rd, Yun Sunsaengnim English Classroom announced that according to a survey of 646 parents of elementary school children held between December 28 and January 5, 53.9% answered "I prefer my children to learn English conversation in a native speaker English class," while 46.1% chose "I prefer they read an English book every day."

As to the reason for choosing the native speaker English class (multiple answers), 62.6% chose "Children are not afraid when talking with native speakers," 33.9% chose "Pronunciation is checked," and 31.9% chose "Communication skills seem to improve in a short period of time."

The reasons for preferring that they read an English book every day included "They can read for themselves and direct their own learning" (41.9%), "Through various English books they can build up their general knowledge" (40.9%), and "They can learn English at little cost" (40.3 percent).

However, asking their real satisfaction, English book reading education got an average of 3.9 points (out of 5), which was higher than for native speaker English class (an average of 3.1 points). The percentage answering that they were satisfied was 67.5% for reading English books, which was much higher than the 30.4% who chose native speaker English lessons.

As for their method of reading English books, (multiple answers), 61.8% chose 'reading along with audiobooks,' 40.7% chose 'talking about the content after understanding the general meaning,' 15.7% chose "looking up the words and carefully reading,' and 8.2% chose 'reading the English book and writing a report.'

Yun Sunsaengnim English Classroom senior researcher Won Yong-guk said, "It's good for those in an environment like Korea with non-native English speakers to continually read English books to improve their English language skills." "Practical English language skills can be improved based on reading skills."
Yun Sunsaengnim English Classroom is a company which sends (Korean) English instructors to students' homes to tutor them using books that it provides. People I've known who have worked for the company tell me the whole point to is finish the books on schedule and sell as many books as possible. So no one will be shocked that though parents preferred native speakers, its survey found that their "real satisfaction" is found in books (though we're not told how such satisfaction is measured). Not that there's anything wrong with books, of course. (Though some are better than others).

Also amusing is that this article appeared almost a week earlier (though a few paragraphs shorter) in the Youth Hanguk Ilbo, so these results were certainly not released on the 23rd, as it says above. I imagine someone needed to publish another article for Yonhap before they could go home for the holiday, and they came up with this.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Jeju Weekly on the SMOE budget cuts

Jeju Weekly has a good story on the SMOE cuts and the fears that they may spread throughout the country and affect public school foreign teachers in Jeju. Here's what SMOE said in an interview:
Currently, SMOE states that this is not the first step to replace all foreign English teachers with Korea English teachers.

“We will never stop hiring [native English-speaking teachers]. We have NO plan to make Korean English teachers replace them. We need to recruit hundreds of foreign teachers a year for the time being in spite of the budget cuts. But the number will be reduced,” Choi [Chun Ok, SMOE Foreign Education Department Chief] stressed in an email interview with The Weekly. Throughout the three-page response to our questions, this paragraph was the only one specifically written in English.

“Foreign English teachers have greatly contributed to the development of English education in Seoul. However, it is time to reevaluate the cost-effectiveness, considering a huge sum of budget (about 52 billion won, or US$45 million annually). So we are changing our policy from quantity expansion to quality improvement,” said Choi.

SMOE said the three reasons influencing the budget cut to middle school English teachers are the improvement of Korean English teachers in TEE, that according to their research foreign English teachers are most effective in elementary schools, and the need to provide cost-effective quality programs.

“So it is not a sudden decision or unprepared plan,” said Choi.
Interesting. When the cuts were first announced it was reported that SMOE planned for the end of native speaking teachers in high schools, but that the cut to middle [and elementary] school teachers was the Seoul Metropolitan Council's unexpected decision.
According to SMOE, the average monthly salary of a foreign English teacher is between 1.8 million to 3 million won a month, but when considering accommodation allowance, flight reimbursement, and contract completion bonuses it equals between 38 million to 48 million ($33,000 to $42,000) a year. For a native English-speaker with a teaching certificate but no experience, they earn about 43 million won ($37,000) a year (including accommodation allowance and other benefits), while a Korean with the same qualifications only costs SMOE 31 million won ($27,000) a year.
Just for fun, looking at the figures for the lowest salary, 1.8 x 13 = 22.4 + [flight] 1.3 x 2 = 2.6 + [settlement allowance] .3 = 25.3 million a year. I believe the most paid per month by housing (in my area at least) is 700,000 a month (though its usually 3-400,000 a month), and if that high figure is multiplied by 12, we get 8.4 million + 25.3 million = 33.7 million, a bit less than the 38 million quoted above. But whatever. Clearly, it's higher than the 31 million won new Korean teachers make.

Further statements from SMOE representatives claim that there will be more openings for after-school English classes, and that what happened in Seoul "does not signify a nationwide trend." Other than Gyeonggi-do and Gangwon-do, I guess. Seeing as some provinces have only just reached peak numbers for NSETs such as Gyeongsangbuk-do, I doubt there will be large cuts there in the near future. Also worth remembering is that Gyeonggi-do was one of the first provinces to hire NSETs en masse, as this graph (I don't know where I found it) using figures from September 2006 - over five years ago - reveals:

Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Incheon, Gwangju, Daejeon, Ulsan, Gyeonggi-do
Gangwon, Chungbuk, Chungnam, Jeollabuk, Jeollanam, Gyeongbuk, Gyeongnam, Jeju

The blue bars show the number of schools in each province or city, the yellow bars show the number of NSETs in each province or city, and the figure in brackets is the NSET placement rate. At that time there were 2,877 NSETs in the public school system out of 10,890 schools, making for a 26.4% placement rate. As can be seen Gyeonggi-do had the largest number of NSETs (788) in 2006, and the second highest placement rate (behind Chungcheongnam-do). So perhaps it's not surprising to have seen cuts in Gyeonggi-do first. That said, that bit of history isn't going to convince anyone that this isn't mostly about politics.

One person is quoted in the Jeju Ilbo article saying "This budget cut should not be exaggerated," but perhaps someone should have said that to SBS, who broke the story in December, when they started their report with the caption "Native speaking teachers are disappearing."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Native speaking teachers to be reduced in Gangwon-do

On January 12, Gangwondomin Ilbo published an article discussing plans for the future in Gangwon-do which included the following section.
△Support for middle and high school native speaking teachers

With the prolonged economic recession, the burden of private education expenses is increasing for parents.

To reduce the burden of private education expenses for parents, the provincial education office operates the 'Project to support native speakers in middle and high schools.'

The 'project to support native speakers in middle and high schools' was implemented in 2007 to expand the opportunity for foreign language education and enhance understanding of international culture for middle and high school students.

Last year the province placed 216 native speaking instructors in schools, but with the strengthening of training for Korean English teachers, native speaking teachers are scheduled to be gradually decreased.

Accordingly, they will be reduced by the province and provincial office of education to 180 this year and 144 in both 2013 and 2014.

The project to support native speakers in middle and high schools cost 8.78 billion won last year and will be reduced to 7.42 billion won this year and 5.98 billion won in 2013 and 2014, with 20% of the financial burden being covered by the province, 30% by the city or county, and 50% by the provincial office of education. The reduction in the budget will allow funds to be used for other educational projects to reduce private education fees for parents.

The province expects the project to support native speakers in middle and high schools will have a large effect on cutting private education expenses for parents and will continue to do so in the future.
Gyeonggi-do, Seoul, Gangwon-do... Who's next? Worth keeping in mind is that this is only for middle and high school teachers, and not elementary school teachers, and 1/3 of NSETs in Gangwon-do middle and high schools being phased out over three years is not as drastic as Gyeonggi-do's cuts. On the other hand, this is a province which will be hosting a Winter Olympics in six years...

Friday, January 20, 2012

North Korea links

A week or so ago North Korean television broadcast an hour long program about Kim Jong-un, which can be seen here and which is analyzed in detail here.

Love that photo. As B.R. Myers has pointed out, the template of the leader riding a white horse (the one above is not so white, is it?), which both Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung did, comes from Emperor Hirohito. Speaking of Myers, he has a piece in the New York Times about the Kim succession.

And speaking of North Korean television, you can (apparently) watch 조선중앙방송 (KCTV) from 5 PM to around 11 PM KST on a live stream that comes through the South Korean broadcast station SPTV, and also through Korea Web which allows 64 bit systems to access it.

This link to the Rodong Sinmun was apparently new, as it worked for a few days before the good people upholding the national security law finally blocked it.

As well, SinoNK.com has released "China and the North Korean Succession," a compilation of open-source Chinese language materials translated and edited by Adam Cathcart which give insight into the Sino-North Korean relationship during the eight days following the announcement of Kim Jong-Il’s death.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Canadian returns to Korea to confess to a murder

A bit late on this, but a Canadian who taught English in universities from 2001 to 2009 returned to Korea to confess that he'd murdered his ex-girlfriend, a university student, in 2009. He'd gotten away with it and made it look like accidental drowning, but he was wracked by guilt and returned to confess to her family and police. The fact that he said he did it because he thought she was going to kill him doesn't suggest the most stable of minds (but who knows what actually happened). Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of news reports on this (39 at last count), one of which is translated at Korea Beat. It's also been reported by the Korea Times, Korea Herald, and Chosun Ilbo.

I liked this scene in YTN's report:

One wonders if there are actually any police officers in the room or if they are all journalists. It's one of the things that baffles me, the allowing of the press into police stations. Perhaps it's part and parcel of being a shame-based society. At any rate, you can hear him talking in that video.

I wonder who all the people are in the screenshot below (from an MBC report); he certainly towers over everyone.

I've never come across any arrests of English teachers for murder in Korea (not counting Korean American gangsters who committed crimes in the US or Canada), and while it wouldn't surprise me if this was used as fodder for more "there is yet another loophole in the native speaking verification system" articles, I almost wonder if the interest here might be more in the fact that the man - a product of a guilt-based society - returned to Korea to confess the crime, rather than the crime itself.

For example, the article translated at Korea Beat has the following:
Netizens had various reactions to the news of the murder and the Canadian’s confession, such as “he must have been haunted by a Korean ghost even in Canada,” and “it’s lucky that the defendant was so full of sadness.”
Here are a few of the titles from the 39 articles. Most common is the title the Maeil Gyeongje used: "Canadian English instructor who murdered girlfriend gives self up after three years."

Newsis: Native speaking instructor who murdered Korean female university student in Han River gives self up after three years.

Chosun Ilbo: Canadian English instructor: "The ghost of my girlfriend who died three years ago has followed me around... I came to be punished."

Segye Ilbo: Canadian English instructor who murdered girlfriend but was found innocent gives self up after three years.

IB Times: Canadian who killed lover turns self in is "miserable"... 'Why' did he kill woman 14 years his junior?

Donga Ilbo: "The scene of my girlfriend's murder constantly replays in my mind..." Canadian voluntarily returns to Korea and turns self in after three years

less than a third of the articles mention "English teacher" or "native speaking teacher" in the title, so that angle is not being as played up as it could be.

I keep wondering when the Canadian press is going to pick this up.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Music-related links

Here are some fun music related-links:

G'old [good old] Korean vinyl: Hongdae vinyl oldies bar Gopchang Jeonggol and concert promoter Super Color Super team up to rip tracks from the bar's extensive vinyl collection from the '70s to the '90s and provide mp3s. A mix tape (or mp3 collection) of several tracks they've released plus others can be found here.

Korean Indie: All you would ever want to know about Korean indie music including reviews and interviews by the people who brought you Korea Gig Guide and Indieful ROK. A brief history of the indie music scene in Korea is here.

If this is all too modern for you, how about a collection of Korean hits from the 1930s and early 1940s? (Hat tip to Jamie)

And looking at about the same era is Roald Maliangkay's article "Koreans Performing for Foreign Troops: The Occidentalism of the C.P.C. and K.P.K." (As the article notes, the "Chosen Music Club (C.M.C.) and the K.P.K., which derives its name from the initials of the family names of its three main members (Kim Haesong 金海松, Paek Ŭnsŏn 白恩善, Kim Chŏnghwan 金貞桓), were two variety show collectives whose activities from the late 1930s to the 1950s". The former performed for Japanese troops, the latter for US and UN troops.)

And for books ranging from recent to a hundred years old about East Asia, have a look here.

Monday, January 16, 2012

'Bitter distortions' regarding Hongdae in 2006

[Update at bottom]

From a November 22, 2006 Chosun Ilbo article:

"Girls in Hongdae"

Rumors about Hongdae by Foreigners? 'Street of pleasures' - a bitter distortion

Kim Myung-hee (23), who is studying in New York, recently had an absurd experience at a "Tea Party" (a gathering with tea and snacks from different countries).

The aim of the party was for the students from various countries to improve their English skills and share information.

The foreign students had a variety of conversations with the locals.

On that day, Ms. Kim and other Korean students were approached by local men who asked them "Are you Korean?"

At first they talked about topics like the 2002 World Cup and Samsung phones. However, the local men were in fact interested in "Hongdae," and knew more about the place than the Korean university students.

However, the idea of Hongdae that had come to roost in their heads was not the space where youth live and breathe culture and art.

It had been distorted into a place where you could pay a cover charge and spend the night with the girl of your choice.

Ms. Kim was shocked by a conversation with Eliot (33), who worked for a bank, who said, "In 2005, I went to Korea to visit a friend working as an English teacher. For 10 dollars to get into a club, I could enjoy a night with beautiful women."

Moreover, he added that, "Once you say you're from an English speaking country, everything is immediately settled. Once, young women even argued over who would date me."

Andrew (29), a graduate student, said, "When I was backpacking in Europe, I heard a lot about Hongdae in Korea. I heard you could easily approach the first girls you saw. It's a place I want to visit once." 

Ju In-gyeong, a student who attended the tea party that day, said, "At first I was angry and perplexed, but it may not be completely untrue. All things considered, I feel really bitter."
It's understandable, that bitterness. If only they had continued talking about the "2002 World Cup and Samsung phones" - I know that's what my conversations usually revolve around. I'm sure she would have been much happier hearing about how Korean women are "wise mothers and good wives." Seriously though, would it have been better to have been told that these foreign men had heard Korean women didn't talk to foreigners at all, or to have been ignored by the men, or have something like this happen?

As for Hongdae being the "space where youth live and breathe culture and art," that's not how it was being described less than a year earlier after members of a punk band dropped their pants on live TV and Seoul mayor Lee Myung-bak railed against the decadence of Hongdae club performances and called for a blacklist of bands (shades of Park Chung-hee's actions when he destroyed the rock music scene in 1975). Also, one wonders what the motels there have to do with 'culture and art.'

A companion piece to this article would be an August 2005 Herald Gyeongje article titled "[Hongdae, haven of desire] Crowded with foreigners, the temptation of 'one night stands'" translated at the Marmot's Hole here, which stated that "Hongdae is now an area hot with youthful passion that has degenerated from being mixed up with foreigners."

Needless to say, both reports were written in the shadows of the English Spectrum incident, in which photos of a 'sexy costume party' in a Hongdae bar posted by English teachers on the internet led to negative attitudes towards both foreign teachers and Hongdae. I'm sure the way in which perceptions of Hongdae have changed over the last two decades would make for a fascinating paper, though the negative view of the foreigners there (in the press) has no room for the contributions made by these same foreigners to the scene there.* Not that that would surprise anyone.

*This is briefly mentioned here and in more depth here.

[Another set of reports worth mentioning is YTN's February 2007 reports on the "Scandalous behavior of foreigners on weekend nights in Hongdae... police just watch," as the title of the first puts it. It was translated at the Marmot's Hole, and ends with this paragraph:
Amidst the thoughtless behavior of some foreigners and the failure of the authorities to maintain order, the area around Hongik University, limelighted as a street of romance and youth, is becoming a lawless zone.
God help us, each and every one. Worth noting is that AES has taken credit for contributing to this report. I'm sure they were disappointed the focus turned to GIs instead of English teachers, but since the targets were white males, I imagine they weren't that disappointed. At any rate, a few days later, USFK banned its soldiers from the area, and YTN followed up with a report which interviewed a police officer, who said, "Since the ban, the area in front of Hongik University has maintained a state of very serene public order."]

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Depopulation explosion

According to this Korea Times article about the small number of children enrolling in the first grade of elementary school for the coming school year, "The number of elementary school students has kept falling in Seoul to 535,000 this year from 762,000 in 2001."

There's not much more to say there than "wow". A 30% drop over ten years - in Seoul - is pretty drastic. One wonders what the situation is like in the likewise heavily populated Gyeonggi-do.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Joongang Daily article on SMOE NSET cuts

On January 3, the Joongang Daily published an article titled "Seoul’s English teachers shocked at getting axe." It then goes on to look at a high school teacher, which is a little odd, since it's been known for well over two months that those cuts were coming.
The teachers are disappointed. They said they believed in the Lee Myung-bak administration’s policy of improving Korean students’ English, started in 2009, which was also supposed to diminish the gap between rich and poor students by giving good English education in public schools, especially in the capital.

“I heard that the government was continuing to expand the number of foreign English teachers coming here,” Morris said. “But now they want us gone.”
As the graph below reveals, almost 2000 NSETs were hired in public schools in 2006 and 2007; the drive to put more native speakers into classrooms began before Lee Myung-bak even came into office.

Starting from August 2009, the government hired 2,996 foreign English teachers in elementary, middle and high schools across the country, and the total number reached 6,255 as of last February.
That figure is quite different from the statistics above (though perhaps it doesn't include teachers not hired by city or provincial offices of education).
But last November, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, which is controlled by rival parties to the ruling Grand National Party, announced the results of a public survey on the city’s English education policy and changes to the policy based on the survey.

A total of 43,742 people were surveyed, including 28,761 students, 11,980 parents, 2,406 Korean English teachers and 595 foreign English teachers at 1,282 elementary, middle and high schools in Seoul.

According to the city education office, 53.7 percent of the students said they preferred to learn English from Korean teachers, while 29.7 percent preferred foreign English teachers. In the survey, 42.1 percent of the students said they can’t understand what “native English teachers [who can’t speak Korean] are talking about.”

In addition, 62.2 percent of the parents surveyed “preferred Korean teachers who are fluent both in Korean and English to teach English classes at schools,” while only 26.9 percent of the parents preferred foreign teachers.

However, 62.4 percent of the parents and students said foreign English teachers are definitely needed.
Again with the survey (I'm working on a translation of SMOE's official summary of this survey, but at 13 pages it'll take some time). At least this article includes the last sentence above, though one wonders how the information above would look if it was printed first. By the way, the sentence "53.7 percent of the students said they preferred to learn English from Korean teachers" should describe those teachers as "fluent both in Korean and English." Also, SMOE did not "announce[...] changes to [English education] policy based on the survey" when the results of the survey were announced in November. In fact, here's Yonhap's summary at the time:
According to the results of the "Study analyzing the results of the Seoul English education strengthening policy and development plan" released by SMOE on the 27th, parents, students and teachers are satisfied with current native speaking teachers but the opinion came out that in the medium and long term Korean English teachers with English ability should be responsible for school English education.
The Joongang Ilbo article continues:
As a result of the survey, the education office said it will “downsize the project to place native English teachers in high schools but focus on having them in lower grades.” It said that part of the budget used to hire the foreigners could be redeployed to give language training to Korean English teachers.
Actually, a Korean friend who is a high school English teacher told me the teacher training program for SMOE in Gapyeong (which involves) NSETs is also supposed to be cut, which is ridiculous - I haven't confirmed that though.
“The survey showed that more parents preferred Korean teachers who are fluent in both English and Korean over foreign English teachers,” said Kim Jong-wook, a member of the Seoul Metropolitan Council from the Democratic Unity Party.

According to Choi Chun-ok, a supervisor at Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education, the survey results showed that the “efficacy of foreign English teachers is not as high as the amount of money that gets allocated to the project.”
One wonders how many parents, if the survey was on music education, would chose 'JYP or Lee Soo-man" as "preferable teachers" if the option was offered. And I think that SMOE supervisor Choi meant to refer to the "efficacy of the foreign English teacher system" as not being high enough.
The teachers say the program hasn’t worked too well because the city hired native speakers without any qualifications.

“They took so many people who either did not major in English or who have had no teaching experience at all,” said Morris.
Yeah, God knows you can't teach English conversation without being able to describe the influence of "Waiting for Godot" on "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead." Seriously though, why an English major? Why not a major in a foreign language? As for the lack of qualifications, according to the SMOE survey, of the NSETs it questioned, 15.5% had MAs and 64.3% had TESOL or TEFL certificates.
In August, 252 foreign teachers will be let go from elementary schools and 200 from middle schools. A total of 4.9 billion won was cut from the 2012 budget to hire foreign English teachers at elementary and middle schools.
No it wasn't. This is referring to the statistics reported in the original SBS report on the cuts the Seoul Metropolitan Council hoped for; The actual cuts were not 4.9 billion won for middle and elementary school NSETs, but 2.2 billion won. Now, the original SBS report said that last year's budget of 34.6 million won for NSETs was to be cut by 9.3 billion won (4.4 SMOE planned to cut + 4.9 wanted by the council), or by 27% - and yet it reported that 57% of NSETs would be cut. Even better, I found the below SMOE document about the hiring of NSETs which reveals that over 25% of SMOE's NSETs in 2010 were not funded by SMOE, which makes the 57% figure even more ridiculous. According to the original plan, 27% of 75% of Seoul's foreign teachers would be cut, or about 20%. Again, perhaps what is needed is more math education...

The Joongang Daily story has a nice ending:
Some foreign teachers want to lash back at the government’s decision, but they’ve been warned not to.

“Numerous foreign English teachers in Seoul were considering holding protests or taking some form of collective action to express dissatisfaction with the new plan,” Chao said. “But an official from the education office told us that wasn’t a good idea. He said Koreans would only hate us even more.”
Rather blunt, if honest, talk from the "education office" (if true). Just imagining foreign teachers protesting job cuts makes me chuckle... I don't think a device exists that could measure how little sympathy such an action would garner from the public.

Gestapo in Itaewon

[Update at bottom] On January 7, 1988, the Korea Times published the following letter by a long-term expat:
There's not much more to do than to shake your head and wonder "Itaewon?!" One can only imagine that people were clueless that it would cause such offense. More about this bar can be found in an AP article printed in Stars and Stripes on October 30, 1991 (sorry, the photo's not clear at all):
The German Embassy has raised a fuss over this beer hall, called Hitler, near Seoul, South Korea.

'Hitler' pub draws protest from Germans
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - The German Embassy is asking the government to force a popular new beer hall called Hitler to change its name and get rid of its blinking name signs and Hitler matchbooks and pictures. The embassy also wants the beer hall to get rid of a Federal Republic of Germany flag that has a Nazi swastika stitched onto it. The embassy said the beer hall is defaming a national emblem. "We consider the use of Nazi pictures and symbols as hurting ... German feelings and detrimental to our reputation," embassy spokeswoman Martina Nibbeling-Wriessnig said Tuesday. The use of Nazi symbols is illegal in Germany, which has sought to repudiate dictator Adolf Hitler, who ruled from 1933 until near the end of World War II in 1945. The swastika was used as a Nazi emblem. In 1987, a bar called Gestapo in Itaewon near a sprawling U.S. Army base changed its name after complaints by the German Embassy. The Gestapo was Hitler's secret police. His namesake beer hall, which seats 100 customers, opened about two months ago in Kwangmyong City, an industrial area about 12 miles southwest of Seoul. The embassy said it only recently discovered it.
Interesting that, despite a foreign embassy complaining, Hitler bars continued to appear throughout the country until at least the mid-2000s (some photos are in the Metropolitician post here). And that in 2007 Rhie Won-bok could refer to the 'fact' that the Jews run America (as detailed in his comic book about America) as 'common knowledge.' And that a year later a cosmetic company would run a commercial (viewable here) mentioning Hitler. 

Even more interesting might be that Yi Pom Sok, South Korea's first prime minister and minister of defense (who the Metropolitician mentions in his post), told an American journalist in 1946 that one of the things he planned to teach at his school to train anti-communist youth group leaders - which was funded by the US government - was "the history of the Hitler Jugend." A story for another day, I suppose. 

Update: The most recent article about a Hitler bar was from 2007, though no photos were shown. As that ROK drop post mentions, in 2000 Time did an article about a Hitler bar (one of three said to be in Seoul at the time) which had changed its name after complaints from the Third Reich to the Fifth Reich (the main attraction of the Nazis? "They dressed well."). That same year Pusanweb interviewed the owner of a Hitler bar in Busan who eventually changed the name to Ddolf Ditler (it's long since gone); the owner made clear he meant no offense. In 2005 photos of the interior of a Hitler bar in Daejeon were posted at this blog, and another photo of it was gathered with photos of a few other bars in this posting. It's entirely possible that they disappeared by 2007. To be sure, with around 25,000 foreign English teachers spread throughout the country, if such bars still existed they would probably be pretty well documented by this point.

Update 2: As noted in the comments, here is a Crown Confectionary ad featuring comedian Shim Hyeon-seop doing a parody of Hitler, though this may actually be a reference to Charlie Chaplin's 'Great Dictator.' 

Update 3: (July 22, 2021). In February 2021, it was reported that "Sowon, a member of K-pop act GFriend, apologized Monday for posting photos of herself hugging a mannequin dressed as a Nazi soldier at a cafe in Paju, Gyeonggi Province." The offending images are here; this one shows several such mannequins at the cafe.

(Photo from Donga Ilbo)

Perhaps now isn't the time to mention the controversy that arose 3 years ago over Nazi imagery used or worn by members of BTS?

Monday, January 09, 2012


As the Yonhap article title put it (in 2006), "Harmony between east and west(?)"

Happy belated new year - I've just been busy, but regular posting should resume shortly...