Tuesday, January 31, 2023

The politicization of sexual harassment cases at Gyeonggi-do English Villages (2006)

In the mid-2000s a number of English villages were opened in Korea to provide an immersion experience in which students could practice speaking English, with the first being opened in 2004 in Ansan, Gyeonggi-do. As this (and this) article notes, Seongnam English Town was opened in December 2005 in the Saemaeul Movement Central Training Center in Bundang and run by Edu Chosun (a subsidiary of the Chosun Ilbo). 6-day camps were attended by 250 local Grade 6 students at a time. It cost 350,000 won, of which 110,000 won was paid by participants and 240,000 won was subsidized by Seongnam City. Upon entering the village, students underwent a level test and were divided into 20 classes, and then spent 6 days with 24 native speaking teachers, 12 Korean teachers, and 4 safety teachers. (More on the Paju English Village can be read here in English.)

On May 24, 2006, the Segye Ilbo reported that "An allegation has been raised that a native-speaking teacher at Seongnam English Town sexually harassed students during class" and that "civic groups are demanding a fact-finding investigation and countermeasures".

The "Seongnam English Town Sexual Abuse Countermeasures Committee," composed of six Seongnam women’s groups and educational associations, claimed that day that some sixth grade girls from a Seongnam elementary school who were accepted into the Town complained to their parents that a Korean-American English teacher had made excessive physical contact with them. 

The girls claimed that during an outdoor hiking activity, the teacher pulled the strings of the girls’ underwear, put his hand inside their clothes, stroked a certain part of their bodies, and stared excessively at their chests.

As a result, parent representatives and the school’s principal visited the English Town on May 5 to inform them of what had happened and demand the dismissal of the teacher.

The English Town authorities explained that the parents informed them that nine students had complained of inappropriate physical contact from one of their teachers. Though the facts were not clear and they stated that the teacher had only good intentions, the personnel committee there made a decision to dismiss the teacher, which the teacher did not accept, so he ended up voluntarily resigning on May 19.

In response, the countermeasure committee declared the English Town's measures to be insufficient and argued that it was not fulfilling promises to post an apology on the its website."

Later on May 24, in an article titled "Controversy over sexual harassment of elementary school students in Seongnam English Town"(and written by the secretary general of the Seongnam Secondary School Branch of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers' Union), Ohmynews provided more information about the case, particularly from a letter sent to the girls' elementary school on May 8.

It noted that the students had attended the camp from May 1 to May 6, and on the 4th had complained to parents who were visiting that a Korean-American English teacher had pulled their bra straps, touched their necks, heads and shoulders (while telling them he was knocking off bugs) and stared at certain parts of their bodies during a hiking activity.

The next day, three parent representatives from their Elementary School, the vice principal, principal, and their homeroom teacher visited the English Town in person to discover the details of what happened through interviews with the students and the teacher in question. They also asked the Town director to organize a personnel committee and propose a disciplinary (dismissal) plan for the teacher, to post an apology on their homepage, to report the incident to Seongnam City Hall and the Office of Education, and to strengthen sexual harassment prevention education for all teachers and management.

An official from Seongnam English Town spoke to OhMyNews on May 24:
"The instructor has resigned now, but he vehemently denies the fact of sexual harassment. In addition, our own investigation found that a female native-speaking teacher who was with the teacher in question testified that no sexual harassment took place." "However, even if it was done with good intentions, it is true that the students felt displeased, so the [hiking] program was done away with. In the future, we plan to come up with measures to prevent recurrence through sexual harassment prevention education for teachers." The official added, "Whether or not to make a public apology is a matter that requires permission from the head office, and the head office's position is that it is difficult to make a public apology in a situation where the statements of the relevant parties are in disagreement."
The Countermeasures Committee was reportedly requesting a meeting with the mayor of Seongnam on May 25, where they would suggest a further joint investigation to confirm what happened, a severe reprimand for those responsible, a public apology and the posting of the apology, the disclosure of qualifications and backgrounds of English Town teachers, the provision of professional counselors at the school the girls attend, an improvement in the quality of English Town teachers and the ensuring of transparency in their recruitment, and the strengthening of sexual harassment prevention education.

In a Daves ESL Cafe post days later [no longer available] the foreign coordinators of Seongnam English Town wrote the following:
We are the foreign coordinators of Seongnam English Town and felt we should write and post our statement about the allegations of sexual harassment. [The Segye Ilbo article] was incorrect in two aspects – firstly, the teacher allegedly touched their bra strings through their clothes, as well as their shoulders, neck, upper back. The teacher alleges he was brushing off bugs, the students allege it was sexually motivated.

Secondly, the teacher involved, from the beginning, has vehemently denied the accusations. He never admitted responsibility as the article originally claimed. He has since resigned but maintains his version of the story.
They also released a statement:
Statement on Accusations of Sexual Harassment at Seongnam English Town

The accusations made against a Korean-American English instructor at SNET have left all the instructors here feeling uneasy. Accusations of this nature are very serious and have been considered with due attention since the incident was first reported. The Canadian English Instructor who was facilitating the hiking class alongside the accused Instructor was consulted for her input and has maintained since the beginning that she had all the students in sight throughout the hike, and that she did not witness any inappropriate behaviour or language directed towards the students.

Accusations of this nature are extremely difficult to substantiate, and the Instructor in question has maintained his innocence since the beginning. The students have also asserted the truth of their account. It is almost impossible to prove exactly what happened that day, and we have only the word of each party to judge by. The complete truth will likely never be known. That said, due to the discomfort of parents, teachers, students and the community, the Instructor was removed from the situation and has subsequently resigned from SNET.

Without denying that the students had an upsetting experience, I think it is also important to recognize that there can be different intentions behind actions that result in a person feeling discomfort. Different people have very different comfort levels about their personal space and contact with their bodies. It could be the case that the Instructor did not intend to make the students feel uncomfortable, and was viewing them simply as children who needed some encouragement to join in the hike, but some action or words may have had a different effect on the students in question. Our obligation is to investigate this incident to ensure that the rights of all parties are respected. We have also talked with the staff about the nature of sexual harassment and are putting policy into place to ensure that an incident like this never happens again.

May 23rd, 2006
Seongnam English Town Coordinators
The English Town also released a statement (actually, one statement and an apology - neither of which is now available) clarifying what took place. It pointed out that contrary to initial press reports, the instructor was not one of the camp’s native speakers. Although an American citizen, he was a native Korean speaker, and as such was listed as one of the camp’s Korean instructors. The English Town also noted that the day before the story hit the media, the camp got a call from the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers Union asking about the incident. They will come up again momentarily.

As this was happening, 196 students from a middle school in Gyeonggi-do were undertaking a similar, 6-day course at the Ansan English Village from May 22 to May 27, with six students staying in each dorm room. The dormitory was patrolled until 1 am by four employees to confirm students were asleep.

As NoCut News reported on May 27, the night before, a 28-year-old Korean employee teaching at the camp came into the dormitory after a night of drinking around 2 am and opened unlocked door(s), woke up six (or seven, by some reports) sleeping female students, and touched their upper bodies. (As the English Village explained it, the teachers' lodging was temporarily in the same building as the student dormitory). The teacher was relieved of his duties, and on May 27 Ansan police filed for an arrest warrant for the teacher. The article stated that "the Korean instructor in question is a graduate student majoring in English education at a graduate school of education in Seoul" and that the incident was "shocking because he is known as a diligent instructor." 

In order to prevent a recurrence in the future, the Village authorities planned to control all personnel other than on-call instructors in the camp after work, ban Korean and foreign instructors and administrative staff from drinking in the camp, and control entry for those who went drinking outside. As well, they decided to conduct regular training at least once a month to enhance the quality of instructors, to strengthen the night watch system and locks, and to expand 24-hour CCTV monitoring and patrols.

Six women and education organizations, including the 'Seongnam Women's Hotline', formed the 'English Village Sexual Harassment Countermeasure Committee' and viewed the sexual harassment incidents in Seongnam and Ansan as a structural problem and requested the authorities to prepare countermeasures. In most English villages, nighttime management for students is not performed well, and many teachers with untested qualifications are hired, which is likely to cause problems.
The fact that the accused in the Seongnam case was not a native-speaking teacher, and that the accused in the Ansan case was Korean, was overlooked (either accidentally or deliberately) on a number of occasions. For example, on June 6, Media Today ran a piece criticizing the Chosun Ilbo and Joongang Ilbo for their silence about the harassment cases the Gyeonggi-do English camps, alleging that their silence was due to business interests the two papers have in the English camp business. While taking Korea’s conservative dailies to task for failing in their journalistic responsibilities, however, Media Today decided to print as-is (quoting the press release of a Seongnam civic group coalition) the original allegation that the Seongnam Camp assault was carried out by a "native speaker" (which it wasn't) while also failing to note the Korean nationality of the English teacher accused in the Ansan case. (To be fair, they removed "native speaker" from an updated article the next day.)

If Media Today's article made clear how some were politicizing the case, the Korean Teachers Union went even further, taking the English Village Sexual Harassment Countermeasure Committee's concept of the cases being due to structural problems in a more extreme direction. On May 30, Newsis published the following:
KTU: "Sexual harassment in English Village is a structural problem, we must strengthen public education"

Regarding the recent successive cases of sexual harassment of students by English village teachers, the Gyeonggi branch of the National Teachers and Educational Workers' Union (KTU) said on the May 30, "Sexual harassment at English villages is structural problem deriving from unverified native speaking instructors," and insisted on strengthening public English education.

The KTU's Gyeonggi branch said in a statement that day, "Regarding the sexual harassment in Seongnam and Ansan English Village, Gyeonggi Province Governor Sohn Hak-gyu announced that he would prepare measures to improve the overall English Village operating system to prevent recurrence." “However, because it is a structural problem deriving from unverified native speaking instructors, there is a potential for it to happen at any time.”

The Gyeonggi branch of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union (KTU) stated the bases of this opinion as follows: ▲Anyone with a bachelor’s degree can become a native speaking instructor regardless of whether or not they have a teacher’s license ▲ Native speaking instructors’ unrestrained sexual consciousness and mode of expression ▲Native speaker instructors' lack of a sense of responsibility, since few feel they are answering a calling, but rather have as their goal to stay for a short time to experience Korean culture and build up their resumes.

An official from the Gyeonggi branch of the KTU said, "Educational effects cannot be achieved in a classroom with 40 native speakers per class." "If we set up English experience rooms at each school and increase the number of English teachers to reduce the number of students per class in English classes, the effect of English education in public education will increase." 

However, in a follow up article, the Gyeonggi English Village refuted the KTU's claim, saying, "It is one-sidedly denouncing the qualifications of foreign instructors at the English camp."
In response, an official from Gyeonggi English Village said, "We feel entirely responsible for the drunk and inappropriate behavior of a Korean instructor at Ansan Camp," but added, "However, the claim of hiring unverified native English instructors, and the claim about their  [lack of] educational sense is a distortion of the facts, as the qualities of foreign instructors at Gyeonggi English Village are recognized through a thorough preliminary verification process.” 

Meanwhile, Gyeonggi Province Governor Sohn Hak-kyu visited Anseong A Middle School, which the sexually harassed students attend, apologized, and conducted on-site inspections of Ansan Camp and Paju Camp.
The Gyeonggi branch of the KTU blatantly ignored the fact that both the Seongnam and Ansan sexual harassment incidents were allegedly committed by non-native speakers in order to promote xenophobia. The KTU's only foreign member, Jason Thomas, responded as follows:
First, I'll attempt to explain what I think Gyeonggi KTU was doing with the release.

The English Villages in Gyeonggi were founded by Governor Sohn, who is an important member of the conservative Hanarra Party. Public education is not a big priority for Sohn or Hanarra, and the KTU used the publicity surrounding the incidents to score some easy political points against Sohn, and to promote public education. Worthwhile goals, in my opinion.

But this is NOT an apology.

Gyeonggi KTU is cynically exploiting the currents of xenophobia that exist in Korea, to its own ends. The release deliberately targeted ill-informed and biased newsreaders, and I was shocked that teaching professionals would do this. The statement attacks EVERY FOREIGN TEACHER IN KOREA.

Unfortunately, despite appeals from various union members and foreign teachers, the Gyeonggi office has refused to retract their statement.

As SOMEONE must accept responsibility for this inane and hateful piece of propaganda, I will resign from the KTU.
(Thomas went on to become a founding member of ATEK.)

The memory of these cases, and, in part, the false memory of them being committed by a "native speaker" would linger for some time. They also reveal that Anti-English Spectrum was not the only group willing to use distortions of the truth to fuel xenophobia in order to achieve political goals.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The 1968 Blue House raid, seizure of the USS Pueblo, and anti-US demonstrations

For my latest Korea Times article, I look at reactions to the Blue House raid by 31 North Korean commandos seeking to kill Park Chung-hee and the seizure of the USS Pueblo by the North Koreans, both of which took place 55 years ago this week. (More about the 'digit affair' involving the Pueblo prisoners can be read here.)

Last year I began reading through the Korea Times looking for articles about these events and found all sorts of interesting material, including citizens' tales of encounters with the North Korean commandos, some of which turned out tragically, such as the case of a middle school boy killed by a stray bullet.

16 year-old Kim Hyong-gi's family accepted his diploma at the graduation ceremony a week after his death, published in The Korea Times Jan. 31, 1968.

Other articles talked about the earlier curfew, and the lack of late night merrymaking taking place even after it was lifted because people were so shaken.

But what really made my jaw drop were the demonstrations. Not the anti-communist demonstrations by students and citizens - those were par for the course. What caught my attention were demonstrations critical of the US carried out by students in front of the US Embassy and even at the Freedom Bridge in Munsan where US MPs struggled to stop students from crossing. I knew the only way these protests could go forth unmolested by police was because authorities were allowing them (if not encouraging them). What was going on?

I then dug and found that Park was furious at the differences in responses by the US to the Blue House raid and Pueblo seizure, as well as at American insistence that the ROK not retaliate and that it not take part in the Panmunjeom discussions over the Pueblo (because the DPRK would not allow discussions if the ROK was present - a deliberate attempt to divide the ROK and US). On top of this, Park felt personally slighted by the lack of concern shown by US officials regarding the attempt on his life. The media pushed the narrative of being disregarded by the US and public anger grew to the point that the anti-US demonstrations took place, so in response President Johnson sent Cyrus Vance (later Jimmy Carter's first Secretary of State) as his personal envoy to try to cool the situation and work out a deal to send more military support to the ROK.

It was when I decided to look up the declassified cables at the Foreign Relations of The United States website that I found a gold mine of material - 60 pages when gathered in a Word document - and both learned so much more but was then faced with the task of deciding what to include (which convinced me to put it off until the 55th anniversary to give me some time to do this). 

Arguably the most jaw-dropping file was Cyrus Vance's personal oral report to President Johnson upon his (successful) return home, filled as it is with references to Park's drinking and instability, attempts by Korean cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister to get Vance to intervene on their behalves and rein Park in, and revelations about the ROK's own commando infiltration program which had sent numerous missions to the North.

Daniel A. O’Donohue, who had served as political counselor in the US Embassy in Seoul 1960-64, accompanied Vance and, in this diplomatic oral history collection, discussed his memories of the negotiations (pages 290-291):

In effect, what we were going to do was to secure South Korean agreement to operate within our framework. That is, no military actions. For our part we would visibly strengthen the South Koreans militarily. As I say, this negotiation continued through that week. Park was both genuinely but also tactically incensed. However, in the end, there had to be an agreement, however difficult it was going to be to reach it. Vance handled this negotiation beautifully, combining the grace and patience that was needed.

In dealing with the South Korean Foreign Minister, Vance allowed him to insert himself belatedly into the process although the details had already been agreed upon. The South Korean Foreign Minister wanted to get together with Vance to dot a few i’s and cross a few t’s. Well, nobody was happy about that, but Vance agreed. The Foreign Minister forced Vance into an all night meeting. With great patience Vance allowed the Korean side to tell him that this English word was better than that one and that he should put a comma here, etc. With immense tact Vance went through it all and managed both to endure this process, while preserving everything of substance.

Obviously, Vance worked out the final agreement with Park Chung Hee. Vance was able to deliver one of the great lines in diplomacy. You don’t often get a chance to do this. At the last minute President Park said that he wasn’t sure that he could agree. With utter charm Vance said, "Well, Mr. President, I have come here only to see if we could help you, and if you believe that this agreement doesn’t help you, so be it." Well, that took care of it. Park quickly agreed. In fact, the South Koreans had done pretty well.

The long term importance of the agreement was that this was the point at which the modernization of the South Korean armed forces began. Indeed, the attempt by Kim II Sung, the North Korean leader, to increase tensions during this whole period turned out to have been a major strategic mistake. This was because this period of tension really led to the modernization of the South Korean armed forces.

Many things followed from the Blue House raid and Pueblo seizure. Park created homeland defense units of reservists and followed more militarist thinking in regard to citizenship and the role of students. The Charter of Education released in December 1968 "charged [students] with the historic mission of regenerating the nation" and urged them to "fulfil the responsibility and obligation" to "participate and serve in building the nation." Evasion of conscription would also, within a few years, become much more difficult. (Worth noting is that 1968 was also the year that Westernized youth culture began to take hold in South Korea, with the first nude happening being held, Hahn Dae-soo returning to Seoul, weekly magazines mushroomed, and the Pearl Sisters' first LP was released, which was the rock or soul LP to garner attention in the press and on the radio, so opposing trends began to take root at the same time.)

As for the USS Pueblo, it's still a raw topic for some. It now sits in the Taedong River in Pyongyang as a tourist attraction. Just last week the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for its return. The DPRK's comment on the 55th anniversary was that it would wipe out "not only a port or an airfield of a warmonger or invader but their entire land if a second USS Pueblo enters our territorial waters again."

Below are photos from the Korea Times about these events (more political cartoons can be found here):

Manhunt for guerrillas, published in The Korea Times Jan. 25, 1968. 

Kim Sin-jo identifies dead guerrillas, published in The Korea Times Jan. 26, 1968. 

Cartoon critical of US focus on Pueblo, published in The Korea Times Feb. 1, 1968. 

UN Commander Bonesteel and US Ambassador Porter, published in The Korea Times Feb. 7, 1968. 

Anti-North Korea protest, published in The Korea Times Feb. 1, 1968. 

Entertainers, including singer Kim Sang-hee, protest North Korea, published in The Korea Times Feb. 3, 1968. 

Anti-North Korea protest, published in The Korea Times Feb. 4, 1968.

Cartoon on US prestige, published in The Korea Times Feb. 6, 1968.

Cartoon on Pueblo seizure, published in The Korea Times Feb. 7, 1968. 

Students protest at US Embassy, published in The Korea Times Feb. 7, 1968.

Students protest at the Freedom Bridge, published in The Korea Times Feb. 8, 1968. 

SNU students call for withdrawal of ROK troops from Vietnam, published in The Korea Times Feb. 9, 1968. 

Cartoon predicts Cyrus Vance will have a hard time, published in The Korea Times Feb. 11, 1968. 
(Perhaps Vance is worried about the ashtray.)

Cyrus Vance receives a chilly reception, published in The Korea Times Feb. 14, 1968. 

Park Chung-hee does target practice rather than meet Vance, published in The Korea Times Feb. 13, 1968. 

Ambassador Porter and Vance meet Park, published in The Korea Times Feb. 13, 1968. 

Vance and Porter meet with cabinet ministers, published in The Korea Times Feb. 14, 1968. 

Vance and Park part ways warmly, published in The Korea Times Feb. 16, 1968. 

Vance and President Johnson discuss his visit, published in The Korea Times Feb. 17, 1968.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

2005: Media Today criticizes the SBS program on foreign English teachers

The 2005 English Spectrum Incident

Part 1: English Spectrum and 'Ask The Playboy'
Part 2: The Kimchiland where it’s easy to sleep with women and make money
Part 3: English Spectrum shuts down as Anti-English Spectrum is created
Part 4: How to hunt foreign women
Part 5: Did the foreigners who denigrated Korean women throw a secret party?
Part 6: The 'Ask The Playboy' sexy costume party
Part 7: Stir over ‘lewd party’ involving foreigners and Korean women
Part 8: The 2003 post that tarred foreign English teachers as child molesters
Part 9: Netizens shocked by foreign instructor site introducing how to harass Korean children
Part 10: 'Recruit a Yankee strike force!'
Part 11: The Daum signature campaign: 'Let's kick out low quality foreign instructors!' 
Part 12: Movement to expel foreign teachers who denigrated Korean women
Part 13: "Middle school girls will do anything"
Part 14: Netizens propose 'Yankee counter strike force'
Part 15: Segye Ilbo interview with the women from the party, part 1
Part 16: Segye Ilbo interview with the women from the party, part 2
Part 17: Web messages draw Koreans’ wrath
Part 18: Thai female laborers and white English instructors
Part 19: KBS Morning Newstime: 'I can also suffer from the two faces of the internet'
Part 20: AES: Grandfather Dangun is wailing in his grave!
Part 21: 'Regret' over the scandal caused by confessions of foreign instructors
Part 22: "Korean men have no excuse"
Part 23: "Unfit foreign instructors should be a 'social issue'"
Part 24: Growing dispute over foreign English instructor qualifications
Part 25: 'Clamor' at foreigner English education site
Part 26: Foreign instructor: "I want to apologize"
Part 27: No putting brakes on 'Internet human rights violations'
Part 28: "They branded us as whores, yanggongju and pimps," part 1
Part 29: "They branded us as whores, yanggongju and pimps," part 2
Part 30: Don't Imagine
Part 31: Anti-English Spectrum founder's statement
Part 32: 'Foreign instructor' takes third place
Part 33: Art From Outsider's Point of View
Part 34: U.S. Embassy warns Americans of threats near colleges
Part 35: Internet real name system debated
Part 36: Dirty Korean women who have brought shame to the country?
Part 37: Invasion of Privacy Degrades Korean Women Twice Over
Part 38: 60 unqualified native speaking instructors hired for English instruction
Part 39: The rising tide of unqualified foreign instructors
Part 40: Warrant for Canadian English instructor who molested hagwon owner
Part 41: MBC Sisa Magazine 2580: "Korea is a paradise"
Part 42: Foreign instructor: "In two years I slept with 20 Korean women."
Part 43: Viewers shocked by shameless acts of unqualified foreign instructors.
Part 44: Warrant for the arrest of a man in his 30s for breaking into home of foreign instructors
Part 45: [Cultural criticism] Hongdae club day lewd party incident 
Part 46: Unqualified English instructors seen as major problem here
Part 47: Investigation of the realities of 'foreign instructors' methods for luring Korean women'
Part 48: Broadcast announcement: 'For foreign instructors, is Korea a paradise for women?'
Part 49: To white English instructors, the Republic of Korea is a paradise
Part 50: "If they're white, it's okay?" Lots of English instructor frauds... 
Part 51: A new message from Anti English Spectrum
Part 52: 
SBS, 'Is Korea their paradise? Blond hair blue eyes' part 1
Part 53: SBS, 'Is Korea their paradise? Blond hair blue eyes' part 2 
Part 54: SBS, 'Is Korea their paradise? Blond hair blue eyes' part 3
Part 55: Viewers of 'Realities of unfit foreign instructors' outraged
Part 56: Foreign instructor: "Korea is a cash and women dispenser."
Part 57: Frustration with low-standard foreign instructors: "Korea's pride damaged"
Part 55: Viewers of 'Realities of unfit foreign instructors' outraged
Part 56: Foreign instructor: "Korea is a cash and women dispenser."
Part 57: Frustration with low-standard foreign instructors: "Korea's pride damaged"
Part 58: Netizen anger over 'foreign instructor' broadcast
Part 59: Video On Demand service for "I Want to Know That" temporarily suspended
Part 60: TV Program Warms Up Foreign Teacher Controversy
Part 61: A country where foreign English instructors play
Part 62: "Let's not use foreign actors": Controversy spreads over SBS's 'I Want to Know That' report 
Part 63: Anti English Spectrum distributes pamphlets in Seoul taking advantage of the SBS broadcast, part 1
Part 64: Anti English Spectrum distributes pamphlets in Seoul taking advantage of the SBS broadcast, part 2

Part 65: Problems with the report on native-speaking English instructors

And here, five years after finishing this series, I thought it was done! But today I discovered this March 2, 2005 article from Media Today which criticized the infamous SBS report summarized in parts 52-54.

Problems with the report on native-speaking English instructors

[Media Today] On February 19, SBS’s 'I Want To Know That' reported on the reality of native-speaking English instructors.

The report focused on the illegal employment of foreigners without educational qualifications (no E-2 visas), the trend of excessive English education, and racial discrimination in Korea.

The direct motive for the production of this program was a website that became a problem in January due to expressions by a community of native-speaking English instructors that, among other things, denigrated Korean women.

However, this program denigrated fellow Koreans with a narrow-minded perspective and a broadcast based on prejudice, when the topic should have been reported objectively.

First of all, after beginning by showing the physical affection shown between foreign men and Korean women at clubs near Hongik University, most of it is premised on prejudice against native-speaking English instructors, and it sensationalizes the behavior of unqualified English instructors until the middle of the program.

What’s worse, according to the testimony(?) of a Korean who ran an English academy, it’s concluded that "only 5% of native-speaking English instructors are properly qualified."

This is can be characterized as denigration and collective insult.

What is the rationale for the 5% figure? This program denounces law-abiding native-speaking English instructors who are helping our citizens learn English as "people who do drugs, rape teens, and enjoy adult entertainment."

By the time we reach the middle of the program, it makes even bigger mistakes through leaps of logic.

It shows the Ministry of Justice's Immigration Bureau's heavy-handed crackdown on foreign workers and the employment stories of Korean-Americans, and while discussing the problems of policies related to foreigners, it concludes that at the bottom of it all "there is our own citizens' pro-white policy or racism."

Then, there is an interview with a woman who married a native-speaking English instructors and is now preparing for a divorce, but this cannot be understood.

How is this a practical example of how to inform the public about the problems of native-speaking English instructors? This interview can only be understood in the flow of the program as arguing that "all native speaking instructors are scam artists."

The basic framework of the program, which says that there should be no racial discrimination in cracking down on illegal employment of foreigners and that excessive consumption of English learning should be eradicated, is correct.

However, its way of proving this claim is wrong.

Why are all native-speaking English instructors collectively criticized and the crackdown on them expanded and reproduced under the theme of "racism"? The intention of the program was good, but what about the native-speaking English instructors who will be harmed by it, the parents who entrusted their children to them, and all of us who suddenly became racists? Should we reflect? Why should we reflect? What will the media reflect on for instilling unfounded favor towards white-skinned English speakers? It was a moment when I desperately felt the limitations of the accusatory program made without thinking deeply.

This article is abbreviated from a post at ‘Blue Moon’s blog (http://blog.naver.com/kickthebaby.do) with the consent of the author.

I'll admit to being a bit confused by the criticism of SBS for 'making Koreans all racists' by pointing out a preference for white-skinned English speakers. That, and the comment about "the media... instilling unfounded favor towards white-skinned English speakers" seem to make the program responsible for the "unfounded favor" of Koreans, when it is merely noting it exists. 

As well, considering the influence of this program, a more correct way to put the question would be "What will the media reflect on for instilling unfounded [dis]favor towards white-skinned English speakers?" Mind you, as the criticism above notes, the issues at hand (illegally-working foreign English instructors long being overlooked) were worth criticizing, but the program was too sensationalist and rushed to collectively blame foreign instructors as a group. Its longer-standing legacy, though, was to inject a negative tone into reporting about foreign English instructors that lasted for the better part of a decade.

(Also, in looking at the blog address, it would seem the author of this criticism, was a fan of South Park.)

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Hongdae, degenerating due to foreigners, cheers to see them banned (2005-2007)

The following news reports critical of foreigners in Hongdae - from 2005 and 2007 - are blasts from the past. They were not translated by me but I have permission to post them since they're no longer online.

First up is this article from the Herald Gyeongje, published on August 5, 2005:

[Emergency on-site report, Hongdae, haven of desire] Temptation of 'One night stands'... an abundant market of foreigners

Some Korean women also come to booking clubs looking for 'blue-eyed' men

The number of foreigners walking up and down in front of Hongik University is increasing. Clubs with foreign DJs are enjoying a boom, and there are more and more Korean women visiting these and particular clubs for “booking” (for definition of “booking,” see here). The clubs in front of the Hongik University, known as the birthplace of Korea’s indie culture, are transforming in a foreigner’s “paradise for hunting women.”

As recently as the 2002 incident in which two middle school girls were killed by a U.S. military vehicle, the clubs in front of Hongik University were known as a “no-entry” area for U.S. soldiers. Foreign English teachers and foreign business folk like those who worked for financial firms in Yeouido were also banned from entry. An official with the Hongik University Club Federation said, “I remember the ban on U.S. soldiers as a measure taken out of consideration for public sentiment when the soldiers were found not guilty [in the 2002 armored vehicle incident]… The initial goal was to try to stop unfortunate incidents caused by U.S. soldiers from occurring.”

Afterwards, the flow of foreigners to the Hongik area stopped. Local residents openly complained that the Hongik area had been ruined “because of the U.S. soldiers and foreigners,” and club officials thoroughly put an end to the improper foreign club culture. The situation has changed, however. In 2003, the Hongik clubs began hiring foreign DJs and bands, and foreigners once again began heading to the area.

On official with one club in the area said, “It appears that as Korean women thinking of marrying foreigners and women who studied abroad flock to Hongik area, the number of foreigners is also increasing… We started performances by foreign bands in order to give the place a foreign atmosphere without having to go abroad.”

The reason why these women flock to the place, which seemed to have developed a healthy foreigner culture as foreigners became the norm there, is because the number of foreigners “who want to meet ‘real Koreans’” has increased. Ms. Lee, a 30-year-old who studied abroad, said, “Hongik has now become a ‘meeting place’ to meet with foreigners, with the number of younger women dating foreigners on the rise… There are also countless women coming to the area to engage in booking with foreign men.”

Hongdae is now an area hot with youthful passion that has degenerated from being mixed up with foreigners. As the recent act of indecent exposure by a punk band on live TV showed, the diversity and individuality of the area in front of Hongik University is nowhere to be found. As the number of foreigners with more of an interest in booking and one night stands than in the music increases, there are many women coming to the clubs in search of “blue-eyed men.”

The foreign men and Korean women enjoy heading to Picasso Street and “M” and “A” clubs. One foreign English teacher working in Gangnam said, “The area in front of Hongik University is the only place in Korea where we can meet girlfriends… There’s a general trend for Korean women to come up to you to talk, even if you’re just sitting in a club.”

"Hongdae is now an area hot with youthful passion that has degenerated from being mixed up with foreigners." No, tell us what you really think, Herald Gyeongje.

On January 29, 2007, YTN broadcast this news report (the video is no longer online, unfortunately).

Scandalous behavior of foreigners on weekend nights in Hongdae... police just watch.

It’s Saturday night in front Hongik University

A group of three or four foreigners with short hair ogle a passing girl.

They yell and point…

The girl, who was talking on the phone, flees the area as if she were startled.

In the alleyways, you can easily find foreigners making comments to passing women.

[Interview: local resident]

“Simply put, it’s at a point that you could take it as harassment.”

“Is this a normal scene?”


It’s common to find foreigners drinking anywhere.

You can even find foreigners drinking by fires they’ve set on the street.

Drunken, some urinate on the sidewalk, while others are making out even on the street.

Outrageous behavior such as this continues straight till dawn.

[Interview: neighborhood merchant]

“Are there many drunk [foreigners]?”

“They’re all drunk. They go around in groups of three or four. Never alone.”

With problems continuing, there are some bars that ban foreigners all together.

[Interview: female college student]

“These days, U.S. soldiers are constantly doing something, so many clubs are banning U.S. soldiers.”

Many residents are particularly worried that young drunk foreigners might go beyond simply outrageous behavior to commit crimes.

In fact, on Jan. 13, many were shocked when a U.S. soldier who was drinking near Hongik University until dawn sexually assaulted a grandmother in her sixties in a neighborhood alley.

Despite the situation being what it is, police aren’t even thinking of cracking down.

[Interview: police]

“USFK has to send MPs to patrol or something. There’s really nothing we can do.”

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.

One has to appreciate YTN highlighting the fact that foreigners "go around in groups of three or four. Never alone,” which is so, so different from Korean social behavior.

On February 3, five days later, YTN issued a follow-up report in which it cheered its victory. (Note that the TV report this translation was based on is no longer online, though a report with a similar opening published the same day, which mentions that Hongdae had been off limits to USFK personal up until the previous June, is here.

U.S.F.K. makes Hongdae off limits to soldiers

In connection to a YTN broadcast that there were frequent acts of outrageous behavior by some USFK soldiers in the entertainment district near Hongik University, USFK command has banned U.S. soldiers from the area in front of Hongik University.

Since U.S. soldiers stopped going to Hongdae, peace has returned to the area.

Reporter Lee Seung-yun took a look at the changed weekend scene in Hongdae, which used to be thronged with U.S. soldiers.


A YTN report on Jan. 29 revealed the outrageous behavior of U.S. soldiers frequenting the area in front of Hongik University.

In connect with this, USFK commander Gen. B.B. Bell banned U.S. soldiers from entering the entertainment district in front of Hongik, saying that misbehavior by soldiers and excessive drinking was on the rise.

Accordingly, USFK soldiers cannot enter the Hongik University area between 9:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. unless for specific duties.


This was an entertainment alley that just a few days ago was thronged with U.S. soldiers.

Since the ban, it has become difficult to find U.S. soldiers here.

Police who have stepped up patrols in front of Hongik University following YTN’s broadcast said that since the ban, incidents involving foreigners have greatly decreased.

[Interview: Lt. Park Du-hyeon, Mapo Police Station, Hongik Patrol]

“Since the ban, the area in front of Hongik University has maintained a state of very serene public order. After the YTN report, we’ve been stepping up regular patrols in the high-incident period of midnight to 4:00 a.m.”

The Hongdae businesses that banned U.S. soldiers because of misbehavior by drunk servicemen say that peace has returned, and the mood is a joyous one.

[Interview: An employee of a Hongdae business]

“Since (U.S. soldiers) were getting drunk and fighting, it wasn’t good, so if they can’t come at all, the businesses welcome it.”

Residents hope that with this measure, U.S. soldiers will develop an awareness for public order and come to harmonize with Koreans [Marmot's Note: Between the public drunkenness, peeing on the street and harassment of female clubbers, some might argue that GIs were doing just that before the ban).

[Interview: Lee Jae-uk, office worker]

“I think we’ll see less of drunk foreigners and Koreans fighting and bad scenes on the street.”

[Interview: Kim Min-hee, university student]

“There naturally needs to be discipline taken for causing incidents, but U.S. soldiers, too, have the right and freedom to come here.”

This is Lee Seung-yun [risungyoon@ytn.co.kr], YTN

It's hard not to chuckle at the police officer's comment, "Since the ban, the area in front of Hongik University has maintained a state of very serene public order." So nice of YTN to broadcast such xenophobic tripe, though perhaps it turned out this way in part because of the participation of Anti-English Spectrum, who take credit for contributing to these reports on the page listing their accomplishments:

2007.01 Personally went on location to shoot a report on the problems with Hongdae Club Day, the gathering place of low-quality foreigner English teachers, for the purpose of broadcasts and press exposure. Breaknews, YTN broadcast the report numerous times by the hour. A barrage of civil petitions were sent to Mapo Police Station, and after the news broadcast, the police announced that it would implement a crackdown.

2007.02 After our cafe’s broadcast went out on the atrocious behaviors of foreigners at Hongdae clubs, Commander Bell’s U.S. forces in Korea were completely prohibited from entering Hongdae clubs.

I thought this 'citizen's group' was targeting foreign English teachers. It's almost as if they were not just concerned with "illegal" foreign instructors but rather wanted to expel all Westerners... perhaps because of the goings-on described in the first article above.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Crackdown on migrant workers, but not Westerners teaching illegally, is 'racial discrimination' (2003)

In my first-ever published long-form piece, "Drag The Illegal Foreign Workers Out Into The Sun," which was published at Znet in December 2003, I examined changes in government policy regarding migrant workers in Korea, as well as the the history of the migrant workers' union and the events leading up to a large-scale crackdown on migrants working illegally in Korea.

Under the Industrial Trainee System (ITS), which had operated since 1991 (though industrial training programs for people from developing countries had existed since at least 1975), conglomerates like Samsung and LG were meant to provide training to employees of their overseas branches, but it instead quickly became a way for small and medium sized businesses to import cheap labor, especially after the Korea Federation of Small Businesses (KFSB) was given the authority to operate the program in 1993. The program was attractive for these companies because they could pay the trainees very little, the Labor Standards Act wasn’t enforced for trainees, and was there no need to provide severance pay or medical insurance. Another aspect of the system was that a) it only lasted two years, and b) applicants had to pay KFSB recruiters in Southeast or South Asian countries “more than $US 8000” to apply, which required the applicants to take out loans which, considering their low pay and short time in Korea, all but necessitated that they leave these low paying ‘trainee’ positions (which often simply threw them into work with little training) for widely-available higher-paying jobs – which then made their immigration status in Korea illegal. This left them with little legal recourse should they be cheated out of their wages. Large numbers of "illegal" migrant workers were not the result of a bug in the system, but a feature of it.

By 2003, 80% of Korea’s 350,000 migrant workers were undocumented, as compared to less than 10% in Taiwan and less than 5% in Singapore. To solve this and other problems associated with the ITS, the government passed a law in July 2003 creating the new Employment Permit System (EPS), which allowed workers to work for three years, but did not allow workers to change jobs; as well, their visa had to be renewed by their employers every year. As I wrote,

Migrant workers (including undocumented workers) in Korea for less than three years could apply to take part in the EPS; those who had stayed in the country between three and four years could apply but would have to endure the expense of leaving the country to be issued a new visa; and those who had stayed over four years would be forced to leave. A period during which the latter group (perhaps 120,000 people) could voluntarily exit the country ended November 16.  After this period ended, the government promised to begin deporting every undocumented worker. 

To aid in the crackdown, the government announced that employers of illegal workers would face fines of 20 million won (US$17,000) or two years in jail, leaving most no choice but to dismiss their workers. […] A total of 400 officers of the Justice Ministry and police officers in 50 different roundup teams nationwide began their crackdown November 17, but were hampered by the fact that the detainment centers nationwide have a capacity of only 1300.

Unlike the seventeen periodic crackdowns that had occurred during the previous thirteen years, this was to be ongoing until all illegal workers had been ‘dragged out into the sun’ and deported, to quote the ROK’s “progressive” Justice Minister, Gang Geum-sil. In response, a number of migrant workers committed suicide rather than be forced to return home. Members of the Equality Trade Union Migrant’s Branch (ETU-MB) held a sit-in at Myeong-dong Cathedral for over a year protesting the EPS and the crackdown.

The tents where those holding the sit-in lived, August 2004. Note the photos of those who had committed suicide, left of center.

The EPS is still in place today, and while it has allowed workers to stay longer and loosened some restrictions over the years, there are still structural problems with it, as well as some horror stories.

On November 28, 2003, eleven days after the crackdown began, the Munhwa Ilbo published the following article.

Crackdown on illegal immigrants is 'racial discrimination'

(Zero crackdown on illegal language instructors from places like the US or UK)

While cracking down on foreign workers staying in Korea illegally, the government only focused on those from China and Southeast Asia, causing controversy over its “racially discriminative crackdown” as it did not act against “illegal immigrants from developed countries” such as the US, the UK, or Canada. In particular, the number of illegal foreign language instructors has been increasing every year due to English fever, but there has been no systematic management of, or crackdown on, them, so it has been argued that they are living in an “extraterritorial area.”

On November 27,  the Ministry of Justice and hagwon industry representatives stated that a total of 880 foreigners working here illegally had been caught by the government's joint crackdown team since November 17. A total of 443 people, or half of them, were deported. By country, Koreans from China accounted for most, with 269, followed by Bangladesh with 23, Thailand with 20, and 131 others. However, not a single one of them was an English instructor working in Korea illegally, of whom there is estimated to be 20,000 throughout the country.

It is estimated that 30,000 foreigners are employed at 5,091 foreign language academies nationwide, but only 10,235 foreigners entered Korea in 2002 with an E-2 visa that allows them to work as a conversation instructor. This means there are 20,000 instructors who did not have the college degree or hagwon employment permit needed to obtain an E-2 visa, meaning they are all illegal aliens.

Some large private academies in Seoul are also reportedly hiring part-time instructors with unclear qualifications in order to cut costs. Moreover, as the demand for foreign instructors has increased due to the recent spread of English fever to elementary school students and kindergartens, employment agencies that supply unqualified foreign instructors to hagwons have even appeared on the Internet, and about 20 such companies nationwide are booming.

These agencies are prospering because their websites are full of inquiries, from companies seeking to hire foreigners whose native language is English to foreign job seekers. There are even websites that provide detailed information on how to enter the country on a tourist visa first and then change over to a conversation instruction working visa. Crackdowns on these illegal conversation instructors are carried out not by the government's joint crackdown team, but by each city and provincial office of education. An official from the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education said, “There are only two people overseeing the 1,000 hagwons in Seoul, which is not enough staff to check that each one is following the law.” “Moreover, there is virtually no way to prevent foreign language tutoring arranged between individuals.”

Regarding this, Jeong Jin-u, a representative of the Foreign Workers Council, said, “Undocumented foreigners are being arrested by doing random checks on the streets, and these crackdowns are based on skin color.” “Even though [these foreign teachers] are the same illegal immigrants, there is prejudice against people from poor countries and people of color,” he criticized.

Reporter Jeon Yeong-sun 

This article makes a good point about the discriminatory manner in which crackdowns were carried out, a fact that would later contribute to the idea that foreign English instructors were treated "too kindly" (an idea that was not new, mind you). It should be noted, however, that the numbers the article suggests are not necessarily sound. Where the estimate of 30,000 foreigners beingemployed in foreign language academies came from isn't clear, and is likely too high. As well, subtracting the 10,235 foreigners who "entered Korea in 2002 with an E-2 visa" is not helpful because, even if the "30,000" figure were correct, it does not take into consideration the number of F-4 visa holders (gyopo from Western countries) teaching English at that time. 

As for the assertion that "there is virtually no way to prevent foreign language tutoring arranged between individuals," the increase in the number of foreign teachers teaching both legally and illegally in 1997 led Immigration to crack down in the following manner:
Immigration officers began following foreigners on the subway and grabbing them when they went to their jobs at companies or private homes.  Building security guards would contact immigration if they saw the same foreigner repeatedly entering a home or building.  Immigration would actually enter private homes and arrest the foreigner there.  People were dragged out of private students’ apartments, pushed and slapped around by immigration officials in some cases, and deported within the week.

Strangest of all, immigration officers would pose as potential private students and approach foreigners for English lessons (this is called entrapment in the US).  Just admitting that you are doing illegal work to an undercover immigration officer is ground for deportation in Korea. 

If you are doing illegal work, Korean immigration has a hotline that anyone can call and turn you in.  Once you are fingered by someone, immigration will start monitoring you in order to catch you teaching privates or other outside work.  This includes having undercover immigration officials offering you work or grabbing you on the subway, searching you, and then deporting you just for carrying ESL textbooks and not having a work visa. 
Despite these quibbles, the article is correct about the difference in treatment between the two groups of foreigners, and when the 2005 English Spectrum incident blew up, this came up in the media more than once. On January 16, 2005, the Kyunghyang Sinmun published an editorial on the topic:

The case of Thai female laborers paralyzed from the waist down due to occupational illness and the stir over the sexual demeaning of Korean women by white English instructors shows well the 'double standard' Koreans apply to foreigners. White people are very warmly welcomed, while foreigners from Asia couldn't receive more cold-hearted treatment. This racially discriminatory attitude is reflected in government policy as well. This is a slice of "Ugly Korea." [...]

While these are the individual acts of some instructors who have taken advantage of our society's English fever, through the contempt for and disparaging of Korean women, improper sexual ethics and a mentality of envying white people have come to light. Among white instructors are not a few illegal aliens and those unqualified to teach, but they avoid government crackdowns. What kind of country is Korea, unable to free itself from the "two faces" it has toward foreigners?

This criticism truly went mainstream when, in February 2005, the SBS news program "I Want to Know That" broadcast an episode critical of foreign English teachers and, at one point, compared their treatment to that of foreign migrant workers, noting that many migrant workers were manhandled roughly when arrested, and that of 22,826 'illegal' foreigners arrested in 2004, only 123, or 0.5%, were foreign instructors.

It was from that point that there began a shift in the media from focusing equally on unscrupulous hagwon owners and unqualified foreigners riding the English wave to an almost singular focus on unqualified foreigners who were likely also womanizers or drug users or pedophiles taking advantage of Korea's desire for English.

To be sure, in the aftermath of the English Spectrum incident there were more arrests of foreigners teaching illegally in Korea, but, with 240 arrested in one year, these were still rather small numbers in comparison to the number of migrant workers arrested.

Illegal English teachers caught in 2005 by month

Among the foreign teachers caught was an American held at Yeosu's immigration detention center who, in his "Prison Diary of an English Teacher" published by Ohmynews in May of 2005 (Part 1; Part 2), described conditions at the center in less than positive terms. Two years later, a fire at that detention center killed ten detainees, a fact that isn't surprising considering his description of the facility and the working conditions of the guards. The teacher (who was actually a friend of a friend) also made an observation in Part 1 pertinent to the article above:

When I was first brought to the immigration authorities in Busan, I was threatened verbally as well as physically because I refused to show them my passport. It was taken from me by force after at least seven immigration and police officials held me down (one, almost suffocated me by covering my mouth.) Before they knew I was an American they thought I was from some African country. After they learned I was American, their attitudes changed drastically...

For all the negative media attention directed at foreign teachers, however, arrests and deportation of teachers teaching illegally was never comparably as high as arrests of migrant workers, nor were wide-ranging period crackdowns standard in the ESL industry. As well, it's worth noting that practically everyone I knew in the Migrant Workers Union during their sit-in at Myeong-dong Cathedral in 2003 and 2004 was arrested and deported, sometimes after clearly having been surveilled by the government for some time.

As I noted in this post, the news media in Korea between 2005 and 2015 (or so) was quite negative about foreign English instructors, reporting on any infraction large or small, while sometimes overlooking the similar behavior of migrant workers due to journalists' understanding that Korean society treated migrant workers migrant workers so unfairly. As I put it, "The resulting depiction of these groups in the media stands in contrast to, and is a reversal of, lived experience for many." Or that was the case a decade ago. These days the media barely pays attention to foreign teachers, so the balance in media coverage has likely changed quite a bit.

Here are some more of my posts about migrant workers in Korea:

Yeosu: An entirely preventable tragedy (2007)

MTU Leaders Arrested (2007)

Stop Crackdown, or why a quarter of the foreign population in Korea still lives in the Fifth Republic (2009)

More on Minu's deportation; Stealing from deportees (2009)

The 2009 film Bandhobi: The Good, The Bad, and The Minor