Monday, February 06, 2023

Korean media reaction to discovering a confessed killer taught English in Korea (2006)

[This is based on a post no longer online (though used with permission) and is expanded with additional information and my translation of the Segye Ilbo article.]

In mid-August 2006 Korean media were reporting, as many outlets were, on the story of John Mark Karr, who had been arrested in Thailand and was due to be extradited to the US after confessing to the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey. Karr had lived outside the US since 2001 after he was arrested for possession of child pornography, divorced, and then had become a fugitive after he violated the terms of his supervised release. In the time since, it was discovered, he had taught or supervised children in various locations around the world. (And, as it turned out, he had nothing to do with Ramsey's death.)

As more details were unearthed about his live, however, a new revelation came to light on August 18:

Karr, who arrived in Thailand earlier this year looking for work as a teacher, claims to have spent years skipping from job to job, country to country, nearly all the time working with children. Karr taught for two months in early 2002 at I&S Language School in Seoul, South Korea, said Kim Sun-tae, an official at the Seoul Dongbu District Office of Education. And in Taiwan, the National Police Administration said Friday that Karr entered the country in August 2005 and left two months later.

A year and a half after the English Spectrum Incident, months after the English Village cases (which didn't involve native-speaking instructors, but that didn't stop some from saying so anyways) and amid Break News' numerous negative articles about foreign instructors, this news led to a good deal of criticism of English teacher hiring practices in Korea.

First of all, however, there was a rush to confirm that Karr had actually taught in Korea. As Yonhap reported on the 18th, the Korean Justice Ministry was not yet able to confirm whether Karr had actually taught in Korea. In a briefing that day, the head of Korea’s immigration service said that without specific information, namely a passport number and a date of birth, it couldn’t say for sure whether the man suspected of killing Ramsey had come to Korea.

According to a source at Incheon International Airport, however, an individual by the name of John Mark Karr entered Korea three times between 2001 and 2005. On all three visits he came without a visa, meaning he could stay no more than 30 days. The source was unable to confirm whether the person in question was the same one under arrest in Thailand.

Later that day, Yonhap reported that Kim Seon-tae, the official quoted by CBS above, had stated that "It is highly likely that John Mark Carr served as an English instructor at a private academy in Bongcheon-dong, Gwanak-gu, Seoul from January to March 2002" but did not know for sure since they "could not confirm whether it is the same person as the murderer."

Yonhap also noted that in an online resume, Karr claimed that he taught 22 hours a week at a language academy in Korea for three months from 2001 to 2002, and that he gave and graded assignments as the only English instructor at the academy.

The Kyonghyang Sinmun added that said person worked at the academy for two months from January 14, 2002 to March 14, while an MBC interviewed an Official from Dongjak Office of Education who said, "The language school notified me that he was dismissed while working. The reason for dismissal on March 14 is not recorded." MBC also, correctly, as it turned out, noted that "it is still questionable whether Karr is the real culprit" in the murder he confessed to.

Despite Karr ultimately not being involved, the fact that a confessed murderer with child pornography charges in his past had taught in Korea prompted calls to strengthen Korea’s ability to keep out foreign sex offenders and improve the standards for hiring foreign teachers.

The Chosun Ilbo concluded an editorial titled "[Korea is also defenseless] There is no way to know even if a foreign sex offender enters the country" with the following:

However, if these foreign sex offenders enter Korea, because there is no information sharing with the other countries, there is no way for the Korean government to prevent them from entering the country and commiting sex crimes. There was an incident in May when an American assistant teacher at Seongnam English Village, Gyeonggi-do, was accused of sexually harassing an elementary school student, so the American's contract was canceled.

The problem with the provided example, of course, is that said (Korean) American assistant teacher was not hired as a native speaker but as a Korean-speaking teacher.

On August 19, the Segye Ilbo published the following article which contributed this memorable cartoon:

(The podium reads "unqualified")

Blond hair, blue eyes, big nose, English coming out of his mouth, holding a girl toy, unqualified, money sticking out of his pocket? Check, check, and check!

As long as they speak English... the 'don't ask questions' hiring of foreign instructors

Mr. A (26) visited an English academy in Seocho-gu, Seoul last June to become an English instructor. Mr. A, who introduced himself as an American, stated that he had a lot of experience teaching English and went to university in the United States. As Mr. A wore a neat suit, spoke English fluently, and did not demand a higher salary than other instructors, the academy hired Mr. A without checking his nationality or academic background. Mr. A lectured for 1 hour and 30 minutes a day and received 2 million won per month. However, as a result of an Immigration Office crackdown, it was discovered that Mr. A was not an American, but rather a Nigerian national, and had not not even gone to university.

Mr. A said that he’d heard he could earn money by speaking only English in Korea, so he came on a tourist visa in 2001 and went around Gangnam and other areas teaching English. He was caught and deported on  August 10.

While a number of private academies and kindergartens are hiring foreign English instructors due to the recent countrywide craze for learning English, some private academies are causing controversy by hiring unqualified English instructors to save money.

According to the law, if foreigners want to teach English at hagwons, they must obtain an E-2 visa, which is an employment visa, and submit to the hagwon a diploma from a 4-year university. However, among the large number of foreigners who work as English teachers, there are many cases in which they entered Korea on tourist visas, lied about their nationalities, or forged diplomas.

In October of last year, 69 foreigners who forged university diplomas and transcripts from English-speaking countries such as Canada and the United States and worked as unqualified English instructors in Korea were caught by prosecutors and forced to leave the country.

According to the Seoul Immigration Office, about 240 unqualified foreign instructors were caught last year in Seoul alone, and 20 to 30 have been caught every month this year as well. There are cases where people who have committed crimes such as murder abroad openly work as English instructors in Korea.

In the case of John Mark Carr (41), who was recently arrested in Thailand for the 1996 murder of 'Little Miss Colorado' John Bennett Ramsey in the United States it was reported in the foreign media that from January to March 2002, he worked as an English instructor for children at a private academy in Seoul. 

Even if the authorities catch them, they only receive light punishment due to the lack of related laws. Most of the unqualified foreign instructors and the employers who hired them are fined only a few million won. Even among foreigners, there is a widespread perception that even if they’re caught, they will only be fined and deported, so they calculate that they will come out ahead as long as they are not caught for more than a year. 

An official from G English Hagwon in Jongno, Seoul said, “The students want foreign instructors and the hagwons rush to bring in foreigners, so there are many cases where unqualified instructors are used.” 

Reporters Lee Gwi-jeon and Jang Won-ju

Also reporting on this case was the online issue discussion site Buchaejil, which posted an article on the netizen fury over low-quality English teachers and the Korean women who love them.

Pointing to the shock many felt at learning that the prime suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey killing may have taught children in Korea, the writer noted that netizens were outraged that even murderers could apparently get jobs teaching in Korea and were calling for employment conditions for native English speakers to be strengthened.

The article pointed out that questions about the behavior of native-speaking English teachers in Korea had been raised for some time. Hagwon officials complained that they were going crazy because of the behavior of their foreign teachers.

It noted that not so long ago, a "native speaking instructor" at an English camp sexually assaulted a student, but hagwon officials said such incidents happened all the time. [Except for the fact that the English Village cases did not involve native speakers.]

According to a netizen familiar with the problem of decadent foreign teachers, the foreign instructors, who apparently thought of Korean women as sexual playthings, were only part of the problem. Also problematic were Korean women with a weakness for foreign men.

The netizen said there were many instances of foreign teachers seducing women at nightclubs and the clubs of Hongik University by telling them they would teach them English.

The article cited an assortment of netizen comments about foreign English teachers and the women that chase after them, such as this one by an individual going under the online ID of asleychung:

The place you’ll find a lot of low-quality English teachers is the JJ Mahoney's nightclub of the Seoul Hyatt Hotel. It seems even moneyless, beggar-like English teachers can get in. They all get together to hit on Korean women. Whart’s worse, also going there are garbage-like gyopo from Canada who come to Korea because they can’t get jobs back home. To make a living, they teach children English in places like Budang and Pyeongchon, but at the club, they act like big shots intimidating and seducing the women who come there.

[One has to watch out for Americans in JJ Mahoney's, of course.]

In the wake of the revelation about Karr teaching in Korea, netizens were calling for regulations on the hiring of foreign teachers to be strengthened. One netizen decried how foreigners don’t appear subject to background checks when hired as teachers. Another complained of all the "American beggars" coming to Korea to teach low-quality English and fraternize with local women, and called on the government to strengthen its qualification requirements. Still other netizens complained of all the low-class foreigners teaching English in Korea.

The article concluded by saying that some people were taking things into their own hands. The Korea Foreign Teacher Recruiting Association had released a blacklist of foreign instructors and some patriotic netizens had banded together over at to form a movement to expel illegal English teachers (ie. Anti English Spectrum).

While this case did not lead to changes in hagwon hiring policies or E-2 visa regulations, it provided more material for Anti-English Spectrum and outlets like Break News to work with in pushing for change that summer.

Thursday, February 02, 2023

The native-speaking English instructor blacklist (2006)

On August 15, 2006, Yonhap published the following article:

Native-speaking English instructor ‘Blacklist’

Amid the growing demand for native-speaking English instructors, a 'blacklist' containing the full names of instructors who have disappeared or quit after causing 'problems' has been posted on the internet and is attracting attention.

According to the Korea Native-speaking Instructor Recruiting Association ( on August 15, the blacklist, which has been posted since February on the association's website, features 19 cases of causing problems such as showing insincere attitudes toward work or running away after committing criminal acts, along with the names of the teachers involved.

This blacklist, which was prepared based on the claims of hagwons or elementary school officials who hired the instructors, contains specific examples such as 'forgery of university graduation degrees', 'submission of fake documents', ‘quitting without notice after vacation', 'fleeing to their home country with a school laptop', and 'sexual harassment by often touching students' bodies.'

Choe Hyeok, president of the association, said in a greeting on the website, "We set up this homepage to share information about poor, low-quality, and illegal instructors." "There are many excellent native speakers of high quality, but as time passes there is a lot of damage to the field of education due to low-quality instructors with many problems," he said.

Since 2002, the number of E-2 visas required to get a job as a foreign language instructor in Korea has reached more than 20,000 every year.

Reporter Lim Hwa-seop

YTN also broadcast this report. As it states above, this blacklist had been public since February 2006. This blacklist may have been publicized (perhaps with Anti-English Spectrum's help) by BreakNews two days earlier (or perhaps it was two days later, since there are two dates posted). 

One lawyer's take on the blacklist was rather unequivocal:

The blacklist is quite unlawful. Not only is it a criminal defamation violation under the Criminal Code, but the Labor Standards Act forbids employers to share blacklists. These teachers ought to complain to the prosecution.

I should also note that this would not be the last we heard of the instructor accused of  'sexual harassment by often touching students' bodies.' 

And, as we see here, Yonhap used the wrong statistics when discussing E-2 numbers (for whatever reason, the number of E-2 visa holders in the country was half that of the numbers Yonhap discussed (and which are brought up in more detail in the following article)).

On August 16, 2006, the Seoul Sinmun followed up on the Yonhap story by using the bare-bone contents of the blacklist to write this tour de force, complete with a cartoon: 

Troublesome native-speaking instructors cause headaches

Late, absent / gets money and does a runner / sexual harassment

Mr. A, a [Korean] English teacher at an elementary school in Gyeonggi-do, is having a hard time because of native-speaking instructor B (29). B is of course often late or absent from work, and he does not do even basic preparation for classes. However, finding a native-speaking instructor who entered the country legally is practically impossible. He has no choice but to endure this for the sake of the lesson.

● Stealing class equipment and running away

The tyranny of native-speaking English instructors is going too far. Claiming that they entered Korea with an E-2 (English Instructor) visa legally, all over they are acting self-indulgently and arrogantly.

C (29), from Canada, entered Korea on August 2 to work as an instructor at a summer vacation camp organized by an elementary school in Seoul, but disappeared almost immediately after his arrival. D (28, from Canada) signed a contract to teach for a year at an elementary school in Paju starting last August but only worked for 8 months and ran off with a laptop provided by the school for class use.

More serious problems, such as sexual harassment, have also emerged. At one private hagwon, many students complained that native-speaking instructor E (30, from Australia) was sexually harassing them. However, he so intelligently and technically carried out sexual harassment in a way that made it too ambiguous to report to the police, so he ended up being fired in June. Before that, in May, a native-speaking instructor at an English village in Gyeonggi-do was fired for sexually harassing an elementary school student.

● Native-speaking instructors are arrogant due to excessive demand

The number of E2 visas issued reached 20,682 in 2002, 22,345 in 2003, 23,134 in 2004, and 25,014 in 2005. More than 20,000 people come to Korea every year to teach English, but, absurdly, this falls short of the explosive growth in domestic demand. Due to the culture of focusing on skin color, the preference for white instructors regardless of skill or qualifications is also fueling a labor shortage. Even if someone is an excellent lecturer who graduated from a great university, the reality is that if they are not white, they won’t be treated according to their ability.

An official from a company specializing in recruiting foreign instructors pointed out, "Since foreign instructors share information actively, they know that they can get a job anywhere even if they quit their job." "Basically, from their standpoint, there is nothing to be sorry about [in quitting a job], especially for white instructors.”

● We must hurry to implement follow-up management standards and strikeout systems

The government has no proper measures. An official from the Immigration Office explained, "It is a law that cannot be specially managed just because they are foreign instructors." "There is no way to sanction them unless they commit a crime or leave their workplace without a convincing reason, just like other foreign workers." In fact, Mr. F (31), an instructor from Australia, breaks his contract every 3 to 6 months and changes his job, but there is no legal way to stop it. He has had a good career [at home] as a teacher, so it's enough to say, 'I can't work because of cultural differences.' 

As a result, in March the Korea Native-speaking Instructor Recruiting Association posted a blacklist of illegal, bad, and problematic instructors on the association's website ( However, less than 30% of job placements are achieved through recruiting companies, so they are not getting a great effect.

Choe Hyeok, president of the association, said, "Compared to the number of complaints related to foreign instructors, the staff in charge of this seems to be ridiculously insufficient." "As it is related to children's education, foreign instructors should be managed at the government level by creating a minimum follow-up standard and introducing a strikeout system," he said.

Reporter Na Gil-hoe 

While this "parade of bad foreign teachers" type of story is not new (the tabloid BreakNews was doing far worse stories at the time), it is an example of the type of story that would become common enough in the mainstream media moving ahead. Note also the error of describing the "native-speaking instructor at an English village in Gyeonggi-do" who was "fired for sexually harassing an elementary school student." That teacher, of course, was not hired as a native-speaker, but the reporter either couldn't be bothered to check this or didn't care since it was more grist for the mill.