It took awhile, but someone finally got around to writing an in-depth article about the racism that exists in many of the nation’s hagwons (institutes).
“When Anh Marshall graduated with an anthropology degree from one of America’s top 20 schools, she said that after studying other cultures, she wanted to experience one first hand. Being a native English speaker, young, bright, and having graduated from a top tier American university, she thought that she was more than qualified for a job teaching English in Korea.
But Ms. Marshall explained that before she even entered the door of a Korean hagwon, she was confronted with one of the industry’s chilling truths: unbridled racism.”
According to Marshall, when she applied to a recruiting agency, the recruiter told her that she really liked her personality, but that might be difficult for them to find a job because their schools preferred women with blonde hair and blue eyes. “My ethnicity could be a problem.”
Racism—whether blatant like these ads or a little more subdued when hiring instructors—in hagwons and to a lesser degree universities has existed for as long as I have been in Korea.
Back in 1992, when I was teaching at ELS near Kangnam Subway Station, I was offered the position of academic director for the Hyundai Sisa Language Institute located in Chongno. When I left ELS, the academic director there gave me my personnel file. Curious as to what was inside, I took a look and came across the notes for an interview I had with ELS International back in 1990 when I was applying for a teaching position at a new school in Indonesia. The interviewer had written down a few things like “lacks methodology but has a lot of enthusiasm” and what really surprised me “has that all-American look; will sell well in Asia.”
(All-American look, huh? Boy if they could see me now with all my ink.)
And what about the practice of having to send in a photo with an application? What’s that all about? Not that some school has to be worried about hiring some Cyclops, but you have to wonder what the purpose is of having to send a photo—and in some instances—a color photo?
On the other hand, the hagwons cannot be singled out for racism alone in Korea. Korea is not free from racism when some parents still prefer “white” teachers for their children or the way that many migrant workers and industrial trainees are treated here.