It has turned into a huge story, as probably should have been suspected. As I mention in an upcoming Gwangju News piece (from which I will plagarize parts below), the English-language media in Korea was pretty silent at first, and it wasn't until October 17---six days after he left Incheon International Airport---that the first news article came out. (The Korean-language media was silent at first, and I remember watching the evening news a few days after I learned about the story, and after it was big news in the West, but it wasn't even mentioned. Because my Korean sucks and because I don't read or watch Korean-language news, I can't testify to how soon he became the lead story.)
It didn't take long after that, though, for the ugliness to show up. Two days after his arrest, government-owned KBS ran an "In-Depth 60 Minutes" program that, under the guise of investigative journalism, profiled the scum and villany that reside among the foreign community here. On October 19, the Chosun Ilbo ran a factually inaccurate article about the rise of crime committed by foreigners, accompanied by this image:
As is wont to happen, all the ugly stereotypes were trotted out and mixed together: foreigners as pedophiles, as drug-users, as academic frauds, as alcoholics, as skirt-chasers, as AIDS carriers. An October 25 Chosun Ilbo article, for example, outlining the new regulations, reported that
[o]ver the past five years, over 800 foreign English instructors have been caught with forged degrees or having worked in Korea without proper visas. Some have even been found to have taught under the influence of drugs.
And an October 28 Korea Times article, while reporting on the same regulations for E-2 holders, refers for some reason to “two alcoholics and five sexual harassment offenders” caught in Daegu in July. Other sensationalist headlines from this year have included the Chosun Ilbo’s “White English Teacher Threatens Korean Woman with AIDS” and the Chosun Ilbo’s sports insert’s “Beware the Ugly White Teacher.”
And it's really worth remembering this gem from last year. In 2006, two Koreans were charged with molesting students at English Villages in Gyeonggi-do, to which the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers Union replied “the English camp sexual assaults are a structural problem brought on by unchecked native speakers, [and] such incidents could potentially occur at any time.”
Shortly after Neil was apprehended new visa regulations were proposed, to take effect December 15 and ostensibly to clean up the industry and put a stop to the practice of hiring anybody and everybody. Foreigners wanting an E-2 visa would have to submit their diplomas, their academic transcripts, a criminal record check from their home country, a medical exam from their home country, a medical exam from Korea, and would have to interview at the Korean embassy or consulate nearest their hometown, and would have to be fingerprinted as part of the background exam. There are a few other requirements that have slipped my mind, but I do know some schools are demanding their teachers verify their own transcripts by logging onto their university's website and producing a list of students.
This all would be extreme even if it were applied to all foreign instructors, all foreigners, or all English teachers (domestic and international).
The Korean Government will prevent illegal activities by verifying requirements of native English teacher and tighten their non-immigrant status [...] [and will] eradicate illegal activities of native English teachers who are causing social problems such as ineligible lectures, taking drugs and sex crimes. English teachers, who disturb social order during their staying in Korea such as illegal teaching, taking drugs and sex crimes, will be banned from entering South Korea.[...] [They will] prevent illegal English teaching activities and the taking of drugs and sexual harassment of English teachers, [...] teachers who disrupt the social order by taking drugs, committing sexual harassment and alcohol intoxication.
There's no reason to get into how inconvenient, expensive, time-consuming, short-sighted, xenophobic, and blatantly racist that all is. Moreover, anybody who follows the news a little will not need reminded how ubiquitous problems like forgery, alcoholism, sexual harassment, prostitution, child abuse, domestic abuse, corruption, rape, sex crimes, and private tutoring are among Korean society.
It is good to see that foreign embassies are telling the Ministry of Justice to fuck itself, as per the following Joongang Ilbo article. However, according to the December 14 piece, the MoJ won't ease regulations, and its spokespeople still have the gall to say shit like:
I just don’t understand why they cannot make some exceptions to accommodate the needs of their own nationals. In Korea, criminal records can be easily obtained online. But they don’t have a centralized system.
As if---when we remember the anti-American protests of 2002, the anti-FTA protests, the pardoning of convicted war criminals, the Roh Moo-hyun administration, the "Yankee Go Home" talk, the visa protests---South Korea has done anything in recent memory to justify any exceptions extended it.
I wrote on another messageboard that I didn't expect much of a backlash from Koreans. I wrote that a few days after the story broke, and while Korean media outlets hadn't yet picked it up. There were a few relatively recent stories of Korean teachers behaving badly---taking students to Chinese hookers while on a field trip---and of sex crimes committed by Koreans, such as the case from Gwangju of a middle school girl held captive in a motel and raped by 800 people, for example, that I thought Koreans might have been humbled a bit. And, I thought that a lesson might have been learned from the example of Cho Seung-hui and the Virginia Tech massacre, where Koreans and Korean-Americans feared reprisals that never came.
Koreans had good reason to fear widespread racially-motivated attacks based on a single incident because that's how they operate. In 2004 (or 2005, can't find the source now) the US Embassy issued an advisory for its citizens in Seoul, after Korean men became angry when images showing foreign men and Korean women dancing together at a bar surfaced on a website that also had some sexist content. In 2002, the country erupted in anti-Americanism after a US military vehicle accidentally struck and killed two middle school girls. (More on that incident here and here)
I've maintained that should these rules and all their ugliness go into effect, I would have to leave on principle. Obviously I'm qualified and I'm not a criminal, but I don't like it
Part of me feels silly forfeiting a chance to live, work, study, and travel abroad because of a few new regulations, and I know that many teachers would go along with the new regulations because, well, they don't have any principles. When I brought up the idea on waygook.org of standing up to our local education board, I was mocked, and I sense a lot of (uncle)tomfoolery going on in the name of "tolerance and acceptance." A lot of folks are so self-satisfied by their "When in Rome" attitude---until something infringes on their own pet issues like domestic violence, cats, or imported beer---that they are incapable of any perspective whatsoever.
The Metropolitician, one of the better-known bloggers in Korea and a resident since 1994, put up a few pretty angry posts today. Can't say I blame him, since he was arrested last month for assult for no good reason. One of today's posts discourages foreign teachers from coming here in the first place. An excerpt:
Let me just say right now that the only reason I'm staying in Korea is because I have an F-4 and am not subject to these requirements. But I am ever required to give drug and HIV tests in order to work, or rip out my single original copy of my diploma sitting in a frame in my mother's home in Ohio, it will be time for me to leave this country.He continues:
I've got shit I need to do here, and shit I enjoy doing here. I'm grandfathered in. I've put too much energy into this country, society, and language to quit now. That's why I'm staying. That's the only reason.Something to think about. My ideas aren't sophisticated enough yet to get into it, but I just wanted to pass his message along.
But my patience with this country has worn pretty thin, and I'm having trouble right now not going over to the "dark side" and starting to hate this place. I might have to start looking for ruby crystals for my lightsaber soon. I'm struggling with another "dark time", just as I did in early 2003, when I would hear the word "nigger" more times in a week than I had in all the time I had spent in Korea to that point (more than 3 years, actually).
Things are changing, people, and it's for the worst.
My advice for newbies interested in teaching English as a means of living in Asia, I am sad to suggest:
DON'T COME TO KOREA. GO TO JAPAN OR CHINA.
Korea and Koreans, no matter what is said, doesn't really want foreigners here. We are treated like criminals by the law, and in the law. The media represents us as nothing more than drug fiends, AIDS carriers, and child molesters.
If you don't want to be treated as such by the law, required to submit a criminal background check, submit to drug and HIV tests, and have to submit your original diploma just to teach in some unprofessionally-run institute or elementary school in which whatever skills and ability you have won't be respected anyway...
DO NOT COME TO SOUTH KOREA TO LIVE AND TEACH.
I also wanted to pass along a few nice links that give better timelines and overviews of all this garbage:
Gusts of Popular Feeling has an extensive timeline of English teacher scapegoating.
Jellomando incorporates the timeline and also gets into other areas of discrimination, such as foreigner-unfriendly banking restrictions.
The Metropolitician has a ton of good write-ups on race, education, history, etc., and I recommend reading his "starter posts" linked at the top-right of his blog, and also reading the articles in his "Korean Education" category.
US in Korea has a lot of entries on the political motivations for fanning anti-US feelings in South Korea, such as the above-mentioned 2002 incident, which was shelved until after the World Cup and exploited to curry favor with North Korea. Candlelight vigils continued two years later, and dwarfed the much bigger story of 2002: a skirmish between the North and South that killed 5 South Korean soldiers.
* Edit: I'm not well-travelled, but based on what I've read and heard I think it's a little naive to think that more tolerance is to be had in places like Japan and China. Even if these regulations go through, the start-up costs of Korea would be still be much less than Japan and Taiwan. I've had my fair share of days when I question what the hell I'm doing, and wonder how many of my acquaintances could give two shits whether I'm here or not. I'm not quite ready to give up, because I have a lot invested in staying here, too. Teaching EFL in Asia involves a lot of hard choices . . . just looks like making the decision to come to South Korea in the first place is becoming more difficult.