I have lived in Korea for almost 15 years. I have a Korean family. I own a business promoting Korean culture. I even voted in the last Korean election.
I also teach English a little in my free time. Because of this, I was required by the Gyeonggi Provincial government via the hagwon association to go to a “teacher training” seminar wa-a-a-a-ay out in Icheon.
I like Icheon. Pottery. Rice. Makgeolli. Seo-il Farm. It’s also WAY on the eastern edge of Gyeonggi-do. Far away from where the majority of foreign English teachers live.
The stated purpose of this seminar is to train foreign ESL teachers to be “better teachers.” The real reason is more sinister and clouded with xenophobia.
We’ve had waves of xenophobia since I’ve been here. The big one was Anti-English-Spectrum (2005), which was a vigilante group of men who didn’t like Korean women dating foreign men. They got the ears of the media and politicians, rebranded themselves to be an organization to make schools better, and orchestrated a lot of the questionable immigration policies South Korea. This includes the HIV/AIDS test for E-2 visas, which the U.N. Human Rights people said violated international treaties. That took around a decade to finally get rid of. They fueled this perception of foreigners as being sexually deviant drug addicts. The group is no longer active, but their stench still exists in the public mindset.
In 2007, pedophile Christopher Paul Neil was arrested in Thailand. It hit the news in South Korea that he was a teacher here while committing those acts in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. Add pedophilia to the list of traits the Korean public attached to foreign English teachers.
I should note that a lot of people much smarter than I have documented that the crime rates for Koreans in Korea is TWO TIMES higher than foreigners.
Against this backdrop, another wave of xenophobia occurred in 2012. There was a journalist strike at the TV stations, so the stations were picking up whatever dreck pieces they could. That was the year the Korean media went all out, warning Korean women about the dangers of foreign men.
It was around this time that a group claiming to represent concerned parents convinced politicians to establish these seminars to teach foreign ESL teachers about Korean law, visa restrictions, and how to assimilate in Korean culture. That’s what this seminar was.
I call it “The Dirty Foreigner Seminar.”
We were on the phone with the people in charge. We explained that I’m an F5 visa, which is like a green card–one step away from citizenship. I have a business to run. I have 15 years of experience, and I don’t need an introductory seminar. They were insistent. I had to attend or the school would be fined. I was hoping to go to a pumpkin carving event with my family, but I cancelled it for this.
What follows is for your entertainment. It’s an illustration of how out of touch a lot of people in charge in Korea are. It’s an example of a giant waste of taxpayers’ money. I just coughed up W3 million in taxes this month, so I’m conscious of that.
Everyone was required to be in Icheon at 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday. Quite an early time when most teachers, especially E-2 visas, don’t have cars. The subways don’t open until 5:00 a.m. There was no way a teacher from my area in west Gyeonggi could make it out there without hitching a ride with someone.
The reason for the time?
So they could finish at lunch time. Then they wouldn’t be obliged to supply food for the attendees.
I closed down my Friday night tour so that I could go to bed early for this. Got up at 5 a.m. and drove in thick fog to Icheon.
I stood in line for registration, and this was what the itinerary was.
Here’s what happened
I live tweeted and live posted on Facebook what was going on. The following comments were from my Facebook wall. This wasn’t just foreigners making fun of this. Koreans were also blasting this clown show. I’ve covered up their identities.
Everyone was called into the auditorium. All Korean seminars have to follow a set formula. No deviations, no matter the subject or audience.
Which meant this.
All foreigners had to stand for the South Korean national anthem. They didn’t tell us to salute, which would have meant that we were pledging our allegiances to a foreign entity. Some friends have been forced to do so at other functions.
This was just funny. I mean, it was dumb to bring food in the auditorium. E2 visas don’t have a reputation for common sense or even hygiene. Many tend to look and act like they just got out of their college dorm rooms hungover. The guy was like, “I had no time to eat breakfast.”
Sorry E2’s. I was one of you once. Still a scruffy bunch.
Every event like this you are required to have dignitaries give speeches.
The round peg in a square hole solution?
Have these dignitaries speak in Korean while the English versions of their speeches were projected on the screen.
A little entertainment for everyone.
A group that was an offshoot of Nanta made a performance. They worked hard, and they were good. They played that upbeat synthesizer version of Beethoven’s “Pathetique” that you hear all the time in Korea. Even my daughter’s kindergarten class performed this while beating to drums.
The cynical long-term expat in me got annoyed. It’s bad enough that we were forced to attend this. But when the newbie foreigners start acting like they’re having a good time, it only encourages them, guys.
We all drove out to Icheon to see what we could easily see in Seoul?
Welcome to Icheon Sing a Song
Oh man, poor guy. The mayor of Icheon chose to sing “Some Say Love.” I guess because it’s one of the only songs he knows at the noraebang. We all were feeling stressed for him, as his voice cracked and muddled through.
The emcee also said that the mayor loved each and every one of us. Good to know I’m loved.
Every single performance that has foreigners in the audience, I think it’s mandated by law to play “Arirang.”
Immigration Office Control Law Guide
I’m sure the above title makes sense in Korean.
This is what upset a lot of us. The seminar is really for newbies. A lot of us long timers, including F4 visa “Koreans-by-DNA” (not my wording, Korean-American friend uses it tongue-in-cheek), were forced to attend this thing that had NOTHING to do with us.
An F4 visa holder got the microphone in the middle of the immigration guy’s lecture and asked if there would be any information for people with F-series visas. Those are people like Korean-Americans, spouses of Koreans, and permanent residents like me.
“No, I don’t have any information here for you.”
“Then why are we here?”
I started clapping.
There was a back-and-forth while the immigration guy was sweating. The F4 visa holder offered to explain in Korean for him to make it easier.
It’s sad because even the people running the event don’t want to be there. The difference is that they’re getting paid, and we’re not. I’ve given one of these types of lectures before for EPIK. I got paid well.
Everyone just wants to get through this and go home.
The people who need to hear what the F4 visa holder had to say weren’t there.
Back to the “Don’t Be Pedophiles” Lecture
Coded Language: We still remember that foreign pedophile from 2007. MANY more Korean teachers have since been caught diddling students, but that doesn’t matter. That one guy from 2007 makes ALL OF YOU guilty by xeno-association.
Re: Swine flu
In 2009, the H1n1 Swine Flu panic had hit Korea. Their first solution was to quarantine foreign teachers who had just flown into the country. Koreans were allowed to go home.
The drug case study was of American soldiers smuggling Philopon in cereal boxes.
Since posting this, someone clarified what the Korean media covered up. The source for the Philopon was a Korean-American operation using the U.S. military postal service to smuggle it into the country for Korean use. But the rule in Korea is that if Korean-Americans are good, they’re Korean. If they’re bad, they’re foreigners.
They weren’t English teachers, but you know, they were dirty foreigners.
So don’t do this.
Then someone from the audience piped up to much laughter…
- ASSIMILATE!! Resistance if futile. Sure. Koreans have to eat Korean food when traveling abroad, but you’re in Korea. Eat only Korean food. Be an obedient employee.
- Study Korean laws, which are only available in Korean, so you’d better learn Korean quickly.
- That was true 20 years ago.
- Learn Korean in that short free time you get, even though you can’t use it in your workplace as an English teacher. How better to learn those Korean laws so you won’t be in a big trouble?
Icheon Rice Festival
I had a feeling there was an ulterior motive to forcing everyone to go to Icheon. They were at the tail end of a Rice Festival. So the promoter went on stage to talk about it.
They forced us all out here to help supply the Icheon Rice Festival with foreigners for photo ops.
The presentation was all the usual embarrassing pictures of awkward foreigners being “introduced” to Korean culture. Talking about trying rice and bibimbap as if people who’ve lived here for years had never heard of it.
One of the Korean propaganda organizations made this video about Korean history. This is VERY DIFFERENT from the history we share on The Dark Side of Seoul Tour (shameless plug).
The British narrator was obviously outsourced outside Korea. We have a lot of professional voice actors here who could do it with proper Korean pronunciation, but we got this narration that talked about “King S’jong.”
In the middle of the video, it stopped and restarted.
The video itself was about King Sejong. I actually own and run the Twitter account @KingSejong. But this isn’t all about me.
It was more cultural masturbation and chest beating. What better way to make people appreciate your culture than to talk about how superior yours is to theirs?
So, Korea had invented all these things before the West had.
A Japanese encyclopedia stated that by around 1500, Korea had made around 15 scientific achievements while Japan had zero.
Cue the audience laughing.
The interesting part was the story behind Kind Sejong’s water clock. Even that had to go off the rails with Small Man Syndrome. By trying so hard to make themselves sound big, they were revealing how small they were.
Yes, the video said that. Sejong started the digital revolution. Not Alan Turing. Not Bill Gates. Not Steve Jobs. It was King Sejong.
Then it went straight into the drones used in the Pyeongchang Olympics opening ceremony.
Then it got weirder!
We’re used to the overly stretching scientific claims Koreans make that would not hold up in a high school science class:
Here’s one more to add.
Korean bronze diningware prevents more e.coli than Chinese or Japanese diningware.
According to them, scientists say that bronze can have a maximum of 10% tin. But somehow Korean bronze makers defied that scientific law!
Learn How To Be a Good Teacher
Finally! The crux of the program!
He lost us immediately.
The speech was a winding journey of the professor’s English learning.
It started with his story of lusting over his English teacher in middle school, especially when she wore short skirts. Yes, this is another person that people should be eyeing closely. Creeeeeeepy.
None of it was about being a better teacher. No methods or anything.
He asked for questions at the end. Everyone wanted to leave, but of course, someone had to raise their hand and ask about methods. There was someone here who was still under the illusion that this was a serious training seminar.
The professor’s answer?
We also learned this
- OBEY your boss, you lowly employee.
- No one cares! So shut up, already! (But at least the mayor of Icheon loves me.)
- Hang out at the WA Bar and drink away your pain and loneliness. Because NO ONE CARES!
- And yes. Somehow they think an E2 visa making $24,000/year with elementary Korean language skills and no credit can attain a car.
What a waste of time and taxpayers’ money!
Click here for that Korea Herald article “Visa dispute frustrates foreign teachers”<– This right here is typical bullshit.
The more I think about it, the seminar is up there with the HIV/AIDS test in its racist xenophobia. It did all start from a public panic over foreign English teachers molesting kids and smuggling drugs.
Let me flip it over and give this thought paradigm.
Over the years, there have been many stories of Korean-run brothels in the U.S. The U.S. government, especially these days, has been egregiously awful in its treatment of immigrants. Imagine if they also did this.
All Koreans on visas in the U.S. had to attend an annual seminar.
Yes, I know that the seminar in Korea is for English teachers, but in Korea, that’s pretty much the ONLY non-factory job foreigners can get. You don’t see foreign doctors, convenience store owners, and accountants here. Even the foreigners who do own restaurants and such still moonlight as English teachers to make ends meet.
This seminar contains the following:
- Stand for the American anthem
- A local country music act singing “Edelweiss”
- A video about American baseball
- Benjamin Franklin invented EVERYTHING. His electricity experiments made K-Pop possible.
- An introduction to a local hot dog festival with “Do you know hot dogs?”
- A lecture telling Korean women to not be prostitutes
- A job training lecture told by a former ESL teacher from Korea about all the partying he did and how hard it was to learn Korean