Korea Still Treating Foreigners Like Children (and Criminals)

UPDATE: The Korea Times wrote a piece about it here.

Foreign teachers told ‘Don’t molest students’

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.

Not Incheon.



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 The group is no longer active, but their stench still exists in the public mindset.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.

The MRTC analysis said the average crime rate for Koreans is more than twice that of foreigners at 3,649 crimes per 100,000 people. For foreigners it is 1,585 per 100,000.

The blog Gusts of Popular Feeling has been translating and documenting all the anti-foreigner media and the statistics that disprove the negative public sentiment for years.

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.

Opening Ceremony

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.

Confrontation #1

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.

Welcome Speeches

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.

Cultural Performance

A little entertainment for everyone.

Performance: “Beethoven”

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.

Performance: “Arirang”

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.

Confrontation #2

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.

Only foreigners were quarantined.

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…

  1. 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. 
  2. Study Korean laws, which are only available in Korean, so you’d better learn Korean quickly.
  3. That was true 20 years ago.
  4. 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.

Introduce Korean Propaganda Culture

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).

Dark Side of Seoul

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.

Know it.

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?

Board games.


We also learned this

  1. OBEY your boss, you lowly employee.
  2. No one cares! So shut up, already! (But at least the mayor of Icheon loves me.)
  3. Hang out at the WA Bar and drink away your pain and loneliness. Because NO ONE CARES!
  4. 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

Image result for picard facepalm



Pop-up with British Celebrity Chef Jay Morjaria

A guide to styling and making Dispatch your own


17 thoughts on “Korea Still Treating Foreigners Like Children (and Criminals)”

  1. I read your article with interest and a chuckle or two here and there.
    I have an F5 visa as well and have a Korean wife and children.
    Since getting my F5 in 2006, I have never had to attend one of these monkey shows. Despite popular belief, jf you didn’t attend the monkey show, nothing would have happened.

  2. I had to go this year as well (Registered with a couple of new schools, so they didn’t have any previous record of my attendance on file). The conference here in Daegu, although fairly unnecessary for someone like me who has been in Korea for 14 years, was definitely WAY less condescending than what you experienced – though, I did leave about 40 minutes before the end, so it could have taken a nosedive. We had a pretty good speaker, who was quite funny and kept me from gravitating back to my phone.

    Note that anyone registered with the MoE is legally required to go, or the hagwon ‘may’ be fined ‘if’ representatives for the MoE come by the school and request to see proof of attendance. Also of note, not every teacher working in a hagwon is required to attend. Depending on the number of foreigners employed in a particular school/branch, it’s possible for only one person to show up, representing the whole lot.

    I was curious how much the potential fine could be, but I know that if I’m ever told to go again, I’m just going to suddenly pull out the need for vacation on that day.

  3. From what you posted, that whole seminar was pretty racist, offensive and disappointing. I really want to love this place, but seeing those screen captures and photos of the seminar just depressed me.

    I’m also on an F5. I’ve been skipping this seminar for 8 years now. Your boss will tell you that you must go, but the labor office firmly says that you do not have to go to unpaid events on weekends, or any time. Korean bosses do a really good job of making you believe that you must go, and they do this to avoid creating tension at the Hagwon Association.

    The Hagwons association gets funding from the government for these events. They need to prove that people actually attend, or the government will yank their funding. The Hagwon association of course pockets most of this cash (they have to keep their ex-con chairwoman in fur coats and black Benzs). Those performers? Volunteers. Those speakers? Paid the minimum possible. It all comes down to proving that warm bodies were in the seats. No “inspectors” visit Hagwons looking for those ticket papers. It’s all KBS or (K-B.S.)

    First time I skipped it, nothing happened. Second time I skipped it, nothing happened. Etc etc.

    Don’t go next time. Trust me.

    • Thanks. I skipped last year, and nothing happened. But I have this weird luck that when I do something that everyone else does, I still get busted. My boss was trying to get me out of it. She’s new to this whole thing and didn’t know. Thank you for the information.

      Wouldn’t it be funny if we just got the majority of people to just not show?

      • The Hagwon Association’s “power” in this issue comes partially from the fact that there is no collective forum for those foreigners effected to communicate with each other. And as you and I both know, trying to setup a place where foreigners can communicate with each other en masse (Facebook groups, websites, forums) quickly devolves into something like “Lord of the Flies” where everyone just dumps on everyone else until only a few people remain.

        Anyhow, you will notice that the audience of these events are primarily white people from developed countries, and also a few persons of color from the same countries.

        You will also note that there are hundreds and hundreds of Chinese Hagwons in gyeonggi-do, as well as a handful of Russian, Japanese, and Spanish hagwons. You may have noticed a distinct lack of people from those countries in the audience of this most recent spectacle. This further illustrates who the K-Government really cares about inundating with their propaganda. They really didn’t want a bunch of “brown” or “Asian” people for their rice festival publicity photos. Very sad. I guess they assume that Hallyu will take care of winning over “those people.”

        If you decide to go next time, just for entertainment or something, please stream the entire thing on Twitch or YouTube. I’d be happy to add Korean subtitles to it, so Koreans can see where their tax money goes.

  4. I wish I’d said something while I was there. More us should have piped up and openly complained. I’m planning to at least send some emails to the people who organized this. If anyone is interested in some collective action, even if it amounts to an informal petition or group complaint, contact me. okeeffeeoin50@gmal.com.

  5. First it’s funny, you know all the presiding regions call each other and copy each other’s format. They all have the same E visa presentation.

    Second I’ll recommend how “we” (ol’ timers) handled the “mandatory attendees” in Gyeongsangnamdo:

    We had a similar issue in Gyeongsangnamdo with this shit, we cut a deal between the “old”- “teachers” (usually owners), the hagwon association, and the office of education: Teachers only have to attend once from ‘16. So in ‘16 all the ol’ timers came in along with all the new-fish and since then, they haven’t bothered me/us to come. Seems like a reasonable deal. Played Hearthstone on my iPad for 3 hours.

    What’s stupid, the real reason they have these, other agencies do the same thing. We go to the director one annually, too. But that one has good speakers, usually, with useful information.

  6. This goes through incompetence and comes out on the other side.

    I recall the Seoul Tourism Organization’s modus opreandi, and its internal culture. I’ve never taught English, but I totally see where this could come from, and why not one competent person hiding in the shadows ever questioned it.

  7. Hello,
    I’m a Korean and my partner is a foriegner hagwon teacher.
    Can I know the official name of this organization, possibly in Korea?
    I wan’t to do some research on this to see if this even remotely is ‘government aproved’ or supported. It seems like one of the many events done just to spend the budget given.
    It seems really sketchy and tacky, even for the Korean government standard. Also seems like it is fueled by some cowardly hagwon owners with no back bone.


    • Hi, CJ. Thank you. According to the program, they’re the Korea Association of Hakwon, Korea Association of Foreign Language Academies, Gyeonggi Association of Hakwon, Gyeonggi Association of Foreign Language Academies. It also has the Gyeonggi Metropolitan Office of Education printed on it. The organization that told us that Korean bronze bowls kill e. coli, I think is a family run organization called Korean Spirit and Culture Promotion Project KSCPP. The immigration lecture came from a rep of the Suwon Immigration Office.

      Tell me if you find anything. Here or privately.

  8. I have read your whole story, it was very interesting!
    I am working in a korean company and have been living here for over 2 years. I have often been asked how foreigners were treated here. Even though I have never experienced such blatant case of xenophobia, I know its there.

    I got some good laughs reading you, and was also astoundish by the level of this seminar. Do they ever try to be in our shoes? Or in the shoes of over koreans abroad? I know racism and xenophobia sadly is everywhere, but still.
    That was a very low moment for Korea..

    Anyway well done sitting through the whole thing 😉

    French living in Korea, 2.5years)

    • Jerome, please don’t let this post bring you down. I hope you are enjoying your time here and are finding it enlightening and stimulating. A frustration I’ve had with some sectors is their inability for empathy. I mean that in the most literal way. To look at a situation from another’s point of view. My long tirades against the hamhanded marketing here that never considers the actual target market–check those out 🙂

  9. Love your blog!
    I was last in South Korea in 2011 and I would have thought the redneck attitudes would have been shamed/laughed out of existence at official level by now. However, it seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.
    I actually felt embarrassed for these so called ‘officials’ – their ignorance and bombast is so far from the image Sth Korea tries to project to the world and indeed so far from what is actually contemporary life for many Koreans both there and in the USA for example.
    The reason these jokes of officials/spokespersons have such liberty to promote attitudes similar to those of deluded Koreans in the Hermit Kingdom when it was waking up to modern realities in the 19th century that it had buried itself away from, is due to the fact there are no foreign versions of Dr David Aldwinkle or Dr Debito as he is also known in Japan, in Sth Korea.
    De Debito for years has fought the good fight against Japanese xenophobia and racism at all levels. He could do so as he obtained Japanese citizenship and Japan also gives its foreign residents more freedom than I ever experienced in m years of working life in Sth Korea. Visas for English teachers in Sth Korea are designed deliberately to keep you on a tight leash to your employer and a short term year by year one at that.
    This effectively prevents any organisational activities including normal political activity regarding human rights etc Japan has its problems with its foreign population – I have worked for quite a long time there – and again the image it projects to the world conveniently ignores the layers of xenophobia and racism that are considered ‘normal’ just like they are in Sth Korea.
    However, the difference is in the visa system which does not tie you to your employer and often gives an English teacher who has some experience working in Japan and who pays their taxes, 3 to 5 year visas. A longer history of foreign workers in all fields and before that more engagement with foreigners in its history although mostly they were feared as pollutants to Japanese ‘purity’ has also made a better situation.
    However, Japan also has notable disconnects – riding an image of ‘Cool Japan’ while Tokyo, almost a by-word for high tech and modernity, has by far the most narrow-minded and racist Japanese people I have ever encountered in my working time in Japan.
    No, it’s not because the population is so big in Tokyo – it is simply because there is an unsophisticated, suspicious, authoritarian element to Tokyo that surprises some foreigners when they actually live there as opposed to visiting there. However, others like to live in denial.
    You have more freedom in Trump’s USA than you will ever have in Japan, but the newer waves of graduates from American universities escaping their student debts to teach English in Japan, for example, close their eyes to the lack of human rights they have despite being tax paying workers.
    There is also the inconvenient truth that despite losing WW 2, Fascist Japan lives on in its ruling class of politicians, the current administration of which including the Prime Minister Abe, has a significant number of direct descendants of war mongers/war criminals who took their country down the dark tunnel to oppression of their own population and a record of laying waste to other Asian countries and massacring millions of civilians.
    There is hope for Sth Korea to ditch the rednecks who put on such an idiotic display as you had to endure. The left wing of Sth Korea is frequently irrational and sometimes xenophobic too but coming from a left wing instead of right wing perspective such as in Japan. However, there is more of a traditional grassroots feeling about centre left politics in Sth Korea and the conservatives who used to come up to me in Seoul and thank me for my country’s help during the Korean War as well as the general passion for politics gives me hope for Sth Korea.


Leave a (somewhat civilized) Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: