A brief history of scapegoating English teachers in Korea

Posted on populargusts.blogspot.com

The first news report about a foreign teacher being arrested for drugs in Korea was in May 1994. The teacher was Cullen Thomas, who served three years in prison and went on to write the book Brother One Cell about his experiences.

[Update] – Someday I’ll update this, but for now, several events from the fall of 2007 are related here.

[Update] – There are updates for January 1997, February 1998 and April 2007.

What follows isn’t necessarily all scapegoating, but a look at how the Korean media have reported on and represented foreign English teachers here since 1996, which also handily helps provide a brief history of this foreign community as well. A big hat tip to the Marmot for his translations of articles over the past few years, as well as Mongdori, where videos of several TV broadcasts can be found (which saved me the trouble of uploading the 2005 SBS show to Youtube myself).

One of the hardest things to pin down are the numbers of teachers. For example, on July 19, 1997, the Korea Times reported that, according to the Education Ministry, there were 3,930 legally employed foreign English teachers in Korea, though the police suggested that there were 20,000 illegally employed teachers. This site, on the other hand, suggests there were 13000 at this time (but only 6000 in 2005 (?)). At the other end of the time spectrum, last year it was written that “According to immigration authorities, there were 14,355 native-speaking English instructors living in Korea as of August” (with perhaps an equal number of illegal teachers). The yearbooks compiled by the Korean Immigration Service, on the other hand, list the number of visas issued each year. Here are the numbers for E2 visas issued over the past 8 years:

1999 – 9,971
2000 – 11,849
2001 – 16,210
2002 – 20,682
2003 – 22,345
2004 – 23,134
2005 – 25,014
2006 – 29,263

It’s hard to be certain which is correct; if anyone has suggestions, let me know.

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One comment on “A brief history of scapegoating English teachers in Korea

  1. Some things to keep in mind.

    1. In the past there were much more illegal teachers in Korea. 10 years ago a teacher would not have to worry about being busted and deported so much. One could find private classes or make an under the table deal with a hogwon without worrying about immigration. When I first started teaching privates (many years ago) I would post ads on the sides of apartment elevators, not sure I would do that now.

    2. Public schools have opened up. 5 years ago there were only a handful of teachers working for public schools. If you met a foreign teacher on the street chances are they were at a hakwon, but sometimes university. I know the GEPIK (Gyeongi English Program) hired 1100 foreign teachers 4 years ago. Now it is probably double that. Seoul (SMOE) probably is pushing a 1000 now too, they want a foreign teacher in every public school. And the other areas of Korea is EPIC, not sure those numbers. So in a matter of 5 years probably 5000 new foreign teachers entered the market.

    3. The internet. It is so easy now to find a job in Korea over seas. The visa might be a burden, but not too difficult. 10 years ago I would not know how to find a job in Korea while in my home country. Even 5 years ago things were different.

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