Can I get some help here for a friend? Please take the time to read this post for two reasons: 1) it's more directly relevant and less theoretical than most of my posts, and 2) half of the post isn't even written by me!
You know, I've always felt the way foreign teachers are treated like garbage in Korea (comments here along the lines of "go home, then!" are unnecessary, since that's exactly what almost everyone does, and then spreads bad impressions of Korea) has done more to create a truly negative image of this country than any positive efforts in the other direction, as seen in tourism campaigns and the promotion of major public events such as the 2002 World Cup.
One disgruntled teacher going back to Canada and the United States does a lot to badmouth Korea – trust me, I've heard it. And most of it has to do with the nearly unbelievable stories I've heard (and experienced myself) taking place in the workplace, not being paid one's severance, or even one's salary.
Yet, in the Korean press, all you hear about is the figure of the unqualified, bail-jumping, fake diploma-toting, sexual predator who defines the image of English teachers here. Most of the stories that appear in the media revolve around sex, or perceived sexual transgressions, even when no actual crime has been involved.
God help us all if a foreigner actually ever does get convicted of a sex crime – you know I ain't taking no public transportation for a while, and I'm ordering in.
And the judging from the expectation, over here on the Korean side, of a sweeping, violent backlash against Koreans in the aftermath of the Cho incident (followed by exactly not that), I wonder how much of a projection this is of what might happen to foreigners in Korea were one of "us" (how is "외국인" or "foreigner" even a real category, by the way?) does something bad?
In any case, I have doubts that my friend (our beloved friend, actually, over at ZenKimchi) will get a fair trial, since he's facing a criminal police investigation for libel, he has no lawyer (they be expensive, as he's found, in the range of about an Xbox 360 an hour), and the police will not allow him to bring his own interpreter (the police interpretation "provided" is pretty poor) even in the preliminary interview he is scheduled to go into next week.
He's basically going up against this obviously unscrupulous woman, her lawyer, and a judge in a legal system that basically favors, all other things being equal, the Korean side, from what I've seen and heard.
And things are not even equal.
I doubt his testimony will even be properly rendered; wouldn't it be fair to have him bring his own interpreter, who is more likely to correctly convey what he wants to assert than the police? In this case, there is a vested interest here in being biased, as it's his testimony. It's matter of both quality of interpretation and an obvious conflict of interest.
I've asked for help from my blogging community before, but if any of you out there can offer some concrete advice or people to contact, or might even want to go in there and help out in a legal sense, it would be much appreciated.
Remember, even a Korean court has found that he was wrongfully deprived of about $6,000 in salary and she should have paid it. It's just right there in the contract. She was even penalized, as you'll see in Joe's own words below, and made to pay $2,000 extra to him in a previous decision. But as I've talked about before on this blog, even if you're telling the truth, the truth isn't much of a defense in Korea if you name names, even if you've got the documents and proof to back up your claims. That's what's gotten our friend into trouble.
Joe's a good guy. He's a good teacher. He's got much love for Korea, as evidenced by his site (not snarky like mine), his love of Korean food (he was one of the people interviewed for that piece on Korean chicken in The New York Times), and has done much to extol the virtues of Korean food to both Westerners who come here, as well as to the outside world, with his posts, recipes, and extensive set of videos on the subject, and has even been in a book talking about all the great things Korea has to offer.
He's even got a blurb on the back cover. Yet, because of just the sort of thing that makes a lot of foreigners turn to the Dark Side of the Force and leave Korea in a huff, he might be just another foreigner who falls on the wrong side of the law, the wrong side of public opinion about foreigners, and when taking the only recourse possible to him in this society, gets himself set up to get screwed by the original bad person who screwed him in the first place.
One of the sources of anger about this place is that I see a lot of bad shit happen to good people, and not just limited to foreigners.
My highly qualified friend with the high TOEIC scores and a year spent abroad didn't get the promotion? The younger guy next to her who can't speak a word to save his life, has much lower scores, and less seniority gets to be the team leader.
Or the kid in a certain school that I won't name, who isn't necessarily not a fictional or composite character, who got an "A" in the class, but the Korean counselor wants to "adjust" and "standardize" my entire gradesheet; when I ask on what grounds any of my grades would be changed, in American History, a subject that the teacher in question knows nothing about, and in which all tests, quizzes, papers, and participation scores are set with specific, numbered scores – when I refuse to alter grades (for what everyone knows is the standard "readjustment" for the kids with parents giving bribes), I become pariah #1. I quit after certain teachers start spreading rumors that I "run a porno site" or start purposely canvassing all my students during class time for "any complaints about Mr. Hurt," which were to be discussed after class.
I should have sued them for libel, but I'm just a foreigner with no knowledge of the system, and didn't want to drag kids into it (my students were the ones who informed me that certain teachers were gunning for me). Well, I had interfered with the supplementary income from bribes. I guess I should have followed the old maxim, "Don't mess with people's money."
Were this but true when the money being messed with is going to a non-Korean. In any case, whether or not the ZenKimchi master made a boo boo by mentioning the name of the institute in question, he's a good guy who's getting screwed, who needs some help.
This case is one we should all watch, and I hope we can help make this work out fairly. In his own words:
I want to start off by saying that I love Korea, and I have made it a goal these past few years to increase Korea’s esteem and prominence in the English speaking world through my web sites.
Yet there are some things that hurt my efforts to help Korea’s reputation. No, they’re not limited to North Korea, not Hwang Woo-Suk, not even Cho Seung-Hui. It’s the state of business and legal practices in the country, specifically when it comes to the corrupt hagwon system.
Yes, we know that there are warnings everywhere against Korea’s hagwon system. The U.S. Embassy even posted a warning against teaching English in South Korea. Yet despite all these things, nothing ever gets done to fix this nor acknowledge that this affects Korea’s reputation more than lone geneticists, lone gunmen, or lone football stars.
Having said that, I want to talk about my case. This is something that happens regularly in Korea but is rarely talked about in the media. I tried to document the procedures to help others who regularly go through the same thing. Since I documented the court and legal procedures on my web site, I am facing a criminal suit for defamation.
Now, I am no expert on the law. I did do very well in university courses on copyright and libel law, so I am fairly well versed in the American system. I was very careful about what I said and limited it to only factual events and what was written on court documents. No speculation. No bad mouthing. No calls to action.
As a warning to any foreigner thinking of defending himself on the internet when his employer steals money from him or screws him over in any way – don’t talk about it.
It is illegal.
Somehow, if an employer doesn’t pay you your wages or severance or takes money from your paycheck without explanation or agreeing to it – they can pretty much get away with it. Even if you win your case, there is little legal framework to force the employer to pay you.
Yet if you want to complain about it on the internet, which is often the only venue for us – it’s a crime.
Here are the details of my case, without any names mentioned.
I announce to my employer that I don’t intend to sign a new contract when my contract ends in June. She goes ballistic and holes me in a classroom for two hours screaming at me. She then calls my future employer and tells him what a bad employee I am, trying to convince him to reconsider hiring me.
Now, you would think I could get a defamation suit against her. Yet since my employer knew from experience the type of person she was, he ignored her. So I didn’t have any negative ramifications from that to prove in court.
I did tell a fellow teacher about her phone call, and he pulled a "midnight run" based on that information and what he knew she had done to other former employees.
I finish my contract. (I was the first foreigner to complete one.) I ask my employer about my severance and final paycheck. She says to come by the following week to get it.
I return. She again holes me up and screams at me and says that she doesn’t have to pay me because I told the teachers that she said bad things about me.
That weekend, she calls me at home and says she’s going to have me arrested for threatening her family’s life, something I definitely did not do.
She regularly calls my new employer, saying she’s coming with the police to have me arrested, only to not show up.
I file a complaint with the Labor Board.
The Labor Board hearings are a circus. The official is cranky and overworked. My former employer regularly shows up very late. She goes on about topics unrelated to the case and creates wild accusations against me, like saying I stole a cell phone that she herself was holding in her hand. The Labor Board hearing goes on and on because of these distractions.
I start posting about my experiences so that others can see what the procedures are and how to protect themselves before and when these situations happen.
In August, I am awarded everything I asked for in my Labor Board complaint, totaling to around 6,000,000 won (you see, this wasn’t just about small money).
I am somehow able to get the Korean Legal Aid Corporation to help me. They say that winning is easy but getting the money is difficult. We proceed to freeze the key money on the school’s building space.
The judge not only rules in our favor, he awards us 2,000,000 won more, bringing it to around 8,000,000 won.
She still refuses to pay.
A mother who signed her child up at my new school said she had come from my former school. The owner had said bad things about me to her, and the mother didn’t want her child in my class.
We proceed to freeze the assets inside the school. On the day the official puts the stickers on the school’s property, he tells us to come inside the school itself to sign off on it. We come there but just stand in the lobby. When we enter the elevator to leave, the school’s owner forces herself into the elevator and holds the button to keep the doors closed. On the first floor, I hold the button to hold the doors open and try to leave. She blocks my way and holds on to my wrist so tightly that a bruise shows up the next day (dang it, shoulda taken a picture of it too and reported it to the police, but I want this over as soon as possible). While she’s screaming at me with wide eyes, I calmly tell her to take her hands off of me, and I get out of the elevator.
The property inside the school is scheduled to be auctioned. At the last minute, the school’s owner deposits money with the court to appeal the auction – ironically the same amount she owes me and claims she can’t afford.
Things are quiet for a while as we wait for the argument of her appeal. Her appeal is so bad that my very serious girlfriend broke into laughter when she read it.
Nonetheless, I got a letter from the local Cybercrime division requesting my presence at the police station for questioning. I checked through all my entries regarding the school, and even though I think they’re safe in American law, Korean law is very different. I have taken everything regarding the school down. As of now, I have delayed the interview, saying that I don’t want to go in there without an attorney. I’m now looking for an attorney that I can afford (remember, I am still short 6,000,000 won).
The moral of this is to just BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY.
Let me add to that: "...especially if you're a foreigner."