Korean speakers: I need translation help, since the main proposal is long and requires a native speaker, I think. Even a paragraph can help! Please write is as a comment to this post, along with the section you are translating. Thanks!
I was guilty of ranting about the new visa regulations for foreign teachers. Heard about them? You can read up on it at Gusts of Popular Feeling, and/or read my rant about it. Here's a link the the JoongAnd Daily's report on it in English.
OK - I want to do something concretely productive, so I want to draft up a rationale and a proposal for really fixing the visa system. Yeah, it probably won't be adopted, but who knows? The Internet is a powerful thing, foreigners have a pretty powerful and tight online community, and we are placed in many advantageous areas of Korean society and tend to have more access to influential people than a randomly selected Korean person off the street.
My thoughts on this have been happening for a long time, and regular readers of this blog have probably already heard about, but I'm gonna lay it out here for everyone to see, get some feedback on it, and then ask for some help getting it translated into Korean from readers like you, and then distributed across the Internet by people like you.
Foreigners, by definition, don't have any direct political power, but we do have the power of 인맥, or connections, far more than most average Koreans. We teach English to this nation's children, we move silently back and forth throughout the high-rent apartment buildings of this nation's political and financial elite, and probably tutor the kids of just about every member of the National Assembly, and even the members themselves.
So I'm going to put this together and solicit suggestions as comments. When it's finished, I'll put the final version up as a separate post and ask people to sign it, petition-style, but it won't be a petition; your virtual signature will be a pledge to send along the Korean version of the document we're drafting now to every Korean person in your email box, and to every relevant official email address you can think of.
They say we foreigners are now 2% of the population. Of that 1 million people, surely, a few hundred thousand of us are in Korea in a somewhat more privileged position than the migrant workers or service industry folks who might not be reading blogs such as this, and aren't personally connected to teachers, government workers, politicians, and the financial elite.
That elite is filled with people who know we're not the media monster created by an irresponsible and frankly, racist, news media; many of these people have lived and studied overseas and know that "foreigners" are almost all NOT child molesters, criminals, drug addicts, or holder of fake degrees.
Yet, now the Korean government has drafted a law that assumes this to be true, that actively assumes the problem to be that ours is a community with enough child molesters, criminals, drug addicts, or fake degree holders that a burdensome law has been passed placing the burden of proof on us to prove we are NOT any of these things.
Reality and a runaway imagination are nowhere near in sync; and now, that runaway imagination, fanned by a sensationalist news media, has resulted in new, ill-thought regulations that will only penalize the vast majority of us who are good, hardworking teachers, and actually encourage those people to leave Korea, while doing almost nothing to address any actual problem.
So, it's time to stand up and make our voices heard. We've got the connections. We've just never used them. The sports newspapers and broadcast news are calling us all all kinds of things; when it was just name-calling, it was merely annoying; now, this scapegoating has resulted in real policies that are going to actually make it worse for us, worse for the education system, and most importantly, worse for the kids, since only the elite won't be hurt by a decrease in the pool of good teachers and the even greater problems that will be created because of that shrinking pool in the face of ever-increasing demand.
Here's the full text of the proposal, which I am writing to appeal most effectively to a native Korean audience, one that will tend to be impressed by blood ties and credentials, as well as a more emotional and conciliatory argument than my usual academic criticisms and sharp, accusatory tone.
I want to write a personal, persuasive missive that actually works. I ask you to help me make it better, and to help me use my peculiar position in Korean society and the power of this blog's readership as a lever through which to make a difference. Please note that there are a few more requests and instructions after this long proposal section.
A REALISTIC PROPOSAL TO REFORM THE WORK VISA SYSTEM FOR A TRULY IMPROVED ENGLISH EDUCATION SYSTEM AND A BETTER SOCIETY
Foreigners living, working, and paying taxes in Korea have long had no power to defend themselves against a sensationalist news media that uses nationalism and race-baiting to sell papers and keep viewers' attention. From the 1995 subway "sexual harassment" case of a GI "molesting" a hapless Korean woman (who was actually his wife, and was being harassed for being the wife of a GI), to the "Fucking USA" response to what was little more than a sports decision, to the endless and UNREPORTED incidents of verbal and physical harassment and even acts of violence committed against foreigners in the aftermath of the 2002 World Cup and during the time of the middle school girls armored vehicle accident, through the resultant and sudden upsurge in reporting on "the evil English teacher" in the popular news media, even when the incidence of serious offenses has actually been decreasing even as the foreign population increases – foreigners have had to endure this unfair and undeserved scapegoating for problems we did not cause: "education fever", the runaway English education industry, and Korean parents' relentless competition to do anything to keep their children ahead of the pack.
Until now, this was merely just annoying, but the frequency of these reports and the level of misrepresentation has gotten to a level where there is a real and palpable anti-foreigner sentiment, which is very different from the Korea I remember from 11 years before, when I never remember having to be careful that I might be verbally harassed or even attacked by a drunk ajussi who blames me for something he thinks "my" government did," or someone who doesn't like the fact I am walking with a Korean girl, or who wants to use me to relieve his anger at all the "drug-dealing, child-molesting foreigners" whom he reads about in the newspapers, but I don't see at all in reality.
And even if there have been a few real incidents involving foreigners– there are always a few bad apples in any bunch – how would Koreans feel if a few bad Koreans were treated like this by the American government? Perhaps if Koreans in the United States were required to submit a blood test for HIV, a criminal background check from their home country, and also submit to drug tests just to renew a work visa, because of the actions of a few bad apples, would not Koreans complain about it? Would Koreans find this fair?
Perhaps, in the aftermath of the Cho Seung Hee incident, if the United States required all Koreans in the United States to bring a criminal background check, prove they did not possess any firearms, and submit to a psychological examination, would that be considered fair? Would Koreans feel very good about the assumptions being held about them? As it was, the American government refused to accept the official apology of the Korean government, because Cho's background had nothing to do with his horrible acts, nor did his original nation or culture. And if the American government had passed some ridiculous legislation that blatantly discriminated against Koreans as a group, I would have opposed it as an American. Not DESPITE being an American, but BECAUSE I am an American. Because my idea of a fair and democratic America does not include discrimination against groups of people.
I hope, though this letter, to bring to the attention of the majority of the Korean people the ridiculous, discriminatory, and counter-productive set of new regulations that will now require foreigners applying for an E-2 visa to submit a criminal background check from their home country, a medical examination and invasive blood test for drugs and HIV, as well as perhaps some unreasonable requirements such as original diplomas.
These may seem like good ideas at first, but besides being humiliating because they are unnecessary and don't do anything to fix the real problem, are logistically difficult requirements to even meet. For example, in order to actively prove my non-criminal status in the US, I would have to most likely physically travel to each state in which I have lived as an adult and apply for the proper documents, since the federal government has no central database for that sort of thing; I have lived in Ohio, went to school in Rhode Island, as well as California. That process would be inordinately expensive and take weeks to even get the results; and I would have to repeat this even to RENEW my Korean work visa, every time I changed jobs. And that is just the logistically hard part; forget about the invasive and humiliating process of proving I am NOT an HIV carrier or use drugs – are these really the root of the problems in the English education system? Will insulting each and every foreigner who has come to teach in Korea even do any social good? Or will it just add insult to injury?
But before I go any further, I should explain that these visa regulation changes will not even affect me, for I hold an F-4 "kyopo visa" that allows me complete freedom of choice to work wherever I want, just like a Korean, and even register businesses and own land. I can do everything a Korean can, except for vote. I simply renew it every two years and live like a normal human being here.
So I am not writing this proposal out of mere self-interest, but to stop what I think would be a horrible public policy mistake, since only the vast majority of good people would be punished for the actions of a very few; the social harm that would come from these new regulations, if implemented, would be far, far greater than any social good.
I am writing this for the sake of my many foreign friends who love Korea, its people, and its culture; I am writing this for the sake of the many students who would be hurt by a vastly smaller supply of good foreign teachers who would simply go to Japan to teach English; and I am writing this because of the many hurtful things are said about us foreigners, but to which we don't have any public voice to respond. Now, with this potentially harmful set of new regulations, I think we have to at least say something.
I will be blunt – I am one of the most academically highly qualified and directly experienced foreign educators in Korea. Since I know that Korean society tends to respect credentials, I will begin there.
My high school degree is from Phillips Andover Academy, the oldest boarding school in the United States. I hold a double degree in History and American Civilization from Brown University, an Ivy League school. I have received two Fulbright fellowships, one of which brought me to Korea after college on the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) Program run by the Korean-American Education Commission (한미교육위원단), which placed me in a Korean public middle school (제주중앙중학교 and 지주서중학교) from 1994-1996, before there were any formal programs for foreigners to teach in Korean public schools. Until that time, only the American Peace Corps (평화봉사단), with the permission of the Korean government, had formal permission to place teachers in Korean public schools.
I attended UC Berkeley and am a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Comparative Ethnic Studies, and returned to Korea in 2002 to do dissertation research related to Korean national identity. From 1994, I grew to be conversationally fluent in Korean, and used that ability when I returned in 2002 to become involved in the alternative education system here in Seoul, and have taught photography and video classes (in Korean) at the Haja Center, 스스로넷 Media School, as well as the 도시속 작은 학교, and the MIZY Youth Center at UNESCO.
I have also taught American History at Daewon Foreign Language High School, AP US History at the Hanguk Academy of Foreign Studies (HAFS) at Yongin, and presently teach US History at Ehwa Girls' Foreign Language High School. In the meantime, I have taught Introduction to American Culture (미국문화입문) at the Hanguk University of Foreign Studies (HUFS) and lectured in Academic Translation at Ewha Women's University's Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation. I have consulted for a researcher at the Korean Educational Development Institute (KEDI/한국교육개발원) and presently still lecture in Korean Social Problems at HUFS during its summer Korean Studies program.
I presently work at UNESCO as a consulting editor for a major Korean Studies journal published in English and do odd jobs on the side to support my real love, which is writing and photography, which I do on a daily basis. I expect to return to my dissertation this year and finish it by next year.
Why am I still in Korea? Simply put, it's because I have found my work here – social criticism (my academic field), photography, and teaching here quite rewarding. I think Korean society is going through a great many changes, and these changes are intellectually, artistically, and academically fascinating to observe. I am sometimes critical of Korea because I love it, not because I hate it; and I am standing up now not because I am an angry outsider, but am a concerned insider who wants to prevent something that I believe will hurt society and many of its members, both citizen and not.
I present this information to you because you should know the kind of person making these complaints and suggestions; I don't want you to think of me as "just some foreigner" but one of many of who are concerned about Korean society and the people in it. Should my nationality really matter? Or my commitment to this country and culture, which I have demonstrated by years of living and doing good work here?
Let me present what I have been thinking about for a long time as a way to address the so-called "problem" of foreign teachers in Korea.
THE REAL PROBLEM
The real problem is very different from what is presented in the media. From the time I first came to Korea, the biggest problem has been the unprofessional hagwon system, which operates under few real checks and balances, and which is absolutely notorious for bringing foreigners to work under false pretenses, breaking contract conditions, not paying workers on time or sometimes even at all, not giving promised severance pay, and many, many violations that never, ever make it into the Korean news. This treatment is so common, we expect them.
All one hears about is a couple dozen foreigners who are on a (illegal) "black list" or the ridiculous side of hagwon owners who complain about foreigners fleeing the country without finishing their contracts, or for perhaps some unprofessional behavior. The story that isn't told is just WHY sometimes foreigners quit and take the next plane back home, or don't finish a class, and sometimes even neglect their teaching responsibilities. Even though this is true in a small minority of cases, it is admittedly sometimes a problem. But if you heard our side of the story even ONCE in the popular press, many Koreans would be shocked and embarrassed at our treatment here.
And it is one reason a few people leave in the middle of their contracts; but the vast majority finish, but simply never return to that company, or just go home. Has anyone really thought about the low retention rates at many hagwons and schools? Why most of the foreign staff quit after a year? It's not just because we're foreigners, but because of the way we are TREATED like walking dictionaries, like English-speaking factory laborers.
For those who say, "If you don't like it, go home!" you need not worry – unfortunately, many bitter foreigners do go home, and they spread negative opinions about Korea. Many have a good experience and stay in Korea, and leave with a good impression of Korea, too.
Still, I think the hagwon and school systems are the best they have ever been, the pool of foreigners is the largest it has ever been, and the level of professionalism in the English language industry is going up as demand increases along with the supply of teachers. I am not saying things are great, but because much progress has been made since the mid-1990's (when most foreigners with ability went to Japan, which paid far higher than Korea did at the time because of the powerful yen, and their English education industry was more highly developed), things are progressing forward.
But the new proposal will bring us a step backward, with its offensive and burdensome regulations, since the supply of good teachers willing to go through these needless and insulting hoops will decrease, even as the number of foreigners continuing to work illegally on tourist visas will not only increase, but not even be affected.
In short, the new system would discourage applying for formal jobs and increase the number of people doing private lessons, teaching short classes in hagwons, and other kinds of under-the-table activities. Top schools, institutes, and organizations will have even more trouble recruiting people with the proper visa, and quality will drop.
No one wins, everyone loses. And the problem with English education remains unaffected.
A NEW KIND OF WORK VISA
A better proposal would be REWARDING the vast majority of good foreign teachers, which will automatically make things more difficult for the bad ones. A better system would offer foreigners who have worked in the country for a long period of time, without criminal or other socially harmful activity, and who have, by their choice to stay here, demonstrated a desire to be a part of Korean society.
Remember, we pay taxes and rent, consumer products and services, watch movies, buy telephones and cameras, sleep in beds and sit on furniture that we buy, and participate in this society just like everyone else. We have bank accounts, keeps funds in them, and do all the important things that Korean citizens do. And we are not, by and large, criminals, just as Koreans are not, by and large.
But one of our special problems is that our ability to live freely here is linked to our employer, many of whom have a vested interest in exploiting our labor. In fact, that is one of the foreigners' greatest fears. What about a visa, one that looks very much like the F-4 "kyopo visa" already given to mostly Korean-Americans by virtue of an accident of birth, rather than any proof of some commitment to Korea, or any different behavior than other foreigners?
The F-4 visa allows me the ability to stay in Korea for 2 years and choose the job I want, just like a Korean. If I quit a job I don't like, or someone is mistreating me, I can stay in Korea and get another job. I don't have to make a "visa run" to Fukuoka, Japan (one of the cheapest tickets out of the country) to restart a tourist visa or change to another employer.
This is a HUGE freedom. It is also one of the reasons Korean hagwon owners, over-zealous vice-principals, or company manager have the power to abuse their foreign employees: if you quit, you have to leave the country.
What if there were an "A-OK" visa ("all ok" – a joking name made just for discussion's sake) that foreigners could apply for under the following conditions?
- after 3 years of continuous time living in Korea (at least 10 months out of each year)
- having received no criminal convictions in Korea (if there is a need for a criminal background check from the home country, it would be one-time only and there would be ample time to prepare it)
- upon an additional confirmation of all claimed academic degrees, conducted with a higher level of scrutiny
- upon the recommendation of at least one major employer (where applicant has worked for at least 6 months), but does not reply on the recommendation of all of them, since there are still many bad employers who mistreat foreigners, but the foreigner should still demonstrate the ability to do well in some job here
- and having passed at least grade 2 of the Beginner level of the TOPIK exam (Test of Proficiency in Korean), which is like the Korean equivalent of the TOEIC
What if an "A-OK Visa" was given under these conditions. These are far more useful and socially productive conditions, and would offer the many "good teachers" the incentive to prepare to pass this test if they desire to stay in Korea, and would also have another effect.
The creation of an "elite visa" for foreigners would suddenly place pressure on the hiring market to acquire these teachers. If the schools, institutes, and hagwons do not have to worry about filing extensive paperwork to sponsor an E-2 visa, the A-OK Visa holders would be in sudden demand (this is already the case for the F-4 visa, which employers LOVE because it saves them a lot of time and effort).
This demand would place pressure on foreigners who want to stay here for a long time to make sure they were prepared to get this coveted visa, which would eliminate a lot of annoying hassle, and also place them in the high-demand hiring pool.
Students' parents and the schools would likely prefer foreign teachers of this type, and the behavior of BAD hagwon owners and other places that mistreated foreigners would be AUTOMATICALLY PUNISHED since no foreigner with an A-OK visa would ever work or stay there. Even if that hagwon could hire fresh faces with the standard visa, at least the A-OK visa would allow an escape from the bad ones, or at least offer a hope to shoot for if they are stuck in a bad situation. There would be a light at the end of the tunnel.
And there would be other effects, as well. Right now, the best example is the F-4. Many F-4-holding kyopos (defined by the visa as pretty much anyone with at least one Korean parent coming from a Western nation) are able to start clubs, magazines, and other activities outside of just teaching; many of the poetry readings, art exhibitions, and social organizations that started within the foreign community (but are also open to anyone) are founded and maintained by F-4 visa holders.
Using myself as an example again, while working a high-paying job, I was also able to teach in multiple places (practically impossible with an E-2, where you have to file paperwork and get formal permission), including the alternative schools, media centers, and other small jobs that don't pay very much but I truly enjoyed doing.
Almost all of the jobs I listed at the beginning, in my personal description, would have been impossible as a normal E-2 visa holder. My classes in the alternative and media schools, lecturing at HUFS and Ewha, or at the youth center were all made possible by my F-4 status.
And what is even more scary is that earlier in the year, the head of immigration, in response to a silly "scandal" in which some foreigners were involved in a comedy sketch about Korean life, declared that even VOLUNTEER activities such as working in an orphanage, or organizing a poetry group HAD TO BE REGISTERED with the immigration office or face deportation for "activities outside of the visa" description.
Does this make sense? Is this moral? I wonder whether it is even a violation of human rights to deport someone, not for working and receiving money outside of visa regulations, but for private activities that should fall under freedom of expression, freedom of movement? Are foreigners not human beings to? Or are we simply walking dictionaries and manual labor?
TO MY FELLOW HUMAN BEINGS LIVING IN KOREA
I think there are many Koreans out there who are not aware of these facts, of the situation of foreigners living in Korea, and only have what the media tells them about us to make judgments about.
Now that you have one person's point-of-view, don't take my word for it. Go ASK what your foreign hagwon instructor thinks, or your foreign coworker, or professor. If you agree with what is said here, the message that is contained in here, send it to all the people you know, to all the organizations who should hear this point-of-view. If it is too long, send the important parts and deliver the message yourself. Condense it, summarize it, or discuss it over dinner or drinks.
But if you agree, or care about the state of English education in Korea, and would like to see foreigners able to take a bigger part in Korean life here (and the majority of us would like the chance, I think), then at least copy, paste, and send your connections an email.
ONE LAST NOTE
Lately, there has been lots of attention given to the "Korean Wave" and movies such as 과물 (The Host) have been shown overseas in large numbers. Remember the foreign actors who appeared in the movie? Who played minor roles, and received very small amounts of money?
They were deported for "violating the terms" of their work visa.
We want to play a bigger role in the drama of everyday life in Korea. Don't let short-sighted policies fueled by a sensationalist news media make life here nearly impossible for foreigners, which will result in a worse situation for everyone.
Get this message out!
Thank you for reading this.
Please forgive the length, but I think a single, detailed account can be useful, it can be remixed and excerpted, and read by a few and condensed.
Please forgive the personal nature of it, but I think keeping it anchored in the example of the "good foreigner" was rhetorically useful and emotionally effective.
Please forgive some awkward phrasings, especially in the section titles, but I thought it would sound better in Korean when translated.
Please forgive the name-dropping and credentialism, but I think it will be effective to a Korean crowd.
Please keep suggestions short and constructive.