A Letter to Foreigners Who Wish to Come to Korea

If you are wanting to come to Korea to teach, I write this for you from the bottom of my heart. But first, a little background on why I am writing this:

This is my last week at my school. Two months ago I decided to quit because the stress was too much for me and with my visa status, I don’t need to be tied to a job to be in the country. My school brought in my replacement this week and today she started to teach my class but I”m still supposed to be training her. She has a degree in education and she has taught before. Watching her teach, she is a fully capable teacher but tonight I just sat in front of my husband and cried as I told him about how my interactions with her went.
I no longer want to leave my children knowing they will be with her. Not because she is mean or treats them ill, but I love these children so much and the things that I saw and will talk about in this post really are important things to me. Keep this in mind that I love this country like it is my own and I feel that as a foreigner in a country, we have certain responsibilities that we should take seriously. 

Dear Fellow Foreigner,

You have made the decision to come to Korea. Congratulations! Korea is a beautiful country, rich is history and culture, and has a wealth of experience to offer you. I am actually happy that you chose to come to this country that I love so much. But as such, choosing this path means you have chosen certain responsibilities that not only will allow you to enjoy the country but for the people here to also enjoy you visiting their country. I will make a list and elaborate on all.

1. This is South Korea. Not North America, Australia, Britain, etc. Do not expect anything from anyone.

In your home country and you encounter a tourist or immigrant who only spoke their native language, would you be annoyed or irked that they had not bothered to learn your language, did not learn how to function respectfully in your country, and their actions speak to a perspective this is acceptable behavior and their time there is a service to you and as such they can have a good ol’ time partying it up? Let’s be honest here. In America, I was sick and tired — actually pretty angry — whenever I heard my countrymen speaking ill of foreigners who did not speak English and were there in the hopes of better lives. When I see this, I see culture and linguistic imperialism being forced on other cultures and it really bothers me. As such, when you are in Korea, be mindful of

1) you are a guest here, act like it.

2) You may chose not to learn the language, but if you do that, do not complain about your circumstances or people who are unwilling to help you.

3) Learn some of the culture here and keep in mind that your culture is very different from your new temporary home’s. If you think pushing is rude and the demanding of the elder for your submission is a outlandish and arcane mindset, it might be…. in your home country. In Korea, it happens but it’s their culture. It’s not for you to judge. You are here and you are choosing to deal with it.

2. If you come here to teach and have a background in education, be aware that educational practices, beliefs, and approaches will differ from your country. 

While explaining to the new teacher today things about Korean 학원 and Korean education culture, she really not seem to give a care of anything I said and the moment I switched to show her something she deemed “useful” she made a comment. Yes, you are qualified…in your country. You are in Korea which is respectful of your credentials, that’s why you are there. Respect their system and adjust yourself. I am well aware of Korean educational system flaws, but it is not for me to come in and be so against.

3. Do NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT ever say that Japan and Korea are the same in any way.

The grammatical structures are quite similar, but they are both language isolates. This means that they are not based on any other language or related to each other by linguist standards. Their common lexical background comes from two things: a long influence from China (especially Korea) and the multiple Japanese occupations of Korea. The second one is the one I am most sensitive about. While teaching in Korea, unless English speakers ONLY have a Japanese word for something that I’m aware, like say Koi fish, I will say that. But words like origami, I say Paper Folding and teach my children that. I teach in Korea whose culture has been hurt by relations with Japan in the past. I do feel some abnormal Korean pride, but a large part of this comes from my love for this culture and my attempts to be as humble and respectful as possible. This being said, my feathers get a little bit ruffled with you say something as ignorant as Korean and Japanese are so easy to learn because they are so similar, that the address similar is like Japan (this is because the collective culture focuses on the larger entity and goes to to the individual last, as opposite to Western culture where the individual is emphasized). Before you come here, do your research or at least be open to learning from the people who have. Your stubbornness is insulting and offensive.

4. You came here to teach children, not small people whom you can control. 

There is a delicate balance between having control and being controlling. Watching this new teacher today made me want to cry. I could not handle how she was treating my children and I have cried on and off all night just seeing how she treated some of my children. A sick boy speaking Korean because he had a bad fever (please, speak a foreign language when you are sick. Not as easy, is it?) I was cut off from translating when a Korean teacher wasn’t present because this new teacher for whatever reason did not seem to like that he was using Korean in this English-Only environment. Having control I respect, but when I see the smiles and energy diminish within a couple short hours…something isn’t right.

On a side note, I am not one of these children for you to teach. Do NOT try to teach me. If you want to give me advice, structure it as advice. Not trying to teach me how to teach. If it was acceptable to be so condescending, I would have already told you how ignorant you have been in the last three days with your generalizations and assumptions about this culture and language you have stumbled upon.

5. Do not come to Korea because Japan didn’t give you all the same benefits but that’s really where you were interested in or what you like. 

Respect this country. Do not come here because you like Gangnam Style and do not come here because Japan was too hard to get into. That’s all I wil say about this one.

I know some might not agree with me, but after what I saw today, I understand why Korea is making more laws and being harder on foreigners. Before you get upset, too, in any situation please put yourself in the other person’s shoe and be more understanding. I really do hope you enjoy your time here, but you should not be a burden on anyone and be okay with it.




2 thoughts on “A Letter to Foreigners Who Wish to Come to Korea

  1. Corey

    I understand your feelings. I hate it when people mock foriegners because they cannot speak the language, I try to help out people who are visitors in America, always smiling and I try to point and talk slow when given directions. I am in the process of trying to teach in Korea, and I have a few questions. How hard was it to find a job in Korea? How ling did it take you to get your FBI check apostilled? Should I refer to the country as South Korea or Korea? As an African-American man is there anything I should be aware of besides the use of the word “niga” which means “you” in Korea? Also I would take any other information that you have to offer.

    1. Hello, Corey! Thanks for reading my blog!

      As for the FBI CRC check, I have a list of how to apply to Korea and get the documents in another blog post. You can check that out for more details. But I think mine personally took 2 months and then another two weeks when I sent it back for the Appostile stamp. I would allow three months to collect all your documents but remember the CRC is only valid for 6 months, so plan wisely!

      In regards to getting a job, it can be hard or easy depending on certain factors. If you are just wanting to get to Korea and don’t care about city/suburb/countryside, you might have better luck. But honestly Korea is trying to phase out foreigners to some extent, especially in the public school sector. HS jobs are gone, MS jobs are scarce and becoming extinct, and ES is on it’s way to becoming a thing of the past. But being frank, Korea is not afraid to hire based on race and gender. There’s no law against it here. The ideal teacher is probably white, in their early to mid-twenties, from North America (maybe go as far as to be blonde hair and blue eyed). This isn’t to say that being anything else won’t get you a job. There are a lot of different kinds of foreigners here, so I would saw give it a go and your best bet is to be friendly, passionate, and FLEXIBLE! Seoul has a wealth of foreigners, but there are other great cities with a good foreign population and access to what you need if you are willing to work there. Good luck!

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