Most would think that Koreans raised overseas would be an extremely valuable asset to any hagwon (Korean academy) or public school; the ability to teach English with a native accent while at the same time being able to mostly communicate with fellow staff members in Korean. However ask any Gyopo (the Korean word for a Korean person that grew up overseas) if this is the case, and most will tell you the same thing: Here, it’s a disadvantage.

Posts on job boards, recruiting agency websites, and Facebook ESL groups post time after time state the ideal teacher for them: Caucasian, American, female,  and sometimes even ”attractive” gets thrown in there. The Korea Times wrote an article earlier this year addressing the same topic.

So where do Gyopos fall on the English teaching social ladder? Usually near the bottom. If you’re a Korean adoptee that can’t speak Korean: literally at the bottom.  A lot of times F4-visa holders (the visa for overseas Koreans) are even verbally straight out barred on postings and are often prone to make less than their foreign-looking peers. Korean employers also sometimes reject providing housing for Gyopos –one of the most famous benefits for those teaching English in South Korea.

No F4 Visa Allowed

So why do schools not want Gyopos? It’s simple: face. Hagwon owners and school principals want foreign-looking individuals seen walking out of their doors. Parents want to send their child to the other hagwon next-door that has a “foreign” looking teacher teaching the “foreign language”. A lot of Korean adoptees will tell you that Korean recruiters were initially interested in them, but when they would submit their picture, the recruiter would disappear into thin air. While many of us (and Koreans as well) will agree it’s not right, it’s understandable. If I seek out an “authentic” expensive Sushi restaurant, I want to see a Japanese person making it. A mother and father paying an exorbitant amount for their child’s English education, want to see their child’s teacher as the image of a westerner that they have in their head. Small privately-owned hagwons are the most prone to barring Gyopos from joining their staff as a “native speaker”.

The government-sponsored public school programs in Korea also aren’t a haven for Gyopos. The Gyeonggi English Program in Korea (GEPIK), the English teacher governing program that covers the suburban region of Seoul, also is known for a partial “about face” towards Gyopos. Although not necessarily a wish of the government itself, GEPIK gives the authority to individual schools’ English departments to interview and pick which candidates they would like to interview. More often than not, schools will not give an interview to ethnic Korean and Asian looking candidates. It turns into a game of how hard the public school recruiter can or will “push” the candidate’s qualifications and personality, to overshadow their appearance. In this case, thank god for recruiters.

“…there, discrimination actually works in Gyopos’ favor.”

There are markets however where overseas Koreans with dual language abilities are actively hired however. A majority of upper-echelon hagwons that are geared towards test-preparation actively hire Koreans with North American accents. “Hackers” one of the most famous test prep hagwons in Gangnam supposedly only hires Gyopos. There, Korean students are ushered into a huge lecture room where they are taught by the star professor and then after the lecture are split into work groups that are lead by the Gyopos who go over pattern practice, dictation, and listening in both languages. The higher tier chain Chungdahm Institute, also are known for having a particularly good reputation for taking on Gyopos; there, discrimination actually works in Gyopos’ favor.

No F4 Visa Holder Allowed

The EPIK program for public schools, also is known for being more accepting of admitting Korean and Asian looking individuals as well. Instead of giving individual school’s the right to choose, EPIK goes off more of a first come first serve basis, and has their own team of experienced interviewers narrow down the applicants. Because they interview hundreds of prospective English teachers a year, they have a better idea of what makes a good teacher; personality and enthusiasm.

So will the industry change in the future? Possibly. Will it change in the next 5 years? Probably not. You can’t find yourself angry at hagwon owners solely though. They try to provide what the parents want. When the parents of the students cramming into hagwons each day become more open to someone with their same face having an identical accent and ability as a Caucasian teacher, then the hagwons will start to change. When the hagwon next door starts losing customers to the other hagwon across the street because of teaching ability, Gyopos may be able to finally breathe a sigh of relief.

 

Think the issue of Korean schools’ preferences are blown out of proportion? Have an instance of employment discrimination you’ve experienced in Korea? Let us know in the comments section below.

About The Author

Stephen is a co-founder and writer for SeoulSync. He spends his time writing and making videos for the site while at the same time attempting to do P90x within the small confines of his officetel.

Comments

  1. Ncky says:

    Woah, good article. I wrote about my personal experience as a Korean-British Gyopo (http://goo.gl/nrHa0K) and my experience finding a teaching job (http://goo.gl/2E9OWy). I love my job, but I need to change my accent.