September 27, 2011

How to Make the Most of Your Life in Korea. . . or Anywhere

If life in Korea is so bad, it must be Korea's fault. That is far too often the attitude taken by many expats. And to that I say, please. . . Too many of these Korea haters do not take advantage of the resources that are available to them to make such a statement. Too many of them do not make a good faith effort at learning the language, which would greatly alleviate their frustrations about going about their daily lives in Korea. This would also help clear up any misunderstandings due to culture/language. They would be able to access a greater variety of media outside of English translations of Korean papers that would help them learn and understand more about Korean society.

When I see some bloggers regurgitate what they have read in the blogosphere or English translations of Korean articles, I just shake my head because I see how clueless they are about what is actually going on. They hear lots of stories from other expats and think that it is representative of what is actually presented in the Korean media. English translations of Korean articles do not fully cover what is reported in the Korean papers. In addition to reading the Korean news, learning Korean would enable such expats to engage more fully with Korean people, asking them for advice and opinions about what is going on. To think that one could fully grasp the nuances and intricacies of a culture that one has not fully studied or grown up in is ludicrous. Culture is not something you can figure out like math. There is no universal conception of culture. If you want to understand a culture, you need to understand how it sees itself and then, you will understand why it does/values things in a certain fashion.

Another thing that expats can do to acculturate to Korea is to view it with an open mind and a sense of good will. Give Koreans the benefit of the doubt when you do not fully understand something. Don't just assume that they are backwards/illogical because they do things in a way that YOU do not understand. If you approach things with a sense of good will, you are more likely to receive it back. If you want understanding, give understanding. Remember, you are in a foreign country and the onus is on you to understand the culture.

If You Don't Like It So Much, Why are You Here?

It astounds me to come across individuals who hate a country so much, yet continue to spend years and years of life in that country. They complain about how backwards and inept the people/systems of that country are and how superior/progressive their own country is, yet continue to spend their life in the "inferior" country. I don't understand that. If Korea, for example, is such a dreadful place, why are you here? Most will cite a paycheck as their reason and to that I say, So what? You can find work in your home country, probably better opportunities compared to Korea and yet you still find an excuse to stay here? If your life is so bad in Korea, you should leave. Ultimately, you chose to stay here and if your life is that miserable, it is your fault. At some point, you need to take responsibility for your own experience. Either make the most of your life in Korea or go elsewhere. It's your choice.

Korea Haters

Korea is a place that many English speakers on the blogosphere complain about. Kushibo calls them 'kvetchpats'. I feel that this is much too euphemistic a term to cover the broad range of expats who complain about Korea on the web. When I think of 'kvetchpats', I think of elderly men and women complaining about how the water is too cold or their restaurant meal is too salty. The term, I feel, is more accurately applied to expats who make mild, benign complaints. But I would say that they do not represent the majority of the English blogosphere regarding Korea, most of whom post negative rants about how Korea is so backwards and unjust.

There certainly is nothing wrong with constructive criticism of Korea, pointing out the wrongs and errors of Korean society. But far too many English bloggers use their 'criticism' as an excuse to bash and degrade Korean society, people, and culture. I used to be a frequent reader of such blogs, but then came to realize how pointless it was. Reading those blogs was not helping me understand Korea or expats themselves in any meaningful way. What I did conclude, however, was that there were a lot of angry people in Korea who used their frustrations about living in Korea to bash an entire culture/people. They were not trying to understand why Koreans acted in "incomprehensible" ways or why the society functioned the way it did. All one got was a sense of malice and ill will. They had a beef with Korea and were using that to justify their own offensive behavior.

For all the lack of critical thinking and backwards ways they criticized Korea for, they were unabashed and unaware of how lacking they themselves were in that department. Because Korea did not make sense to their Western mentality, it was illogical. Because Korea did not operate in the same way as their home countries, it was backwards. All throughout their criticism, I could detect their Western mentality imposed on a Korean context. There was no willingness to understand, no sense of goodwill or giving of a benefit of the doubt. So it is not hard for me to remain skeptical about such blogs. There are good ones here and there that look at the positives AND NEGATIVES of Korea in an objective light with a sense of respect and empathy for the humanity of the Korean people. But there are far too many blogs in the Korean expat blogosphere that have no good will and are just an excuse for bloggers to bash/hate on Korea. I call such bloggers Korea haters. I feel that is a more appropriate name for them as that is what they do, hate on Korea.

September 13, 2011

Korean Parents Have Wisdom When it Comes to Mixed Marriage

"Korean parents are racist!"

That is a claim that one frequently hears in the blogosphere often in conjunction with a non-Korean poster sharing his/her story of how he/she has been rejected by a Korean guy/girl or his/her parents for marriage. And to that claim, I say, "Don't be ridiculous." Now, I'm sure there are cases where Korean parents have hatred for a specific ethnic/racial group. But in most cases, the answer is simple, the partner is not Korean. "But that is racist," some say. No, it's not. If you truly understand why they feel that way and where they are coming from, you would not be so quick to judge.

Why do most Korean parents want their children to marry another Korean? Because they are fiercely committed to carrying on the cultural legacy of their forebears. They want to keep the traditions that have been practiced for many generations alive within their families. Yes, cultures do evolve and change, including the Korean culture. But it's not just about roboticly following certain rituals/customs. There is a meaning to the way Korean families operate and to dismiss that is to downplay the significance of the family order, the dynamic that functions to create the meaning of family. Korean parents want their children to marry fellow Koreans because they are part of the same culture and are most likely able to understand and honor the values that are cherished within their family.

Bringing another culture into the mix presents a challenge to this very dynamic. Everyone has a culture that they value and identify with. What guarantees that they will be comfortable with abandoning at least parts of it and adopting Korean family values as a way of life? It's one thing to respect and appreciate aspects of another culture. It's another thing to live it, so it is easy to understand why Korean parents are apprehensive about inviting non-Korean sons and daughters-in-law into their family.

Now, I believe that people should marry the right person whatever their ethnicity. But to diminish culture as an important factor in connecting and understanding one's partner is a bit cavalier and senseless. It is important to marry someone that understands you on a deep level, your identity and experience and likewise, you for your partner.

Ethnicity is not just another "flavor" of human being. It really shapes and defines a person's identity in a profound way. Korean parents understand that. There is a wisdom to their apprehension. To dismiss this concern as "racist" when one does not understand the reason is really shallow. It's not about understanding, but imposing one's concept of racism onto the situation. Just leave your baggage behind and look at the situation with open eyes. Couples really need to do their homework whoever they marry to make sure that their partner is right for them.

September 07, 2011

Multiculturalism in Korea

Hello, this is my first post on this blog. My name is itissaid. I have commented a bit on Monster Island and a few other Korean blogs. I have never really felt motivated to write at length about Korea, but was prompted by a certain post on the Korean blogosphere that I felt needed to be addressed.

There is a post by a blogger arguing for the multiculturalization of Korea. Apparently, the author feels that Korea should become multicultural because that is what is for its "own good". But based on his overblown "I know better than you, Korea" tone and the flimsy arguments that he makes in favor of this claim, one can see that it is not really an argument, but a rant motivated by pure self-interest.

Now, I am certainly in favor of Korea recruiting foreign professionals where they fill a need that cannot be adequately addressed by the current Korean workforce. However, to say that Korea MUST be multicultural and diverse to secure top talent is a bit much when there is a high number of college graduates WITHIN Korea, some of whom do not have jobs, as well as other alternate solutions to increasing the competitiveness of the Korean workforce like improving education, increasing opportunities for women, etc.

"In fact, it's ridiculous to think how the Korean media has managed to make the most highly-educated sector of the population from the world's most developed economies and make them into social monsters. Does this make any sense?"

To characterize teachers who are hired primarily for their native language skills and a bachelor's degree (whether related to English education or not) as making up the "most highly-educated sector of the population from the world's most developed economies" is just disingenuous. If Michael truly has the experience working in Korean schools that he claims, he would know this. And he DOES know this, but chose to be disingenuous to support his own argument that Koreans are missing out on a highly talented foreign workforce.

"The foreign blogging community translates almost all the articles written about us, we pass them around, and we are starting to wonder not only why the Korean media seems to hate us so much, but how supposed journalists can continue to make up a tidal wave of rumors and lies about us."

This is the problem with the author and other bloggers like himself. He gets his "news" from second-hand sources and takes them as fully representative of the Korean media. If he actually read the media in full, not just disparate articles here and there, he would notice that they actually write many positive stories about the foreign community, including English teachers. There are negative articles as to be expected about ANY subject, but he makes it seem that that's all they cover.

"There are isolated and statistically insignificant incidents, but the socially irresponsible, unethical, and completely unprofessional Korean media continues to feed the flames of panic through its sensationalistic headlines and stories."

Perhaps the author can take a bit of his own advice and not be so sensationalistic and inflammatory in his own rants about Korea. Regardless of how much experience he has teaching in Korean schools and being educated at the higher institutions of the U.S., he does not show the open-minded objectivity and analysis that he always skewers the Korean media for.

"Koreans know very well how little confirmation happens to resumes, so people fake them. They trust people recommended by a friend, or the powerful person who is supporting them, or simply are too lazy to pick up the phone (or go to the school web site) and simply confirm the information. What is more embarrassing than the "fake degree problem" is the fake that Korean society can even HAVE such a problem. And to the extent that a few unscrupulous foreigners know how Korea works, or some kyopos who know it even better, get away with living life as a "Harvard business school graduate" for years -- it's a fault of a system that doesn't even do the basic checks that an American McDonald's would do on a kid applying for his first part-time job as a high school student. There will always be unscrupulous people, anywhere, just as there will always be foxes waiting outside the hen house gate. So, who's to blame if the foxes all know the lazy farmer never closes the hen house gate at night? Foxes will do what foxes do. The lazy farmer is stupid for blaming the foxes, hunting them down with guns and dogs, etc. Simply close your damned hen house."

I would say that it is the fault of the lazy farmer as well as the foxes, but according to Michael, foreigners are never to blame for any wrong the commit toward Koreans. It's ALWAYS the fault of Koreans. ALWAYS.

"The increasing size of the applicant pool is sending the best, most highly-qualified crops of foreign teachers there has ever been. Any MBA grad or captain of industry will tell you what common sense should have already: a larger applicant pool means higher quality, in the end. "

He cites one example of someone from the English department at Berkeley to support his case as well as the competitive job market in the U.S. He promotes the fallacy that more competition means a higher quality of applicants. Not necessarily true in the absolute sense or even the relative sense. Unless he can show examples of people from the better universities applying to Korean teaching jobs in greater numbers, I don't buy it.

"Because of sensationalist stories by your major television networks on "Foreign Male Sexual Predators" and continued news emphasis on the actions of an errant few, Korean immigration rules have changed to require HIV tests for getting a teaching visa (which even Ban Ki Moon has agreed is both unconditional and illegal, according to Korean laws), a criminal background check to supposedly prevent "foreign sex offenders" from entering the country (when there are no confirmed cases of such foreigners actually having committed any said crimes, and the biggest problem is that most sex offenders in ANY country generally have no criminal record, a major problem in general), and other silly rules, such as having to have a "pre-interview" at a Korean consulate to teach at a silly hagwon (do you know how large the US is and that I would have to take a plane to the nearest Korean consulate, four states over?), or having to not only leave the country when changing one's visa, but having to return to one's ORIGINAL country every time one even RENEWS a visa?"

I highly doubt that Korean media coverage is the sole reason why there are stricter regulations for the hiring of English teachers. I'm sure that the Korean government like other governments took notice of the media coverage, but ultimately came to their own conclusion based on their own internal data. Unless the author has proof that such stories influenced such changes, he has no argument. If Michael truly did believe in doing what is right for Korea, he would not criticize the use of criminal background checks to screen out high-risk candidates. Apparently, just a few crimes from a large pool of foreigners is enough to justify the non-protection of children. The U.S. school system as well as other industries in the country do criminal checks for any applicant who will work around children. But Michael ignores that and singles out Korea for his own invective. As far as interviewing at the Korean consulate, it has come to this point unfortunately for all involved, the Korean government, the teachers, the schools. Why? Because hakwons have not done a good job of screening out negative candidates and so there have been far too many bad apples in the bunch whether or not they constitute a majority of English teachers. As far as his comment about returning to one's country to renew a visa, I have never heard of it, but if that is the case now, then it is not necessary and is probably the only point I agree with Michael on.

"Does the Korean public even know about these rules, or what they mean in reality? It means that foreigners become slaves to bag hagwon owners and school vice-principals. If we don't get paid, our contract is broken, or anything happens to us, we have no power. If we quit, we not only have to leave the country, we have to return to our home country immediately. In order to move out of bad hagwon A, over to next-door good hagwon B, I would have to go back to the US, re-apply for a visa, and spend thousands of dollars and months waiting for the process to finish."

Well, just like any employment visa whether in the U.S. or Korea, this visa is contingent on employment with the designated employer as it is the school that is the sponsor. The Korean government allowed you to enter for the purpose of working at school "A". They did not give you permission for anything else. So of course, if you QUIT, then you should leave Korea. What Michael fails to mention is that one has the ability to apply for other jobs BEFORE giving one's notice and leaving. But it's always "evil" Korea's fault. English teachers have NO RESPONSIBILITY. It's always about the "big, bad" Korean government.

"And hasn't it occurred to the media that the very REASON one finds some teachers working on illegal visas or with fake degrees or no qualifications is because many bad Korean hagwons actually WANT that kind of worker? I personally know of several people who had not finished college (but no, they are not "bad" people) but were working in hagwons, anyway, while students over the summer. They're cheaper and can't complain. Many hagwon owners simply want warm bodies -- and some actually prefer workers they can control. Protecting workers by separating the work and residency visas would put power back in the hands of the people who can vote with their feet, and allow the market to collect itself."

And it's never the fault of such teachers for not having such qualifications or degrees.

"I myself could never have easily worked at so many universities, alternative schools, NGO's, and countless other little jobs, if I hadn't been on the F-4 visa. Why do we treat non-Korean-descent foreigners any differently? Do we kyopos magically not have criminal records? Are we impervious to HIV and AIDS? Couldn't we molest children if we wanted to? Has the Korean job market fallen apart because of us, who have been providing the glue that keeps your culture industry together, not to mention the entertainment industry and countless other small places in the economy?"

Because it's the right of the Korean government to make its own policies on who to admit into the country. Many countries treat children of citizens and heritage applicants differently from other foreigners, including the U.S. which allows family members to sponsor other family members for a resident visa.

"Some close-minded people might say, "Well, America's immigration policies are strict. So why shouldn't ours be?" The answer is simple. The US needs to be, can afford to be strict. Because everyone in the world is trying to live there. And, strict though they are, America's immigration policies are fairly liberal, which has not always been true. Look at Koreans' contributions to the US, made possible only because of the 1965 Immigration Act, which finally stopped discriminating against Asians, Africans, and Eastern Europeans. Korean-Americans sit in some of the government's highest positions, are part of Hollywood, are doctors, professors, lawyers, schoolteachers, soldiers, nurses, and many other things. A Korean-American invented the touch-screen system that Apple first mass marketed and that now, the world uses."

I find it so convenient that Michael touts the creativity of Koreans in the U.S. when he has NEVER done so on his blog, always lambasting them for a lack of creativity. So when it is convenient for him to cite Koreans as creative, he will do so. He is a very disingenuous, pseudo intellectual blogger.

"As any economist knows, a small country can only go so far without opening its borders to trade and competition. The same is true for the "idea economy," which requires new thinking, new energy, new people. Right now, I fear for the future of the Korean "idea economy" and the nation in general, over the next 10 years."

I would like to see some evidence that Korea is not opening its borders to trade and competition. What do you call the FTA's with Europe and the U.S.? What do you call the many American chains/brands in Korea? Last time I heard, TESCO was a British company and is doing quite well WITHOUT Samsung.

"We could be a valuable human and economic resource. Now, the Korean image has become one such that foreigners are becoming more interested in coming here, in learning more about life here, in living here. But the message we get, in reality, is "WE DON'T WANT YOU TO STAY. You can visit, you can give us new foods, and maybe teach English for a year or so. BUT WE DON'T WANT YOU AMONG US."

It is the right of every country to decide who gets to enter within their borders. What gives foreigners the right to demand entry/residence in a certain country?

Whatever Korea needs, I'm sure the Korean government is in a better situation to decide than an irate blogger who has taught at a handful of schools and despite his high level of education, does not judge his subjects with an even-handed objectivity that one would expect from someone with those qualifications.

"Unfortunately, that's the message that's starting to get out now. As a foreigner, as a member of many educational communities, as a member of the 국가브랜드위원회, but also as a simply an objective citizen observer who actually wants to see Korea go in the right direction, I implore you to demand higher standards from your media, to stop being so ready to believe the worst about people, to stop emphasizing only the most negative, threatening aspects of anything new."

Michael should start taking his own advice toward Korea.