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Like people anywhere, Koreans view the world through their individual and group experiences of it and tend to extend these views to the new and unfamiliar, assuming that other people think like they do. This rather limited view is furthered by the fact that, until 1988, it was very difficult for South Koreans to get permission from their own government to travel abroad. Basically, Korea's experience of the world has gone from tribal to global in less than one generation. The result of this is a society and world view that many Westerners consider racist, sexist, repressive, ageist, homophobic, and generally discriminatory.
Although most Korean school owners have dealt with many non-Koreans and hold more liberal views than most of their compatriots, they have to respond to their market, which is Korean parents. I consider many Korean hiring practices offensive, but I prefer to be direct rather than to pretend something isn't happening:
The oldest person I have ever succeeded in placing in Korea was 44. Most schools are looking for people between the ages of 23 and 32. However, some schools prefer people in their 30s, especially if they have had difficulties with "unreliable" younger people. Men over about 40 and women over 45 have little chance of being placed at a reputable private school through the services of a recruiter; however, many public schools will hire teachers up to the age of about 50. Private schools that are willing to hire older applicants tend to hire directly as there are always more mature applicants for Korea than schools willing to hire them.
Koreans tend to be doing similar things at similar ages. "I'm 26, so I'll be married in two years, and I'll have two children in five years," wouldn't be an unusual thing for a Korean to say. Doing something like moving to a foreign country for employment after the age of about 30 is hard for Koreans to imagine. Also, workplaces in Korea tend to be stratified by age, with older people in positions of power over younger people. A 35 year-old Korean man would feel very uncomfortable if he had a subordinate male employee in his 40s.
Most Korean language institutes hire men and women in approximately equal numbers and most like to maintain an approximate gender balance in their teaching staffs. However, between two thirds and three quarters of applicants to teach in Korea are men. The result is that it is generally more difficult for men to be placed. APC hires approximately equal numbers of men and women, but always has more difficulty placing men.
Race / Ethnicity
Ironically, it is very difficult to place ethnic Asian applicants. When some Koreans see an ethnic Asian, they automatically assume the person is not a native speaker of English. Since Koreans tend to view race and nationality as inseparable, many of them do not think of non-European Americans or Canadians as "real" Canadians or Americans or native speakers of English. This is changing, but it still influences how Koreans respond to diversity in North America and elsewhere. Thanks to the negative stereotypes so pervasive in American television and popular culture (much of which Korea sees), it is very difficult to place black men in Korea.
Physical Appearance / Disabilities
As there are fewer differences in physical appearance among Koreans than among Westerners, Koreans focus on smaller physical differences that many North Americans wouldn't even notice. What shade of black is her hair? What kind of eyelids does he have? Can she "pinch an inch," or an inch and a quarter? More disturbing, some Koreans, like many East Asians, view physical handicaps or less flattering physical differences as a reflection of personality or character. Concealing significant weight issues (i.e. 30 lbs or more) or visible physical differences (e.g. missing fingers or mobility difficulties) from us may increase your chances of being hired by a Korean employer; however, this will backfire as problems will arise upon your arrival in Korea. If your application is deceptive, neither I nor my Korean partners will take responsibility for the outcome. Be direct with me, and I'll be direct with you and give you the best advice I can so that you can make the most appropriate decisions for your own welfare and happiness.
Our Korean client-schools usually expect us to find Canadians and Americans for them. That said, we have managed to place non-North Americans in the past and we do deal with some schools that accept non-North American teachers quite happily. Our ability to place non-North Americans has always been a direct function of the current teaching market in Korea and applicants' flexibility. It's common for Korean school directors to offer non-North Americans slightly lower salaries or demand ELT qualifications. If you are a non-North American with no experience or ELT qualifications and insist on being placed in central Seoul, we might not be able to help you. If, however, you are a non-North American with some experience (especially in Korea) and/or ELT qualifications, and you are somewhat flexible with desired location in Korea, please apply.
First Language / Accents
Korean employers in the children's market will not hire non-native speakers of English, no matter how good their English is. Of course, a Russian native speaker who holds a doctorate in English-Language Teaching is going to be a better English teacher than an American English native speaker with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, but the native speaker will get the job in Korea. The quality of English teaching and learning would improve dramatically if Koreans agreed to hire some of the many Filipinos and Filipinas who hold degrees in early childhood education and speak excellent English, but a 20-something blonde North American woman with no teaching experience and an unrelated degree will be preferred. Note that, even if you can pass for a native speaker of English among Koreans, your native-speaker co-workers may reveal to your employers that you are not a native speaker of English. Koreans involved in the language-teaching field are aware that eight million Canadians speak French as a first language and that thirty million Americans are native speakers of Spanish. If you are a native speaker of English with a French or Spanish name, be sure to emphasize that you are a native speaker of English on your resume.
Koreans are fixated on accent and will sometimes blame a native speaker's "accent," for their inability to understand spoken English. "Standard" North American accents are strongly preferred by most employers. As mentioned above, this makes Australians, New Zealanders, Brits, and Irish applicants more difficult to place. Even regional North American accents can be problematic. Ironically, studies show that when Koreans actually have to use English for travel or business, the majority of the time it is in speaking with other non-native speakers (talking on the phone with a business partner in Beijing or Tokyo, for example); thus, this accent fixation is not serving Koreans interests, but it can be hard to overcome.
About Taking Dependents
Most language schools in Korea do not provide accommodation or allowances for dependents of teachers. For this reason, we are often unable to place qualified individuals who wish to take non-teaching spouses and/or children to Korea. Because of the cost of private English-language education and/or the cost of daycare, it is usually not practical, as a foreign teacher, to take children to Korea. Do not conceal from us your plans to take a child, pet, or non-working dependent to Korea. We will take no responsibility for the outcome, which will most likely be your school's refusal to employ you, or in the case of a pet, expensive housing relocations that your employer will expect to be compensated for. At worst, you could be left in Korea without a means of getting back to your home country. Applications that conceal such intentions will be treated as fraudulent.
Couples / Groups
Placing couples (or two friends) can be difficult as it is a challenge to find two jobs at the same school at the same time. Housing is provided directly by the employer, so it is not usually possible to teach at different schools and live together. Many schools have had negative (and expensive) experiences with couples. If one person is unhappy, the school loses two teachers. If one person is not competent, the school loses two teachers. Applications from couples are welcome; however, flexibility in terms of start date and preferred locations are essential.
It is almost impossible to place groups of people. Please do not apply as a group of three or more and expect to be placed at the same school. Schools that have three or more positions open at the same time are usually either brand new (which means they are probably disorganized and not a good environment for someone without Korea experience) or it means that a large part of the staff of a school has quit or been fired for reasons that will probably become clear shortly after you start working there.
Before you decide that Korea is not a place any open-minded person would want to visit, bear in mind that much of the above is true of most Asian societies. Furthermore, North America, Australia, and New Zealand are among the few places on earth where prejudice is not routine. I've met Texan Republicans who hold more liberal views on some of the above issues than do many European social democrats. People are products of their environments. English has become the primary language of international communication because English-speaking societies have been more accepting of different people than other societies have.
I sincerely hope that those surprised or offended by the above do not blame me for being honest. Many recruiters simply don't respond to applications from those in any of the above categories. While I may not be able to place you in Korea, I will do my best to offer you any advice I can about pursuing an English language teaching career in Korea or elsewhere. Please feel free to contact me even if you don't think I'll be able to place you in Korea.
Here is a link to a large list of articles and books about Korean society and social history:
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