Discriminatory hiring practices in Korea
By Craig Guy
Dear Korean ESL recruiters,
Thanks for your reply. No problem. I understand the ESL business in Korea. If I can be honest with you, while I'm certain that you're a sincere and professional ESL recruiter, I immediately sensed that your manager was a little disappointed with my physical appearance (having brown hair and brown eyes ― not having blonde hair and blue eyes) since she spent such little time asking me questions and left without saying anything.
While I'm not naive about most Korean ESL recruiters seeking more "white looking individuals with lighter hair and blue eyes," I'm aware that most Korean ESL recruiters have little choice as their clients (well respected companies in Korea) specifically request interviewers who are "white," and not Korean-Americans or whatever. I can guarantee you that I'm "white" as my parents are from Europe, but I can’t conceal the fact that like Koreans I’ve dark brown eyes and dark brown hair.
It is unfortunate that not a few Korean ESL recruiters and the Korean public in general have such a narrow perspective on the outward physical appearances rather than on the more important qualities of education, experience and competence.
For example, a few years back, I did a two-day interview session with another recruiter. Of course, I was notified at the very last moment as the originally scheduled interviewer was sick at home after a long night of drinking and night clubbing.
During these two-days of interviewing, I was working with a very nice looking American man (Blonde Hair and Ocean Blue Eyes) who was in his late 40s. Before we even started the interviewing session, this man, who is well-educated and intelligent, started criticizing the Korean educational system and everything else in Korea.
But, for some reason or other, he couldn't stop to be thankful for the present job which was provided by the same inferior Koreans that were paying him 350,000 won for each day's work. In a word, this “white” American man simply hated any and everything about Korea except for the nice looking Korean women as he would often remark before and after each female interviewee had finished her time.
In any event, during these two days of interviewing, this same “white,” blond haired and blue eyed American male would have a pile of garbage on his side of the conference table, a large collection of empty juice bottles, and other things that didn't really impress myself or the young interviewees in front of us. Oh, I almost forgot, he would also prepare his tea and honey while the interviewees were answering questions.
In fact, during more than a few interviews, this same man would place empty juice bottles in a semi-circle and would literally and loudly start tapping these bottles with two pens like a wild drummer in a rock band. Not a few of the interviewees were impressed with this bizarre behavior. At other times, he would lean his head back and literally go to sleep for a few winks. On top of this, he would mock and laugh at a few of the interviewees answers.
Furthermore, this same “white” American man with Blond hair and blue eyes would notoriously be late after coffee breaks.
It is little wonder that immediately after this interviewing session the recruiter informed us that she would never hire this same “white” American man again. Ironically, it was this same recruiter who asked me several awkward questions (which would be illegal in Canada) such as, How do you look? Are you white? Do you have blue eyes? If you're Korean-American (gyopo), we are not interested in your services even though you were born in the U.S. and have a degree from Yale University. Wow! I was rather offended, but not really surprised.
All of this is simply to state the obvious point: Don't let outward appearances fool you as there are many individuals (from whatever ethnic background or color), who may not look “white,” but are competent and responsible individuals.
Excluding myself, most Westerners in Korea and elsewhere, male and female, actually think they are racially, educationally, morally, and culturally better than Koreans.
So, how ironic, the same "white" individuals that Korean ESL recruiters are so desperately seeking to hire are the same individuals who have very little, if any, respect for Koreans or Korean culture in general.
As for myself, I can honestly say that I've a general and healthy respect for Koreans and Korean culture. Of course, there are many problems in every culture such as Canada or the U.S. As far as I'm concerned, since we are all human beings, we are all equal regardless of race, color, gender, sexual orientation, education, religion, politics, socio-economic background, and so on.
While I'm more than certain that are many sincere and professional Korean ESL recruiters, I sense that most Korean ESL recruiters are a little disappointed when the ESL teacher isn’t “white” with blond hair and blue eyes. It seems that outward image is more important than inner substance.
In short, I'm almost certain that all these last minute job or interview cancellations are still open, but some Korean ESL recruiters are still looking for individuals who are just a little “whiter” than the next person.
The writer is an ESL teacher living in Seoul.