It bothered me. For the usual reasons. Mostly for calling prospective English teachers losers, failures, and stupid.
Here is the letter I sent to her and to the editor of The Korea Times.
While Jessica Kim's article, "Korea's English Pandemic" raised some valid questions about Korea's obsession with English, I was extremely disappointed both by Jessica's crass generalizations about the character and intelligence of English teachers coming to Korea, and moreover by The Korea Times' willingness to print such material.
The problems she raises are valid: yes, Korea's obsession with English education is expensive for families and stressful for children. However, recruiters for Korean companies trying to expand their global reach would probably take issue with Ms. Kim's assertion that Korea’s English obsession is pointless.
There is also nothing wrong with Ms. Kim being proud of her country's language: she mentions how Korea has a national holiday to celebrate Hangul, but why, in the same sentence, does she need to start making insinuations about the kinds of people who ask about coming to Korea to teach?
Does Ms. Kim know these people well enough to accurately judge their probable SAT scores, or is she guessing wildly about their intelligence? How did she judge that they had no life goals? Is she so sure that their only qualification to teach English is their white skin? Does she even know how many of them are asking about teaching in Korea out of a serious desire to come overseas, and how many are simply exploring possible options, the way desperate people do during a financial crisis, when they feel their options diminishing? And how dare she call these people miserable failures in their own lives, unless she knows their entire life stories?
Finally, as a long-term professional English instructor in Korea, who works hard to improve both my craft as a teacher, and my students' true English capability, I deeply resent Ms. Kim's insinuations that my white looks are my only important qualification to teach English in Korea. By ignoring the fact there are a lot of excellent Native English instructors in Korea, Ms. Kim sounds just as ignorant as the people approaching her, who think white skin is enough to get a teaching job in Korea.
I also resent Ms. Kim’s trotting out the old, ugly stereotype of the “unqualified English teacher," using a broad brush to paint an entire group of people. The English instructors in Korea range from experienced and supremely qualified career educators, to backpackers looking to pay for the next leg of their Asian tour. However, those recruiting teachers are responsible for which teachers come to Korea, and in recruiting, the old saying, “You get what you pay for” applies, for better and for worse.
Finally, I am dismayed that The Korea Times prints articles like this, which ply in stereotypes and lazy thinking, which does not even offer a solution to the problem it presents, though it does take time to slur the reputation of many hard working, enthusiastic and passionate teachers. Such careless media coverage denies native English teachers the respect they deserve for their work, and sometimes makes teaching English in Korea seem like a thankless job. It would be easier for the qualified, committed teachers in Korea to continue investing their talents in Korean society if it seemed to appreciate our hard work.
(for those who care: here's her original piece)
Korea's English Pandemic
By Jessica Kim
``I don't have a job here, but it's okay because my fallback plan is to teach English in Korea,'' they all say, the so-called native speakers.
Everyone in Korea, regardless of age, gender or job, has a massive collective fever. It's almost like the influenza pandemic of 1918.
Sure, it doesn't shoot up the death toll, but if you are a Korean parent, it does shoot up your kid's monthly English lesson fees, and if you are ``that" kid yourself, then it shoots up your stress gauge. This peninsula, at least the southern half of it, is drowning in a large-scale English craze.
Recently, a lot of people have been calling me and emailing me, to the point where I just had to shut down my phone. Some even identify themselves as a friend of a friend of a friend of mine. That's a long social chain.
These random ``friends" who don't have a job or got fired recently have been trying to get in touch with me to ask me about teaching English in Korea. They all say in unison, as if it comes from the Holy Bible, ``I heard all you need is the 'white looks' and you are good to go." I have heard this millions of times already, but every time I hear it I can't help myself from cringing with every single muscle in my forehead. I may need Botox soon even though I'm only in my early 20s.
So why is Korea, the nation that even created a national day to celebrate the beauty and the history of the Korean language, seen as the place to go for those ``native speakers" who have no life goals? The aim of trying to learn English is healthy for the mind and soul ― it's for personal development. However, the situation here is to the point where it's almost an obsession, not to mention an embarrassing one.
Do we really want these ``white-looking" people to just stroll into Korea, who probably scored less than 500 out of 800 on their verbal portion of their SATs or don't even know what they SATs are, to be hailed as kings by Korean parents? This leads to my point: Korean parents need to change their attitudes.
It is the Korean parents' crazy obsession with English that drives up the cram school fees; it is their obsession that creates such trouble for the government's education branch to rationally allocate their already-strained budget; and, finally, it is their obsession that leads Korea to be looked-down-upon as a Plan B by those ``native English speakers" who miserably fail in their own lives. The parents with such wrong attitudes are to be blamed for the pandemic.
Sadly, I do not have a solution and my intention was only to point out my observation of today's society. I do not know if anyone will ever have a solution. Is it even possible?
This mad English fever seems inexorable; it is how it is now, how it will be next year and the year after that. Someone needs to set an alarm clock to wake up the parents who have overdosed on their English fever.
We all need to realize that this English craze is not only pointless, but it burdens the students and their families. It ships Korea's money offshore and it pressures Korean educators to seek unqualified people who only possess the ``white looks." It leads to many indirect social problems that we have in Korea right now.
Rise and shine, it's time to wake up.
The writer is a student majoring in accounting at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OK, Yeah, they carry michael breen's column, and their friday "Events" page can't be beat in the English dailies in Korea, but CRIPES! Does the Korea Times HAVE to publish every single opinion any old whoever sends in, so long as it mentions English teachers? Seriously? Is this like their way of letting their readers (who are mostly Koreans practicing English anyway) get some vicarious, passive-aggressive revenge on their English teachers, by reading smears on their English teachers in their paper, in order to feel better about the fact they still can't speak English to a foreigner with confidence? (Bitter much, Roboseyo? I'll feel better in the morning. You should've seen the pictures I took today!)