They are nice to most people, yes, but for most of them, in their minds, they are better than everyone else. Koreans base a lot on race, nationality and looks. When foreign language schools are looking for teachers, they look for good looking white foreigners. My first year, when my school was hiring another teacher, they handed me two pictures and asked me which one I thought they should hire. I look at them with a bit of a WHAT? look and asked to see the resumes if they really wanted my opinion. Many schools advertise that they want North American's only (and imply white North American). I do know several African Americans that are working here, but many schools won't even consider hiring one. Also, at many schools, North Americans will be paid more than other westerners, because of where they are from and having nothing to do with experience or credentials.
Here a couple of articles that I had saved a while back but had never really gotten around to getting to until now (the reason for this post).
It's About Time Korea Became Colorblind
"The Korean word 'minjok' (race) doesn't include ethnic minorities such as white or black people who were born in Korea and have lived all their lives in Korean culture. Korean people indulge in black-or-white thinking. The idea that if you're not of 'our minjok' then you're a foreigner is racial discrimination," said a U.S. soldier in a Korean speech contest last month. "As long as Korea is an advanced nation, you can't excuse racial discrimination by blaming it on the ignorance of a few people."
▶The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family in March interviewed immigrants who had married Koreans and settled down in Korea. The survey found that these people resent expressions like "mixed blood," "Kosian" (a child born to a Korean and another Asian), and "half-Korean." A Philippines-born woman said, "My child speaks Korean fluently, so he's not half Korean but full Korean." A Japanese woman said, "The term 'mixed blood,' a derogatory expression that disparages and discriminates against children of international marriages, is already a dead term in Japan." Some 11.5 percent of children from such marriages said it was hard for them to go to school because they faced ostracism from their classmates.
▶One in eight marriages in Korea last year was international. There are some 720,000 foreign residents in the country, accounting for 1.5 percent of our entire population and up by 35 percent from last year. Of those, most were foreign workers (36 percent), followed by married immigrants (12 percent) and naturalized Koreans (7.5 percent). Foreign residents will likely exceed 9 percent of the population by 2050. Our society will soon turn into a multicultural one with one non-ethnic Korean for every 10 citizens.
▶A nationwide attitude survey was conducted in April. Asked what it means to be Korean, respondents said that simply believing oneself to be Korean is more important than nationality or blood. They said they could be on intimate terms with Southeast Asians as close neighbors (40 percent) or close friends (36 percent). This suggested that most people are fairly open-minded. But only seven percent said they would accept a foreigner as a spouse, and a mere three percent said they would accept a foreigner marrying their child. In reality, most Koreans are still narrow-minded.
▶Last weekend, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination urged Korea to end racial discrimination. "There was a genuine fear that overemphasis on and excessive pride in the ethnic homogeneity of the Republic of Korea might be an obstacle to the realization of equal treatment and respect for foreigners and people belonging to different races and cultures," UNCERD said in a report. The common concepts of "pure bloodedness" and "impure" blood came "very close to ideas of racial superiority." Ethnic homogeneity for many years gave us a strong identity which helped us to defend ourselves against outside forces. But this idea no longer holds water. Korea has achieved great prosperity in the global market and now must face up to its responsibilities as a member of the global community. Our eyes should be open not to the color of people's skin, but to their minds and hearts.
UN Concern at 'Ethnocentric' Korea
August 20, 2007 Chosun Ilbo
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has expressed concern at persistent ethnocentric thinking in South Korea. "There was a genuine fear that overemphasis on and excessive pride in the ethnic homogeneity of Korea might be an obstacle to the realization of equal treatment and respect for foreigners and people belonging to different races and cultures,” it said. It urged the country to include a human rights awareness program “that stressed understanding of societies with multiple ethnic/cultural backgrounds” in the official education curriculum.
Meeting in Geneva from July 30 until Aug. 17, the 71st UNCERD reviewed national reports on Costa Rica, New Zealand, Mozambique, Indonesia, and South Korea and released recommendations for them. On Aug. 9-10, it looked into reports submitted by the South Korean government. In the recommendations, UNCERD expressed discomfort about a prevalent notion in Korean culture of "pure-bloodedness," saying, "The whole concept came very close to ideas of racial superiority."
The committee praised the Korean government for the National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights and the Basic Act on the Treatment of Foreigners adopted in May and establishing an Interpretation Support Centre for Foreign Migrant Workers last year. But it urged Korea work out better systematic devices and suggested the country legally guarantee equal rights for foreign workers and children born from international marriages in employment, marriage, residence, education, and interpersonal relations. It called for information about the history and culture of various ethnic groups and peoples to be included in elementary and secondary school textbooks.
UNCERD also expressed concern that foreign women are improperly protected from potential harassment from either their Korean husbands or international matchmaking agencies. It highlighted cases of abuse -- some international marriage agencies demand exorbitant fees for their services or confiscate passports and travel papers from foreign wives-to-be without giving them sufficient information about their future husbands. Foreign workers, it noted, “were allowed to change their place of employment four times during the course of their three-year stay. They gravitated to relatively low-paying jobs that were deemed difficult, dangerous or dirty by the Korean population.”
Number of Foreign Residents Surges 35%
August 2, 2007 Chosun Ilbo
The number of foreign residents in Korea has surged by 34.7 percent compared to last year. Some 722,686 foreigners lived in Korea as of the end of May, up 186,059 from 536,627 in 2006, the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs said Wednesday. The number of foreigners in Korea accounts for 1.5 percent of the 49.09 million population.
The ministry attributed the surge to increase in international marriages supported by local administrations and influx of foreign students and businesspeople. The ministry and local government tallied the number of foreigners who have been staying in Korea more than 90 days to help them settle in Korea. It comprises both legal expatriates and illegal aliens.
Some 35.9 percent or 259,805 were foreign workers, followed by 12.2 percent or 87,964 who married Koreans. By nationality, Chinese accounted for 52.4 percent of foreign residents, Southeast Asians for 23.7 percent, Americans for 3.4 percent, Japanese for 3.3 percent and Taiwanese for 2.9 percent. Some 64.4 percent lived in the metropolitan area including Gyeonggi Province, where 29.7 percent of foreigners were living. Seoul was home to 28.7 percent and Incheon to 6 percent.
Foreigners Have a Hard Time in Korea -- Report
January 30, 2007 Chosun Ilbo
Last April, "K", a 30-year-old Japanese graduate student in Korea, had an unpleasant experience trying to subscribe to a mobile phone service.
Because K is a foreigner, a clerk at the mobile phone company demanded that he either subscribe to the service under the name of a Korean national or pay a W200,000 (US$1=W941) deposit. He had a similar experience trying to subscribe to an Internet service. In the end, K paid the W200,000 deposit to the phone company and he found a Korean friend willing to sign him up for the Internet. But the episodes soured life in Korea for K. "There seem to be too many complicated procedures that foreigners have to go through to live here," he said.
Even the most basic of daily interactions can be stressful for foreigners. Some non-Koreans have reported food shop owners who browbeat them into buying dishes after they sampled a free snack. A visit to a Korean hospital can be a terrifying experience for foreigners who fear for their safety when medical staff don't understand their language.
Currently there are more than 530,000 foreign residents in Korea, more than three times the number in 2000. But many Koreans are still inconsiderate of their foreign guests.
According to a study on the daily lives of foreign consumers from the Korea Consumer Protection Board, 41.7 percent of 545 respondents said that they're "dissatisfied" with their life as consumers in Korea. When asked what the biggest problem is, 35.9 percent pointed to communication difficulties. Other reasons for unhappiness include a lack of consideration for foreigners on the part of Koreans, financial difficulties, a lack of public information, and cultural differences.
When it comes to consumer goods, 48.7 percent of those foreigners expressed dissatisfaction with their mobile phone companies. Other sources of frustration were credit cards, the Internet, and real estate transactions.
"D", a 36-year-old English teacher from Canada, recounted his difficulties in signing a lease for a residential officetel in Yeonhui-dong, Seoul. The landlord demanded an advance of W9 million, a full year's rent, claiming that he might have a hard time tracking down D if he skipped out on his rent. D decided to try a boarding house in the neighborhood instead. But even some boarding houses don't accept foreigners, and it took D several tries before he found one willing to take him in.
A 34-year-old American expat called "J" said that credit cards presented undue stress in Korea. "I have never had a problem using my credit card in any other country. But here in Korea, merchants rarely accept it. And just because I'm a foreigner, it's impossible to apply for a cash card to withdraw my deposits."
Kim Hyun-joo, a senior researcher at the Korea Consumer Protection Board, said that with the number of foreigners visiting Korea on the rise as a result of globalization and the open-door policy, how the Korean people treat them is becoming an important criterion for national competitiveness. "We need to work out a variety of support programs that assist foreigners in their daily life as consumers," Kim said. For more information or counseling, foreigners are advised to call (02) 3460-3393.
This article gives some hope, but from a combination of my own experience, friends' experiences and what I've read, they still have a long way to go: What Koreans Really Think About Ethnic Homogeneity.