All kinds of rumours are flying around here about big changes in the ESL industry. People are freaking out and bombarding poor Dave Sperling with discussion forums about mandatory physical examinations for drugs and AIDS, criminal record checks, interviews at consulates in home countries making the old Japanese visa runs a thing of the past, and some other scary stuff.
People are exchanging panicky information about how you have to be fingerprinted at a local Korean police station for 20 bucks then send a request for the criminal record check to the RCMP headquarters in Ottawa where you fill out forms to release the information and one for if you happen to be charged with sexually assaulting a kid. Then it takes 4 months to be processed, (probably more with the influx), and contracts here need to be renewed in February, 3 months from now.
Others are posting about how much it will cost to have a good medical examination, (which is harder than you might think to get here in Korea), and how of the 12,000 ESL teachers over here, even with the better AIDS tests some 24 people without HIV will be misdiagnosed and sent home.
Still others are doing some online chest pounding and saying how they will not submit to such racist and unfair treatment. They're going home and they know all kinds of other teachers who are leaving.
I've been here long enough to know I needn't pack my bags just yet. A couple times while I've been here the Korean government found ESL teachers using fake degrees to get their work visas and deported several people. Even put one girl in jail for 6 months. The rumours at these times about new laws were pretty scary but the end result were a few rules that almost nobody follows any more and a RE-verification of diplomas that I think cost about 20 bucks.
I was told by a grizzled old veteran friend of mine who's been here 14 years that many years back they were trying to require a 4-year degree for all ESL teachers here. There was an uproar and a high ranking Kiwi official put the kibosh on that idea.
Koreans are emotional. It's one of their charms. I prefer it to robotic people who never show their feelings. It seems more honest. Unfortunately, when you live in a Confucian, face-saving society and you have a temper it's not so easy to just admit to blowing your stack. You need to make it look like you weren't just being a dumbass and that's not always easy.
When the illegal degrees were found Koreans were incenced about foreigners "stealing" their money and posing as educators when they were just ordinary citizens. And before they gave it a good long think they reacted. Then little by little stories of Korean phonies in high public positions like major Korean museum curators, architects, scientists, art exhibition officianados/university profs., even belly dancers and monks who had forged degrees from Harvard, Yale and the like began to arise. And if you learn enough about the Korean "education" system you know it is full of regular people posing as educators. But try as I might, I couldn't find a single one of them who served any jail time.
Other stories arose stating that the Canadians that had been deported had been given their phony credentials by the bosses of the schools they had worked at, none of whom were punished in any way. Estimates were made and stats were compiled and it was found that probably thousands of people in Korea have purchased and used forged degrees to get employment here, few being foreigners. So that witchhunt has abated somewhat.
It has been replaced by the latest proposed rounds of drug and AIDS tests, record checks and trips home for foreigners which are in obvious retaliatory response to a couple guys who have recently been exposed as foreigners having sex with Korean girls including children. There was one guy who had a website describing how easy it was to get young, Korean students into bed. I think he was talking about girls of college age. But the latest is this asshole named Christopher Paul Neil who abused kids as young as 6.
I don't know if any of you remember Cho Seung Hee. He was the Korean kid who shot up the Virginia Tech. classroom. Did the U.S. tighten immigration laws or impose any new restrictions on Korean student visas because of him? Nope. Nobody even remembers who he is. But I don't know when we'll ever hear the last of this Neil guy.
A couple foreigners use fake degrees, smoke some drugs in Thailand and have sex with Korean girls so now we're ALL a bunch of doped up oversexed, STD transmitting, counterfeiting sexual deviants to Koreans. It's not that bad but obviously these new laws make it seem so. To put it into perspective, and expose them once and for all for what they really REALLY are, I have personally worked at 2 schools here in which a male Korean teacher had been caught sleeping with a female student. In both cases the teacher was suspended. You know, to take care of the "face" issue presented. But in both cases the teacher was also re-hired as a teacher AT THE SAME SCHOOLS. Neither served a day in jail or paid a dollar in fines or reparations. These are just two incidents I've heard about personally. I may have even met the teachers for all I know. I have no doubt there are plenty of incidents like this every year. But when a foreign teacher sleeps with a Korean student it's got to be dealt with!
I'm aware that what Neil did was pedophilia and it's a considerably more serious thing. I don't much like talking about such things. Let me say this: I've been told by many Koreans that homosexuality does not exist in Korea but know the opposite to be true. It not only exists but since the forbidden fruit is always the sweetest, it thrives here. How much MORE forbidden is sex with kids? There is more than one reason why Koreans are making sure that the swirly face of pedophilia in this country is a foreign one. Incidentally, to come full circle in this article, one of the things that Virginia Tech gunman Cho obsessively wrote his shock stories about was pedophilia. Anyway, my point with this whole mess is, if Koreans start changing laws and cracking down on pedophiles here like they did with the phony degrees, they'll have to start looking beyond the foreigners and I have little doubt they won't like what they find. It has been a huge shot to Korean national pride finding all the academic fakes in the country. It came as no surprise to any foreigner here. But think of the beating their national pride will take when they start exposing Korean pedophiles. I think they had better think a little harder about starting that witch hunt.
And there will be a considerable number of people shocked and disenchanted with Korea when they find out that there are Koreans who use drugs and/or have AIDS too.
What we need is for some high level official from a foreign country who impresses the Korean government officials enough with his credentials for them to listen to him to get these new laws postponed until such time as they don't seem petty, retaliatory and racist.
I don't mind the new laws at all. In fact it's high time they had criminal checks here. I know of a guy who was a repeat offender working here for several years until one of his students found his mug shot and armslength list of offenses online. And there are plenty misfits, undesirables and absolute losers who have found their niche in ESL teaching here where people can't speak English well enough to discover what kind of zero their teacher is. We've all worked with them and wondered how they got here. Hopefully the new laws will weed some of them out.
I'm a bit worried about the physical. I know I've got high blood pressure and my liver's seen better days. But I'm 40 and haven't yet had the dreaded prostate exam so I'll kill two birds with one stone. I'll just make sure I don't see BOTH of the doc's hands on my shoulders while he does it. Yeah, I know. That's why I haven't gone in yet.
And I think some angry Korean government official cocked off about how he'll implement visa renewal laws that force foreigners to renew work visas in their own countries before he bothered to look at a map. This is going to scare a lot of people away and probably be costly for a very lucrative industry for Korea, (not to mention me). But it might also be good in that it forces Korean schools to appreciate the teachers they have, treat them better and hold on to them longer. Or at least that's what should happen logically if you figure how much extra it's going to cost schools here to fly new teachers around and how much lower the demand for Korean ESL jobs will become.
I really doubt these rumours will amount to much if anything. But there IS always a chance that I'll be coming home earlier than expected. These damn crackdowns on foreigner comfort and convenience make an unstable job just that much moreso. But I still love this gig and hope for the best.