TEACHING ENGLISH TO ASIANS: Foreign Teachers in South Korea Face Many Difficulties

By Waldern, Barbara | CCPA Monitor, June 2008 | Go to article overview

TEACHING ENGLISH TO ASIANS: Foreign Teachers in South Korea Face Many Difficulties


Waldern, Barbara, CCPA Monitor


Teaching English abroad can be a financially, personally, and culturally rewarding experience. However, Canadians should be aware that exploitation and abuse of English language teachers is taking place. Protection is minimal. Many employees of public and private institutions are underpaid. Many report hardship, stress, and disappointment.

Thousands of Canadians go abroad to get a steady job as English teachers. They want to pay off debts such as mortgages and business and student loans, get professional experience, and save for retirement, while enjoying travel and cultural exchange.

Canada is in a dispute with South Korea over the processing and terms of Canadians employed or seeking employment in that country. Canada never consented when, late last year, South Korea changed its visa regulations to include health and degree checks and interviews by consulates across the board.

For one thing, the change in rules was sparked by the arrest of a Canadian man wanted internationally on charges of pedophilia. This incident stirred up anti-foreign sentiment in Korea, but there was already a national crisis of professional credentials in which Koreans in high places who had falsified their credentials were being found out.

Access to markets is the basic issue behind the friction between the two countries on the economic front. Canada was a significant import and export trading partner with South Korea until the 1990s, when the prices of wheat and other commodities rose. Competition with China is another factor.

South Korea and Canada are in the midst of negotiating a free trade agreement. The 14th round took place in Ottawa in March. Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (FAIT) says in its website summary of these talks that "Canada is seeking comprehensive tariff elimination for all its commercially significant exports, and is working to address Canadian stakeholder concerns in respect of Korean non-tariff measures...."

The Canadian Labour Congress supported the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions last year in calling for a halt of the previous round of free trade talks. For labour, collective bargaining, factory conditions, temporary workers, and the use of migrant labour (including teachers), are major issues.

Unionization would give foreign English teachers added strength in their efforts to improve working conditions, but South Korean immigration law forbids union organizing. As long as teaching visas remain attached to one sponsoring employer, that employer can control and penalize foreign staff, and generally do so with the tacit cooperation of immigration offices. Foreign employees can be interrogated, harassed, fired, and even deported for speaking out.

As things stand today, foreigners' contracts with private academies in South Korea usually contravene the country's labour laws. …

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TEACHING ENGLISH TO ASIANS: Foreign Teachers in South Korea Face Many Difficulties
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