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Archive for December 2009

South Korean ‘Spec’ Craze

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Interesting article from Hankyoreh.  Very true in my opinion and a big (perhaps the only?) reason that there are so many foreigners in Korea teaching English.  It’s a vicious rat-race but how many of the tens of millions can actually claim success?

Seems like the only ones that can get ahead are the ones with money.  Regardless, it truly sucks to be a kid in this country.

» A graphic illustration of what the spec craze in South Korea requires in terms of excessive competition on examination scores, language acquisition and internship experience.

South Korea is in 2009 a “Republic of Specs.” The word “spec,” used to refer to an individual’s academic and career background, has infected everyone. Everyone is perceived through these specs. Teens for universities they are attempting to get into, those in their 20s job seeking, those in their 30s and 40s seeking marriage and promotion, and even those who are older for retirement. Since the atmosphere in which these specs matter has been forced upon us, being able to reflect and live a beautiful life have taken a back seat. The names below are pseudonyms.

The brutal life of elementary school students

It is 7:00 a.m. Mom wakes me up. My name is Kang Saet-byeol. I am 11-years-old and a fifth grader attending an elementary school in Seoul’s Gangseo neighborhood. As soon as I wake up, I have to finish my homework since I have no time in the afternoons. At 2:00 p.m., I attend piano lessons. When that is over, I attend an English language academy to study for the TOEIC since it is required in order to get into an international middle school. Afterwards, I study math. At 5:00 p.m., I go home where a tutor is waiting for me. When vacation comes, my friend and I will go to an English camp in Canada. What am I to do? I want to play, however, I have to go an academy. Only there can I meet my friends.

High school teens with no time to rest
Elementary school kids are crybabies. You, too, will have to go to a multi-subject academy during your middle school years, and Korean, English and Math academies in high school. My name is Kim Yu-na. I am a senior at a high school in Anyang located in the Gyeonggi region. Yesterday, my university entrance exam scores came in. Getting into college during the regular admissions period looks like it will be tough, so I will have to look into other ways to get into school. I found a school though that does not require an essay test, but it still requires aptitude tests. Nowadays, my friends are studying for the TOEFL, TEPS, the SAT and even U.S. AP exams.

The wonderful ‘Lee Taebaek’ Years

After you graduate, you are considered a “Lee Taebaek,” a pun suggesting half of the population in their 20s are unemployed. I will be 29-years-old next year, and I am still looking for a job. I have specs coming out of my ears. I majored in Vietnamese at a decent university in Seoul and my minor was journalism. I scored an 860 on the TOEIC and earned a grade point average of 3.47. I also spent a year in Vietnam. After graduating in 2006, I worked as an intern at a computer gaming company, but when I was not rehired, I took work as an interpreter and translator for a year. I also participated in an overseas internship sponsored by KOTRA. Still, those wicked big companies just look at my documents and dismiss me.

Why is South Korea’s society so strangled by specs? Experts diagnose that the insecurity produced by excessive competition and the struggle to survive is producing this “spec craze.” Accordingly, it easily leads to the indiscriminate accumulation of specs, and it has even lead to the problem of accumulating “false specs” in order to secure college admission. Instances of high schools forging volunteer work certificates or over-issuing testimonials have been discovered. Lee Cheol-ho, chairman of’s policy committee, says the Lee administration’s new educational policy that promotes an admission officer system and foreign language high school reforms is responsible for increasing the numbers of high school students engaged in collecting specs. Lee says as students get caught up in building up specs, they are unable to look at the world more broadly and may get lost in their own vanity.

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December 22, 2009 at 1:27 pm

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Singles Account for 20% of Households

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One of the few readable articles on Korea Times.

Statistics Korea reported Monday that one-member households accounted for 20.1 percent of the total in 2008, up from 15.6 percent in 2000 and 6.9 percent in 1985.

The ratio will likely continue to rise in the future, with more senior citizens living alone in line with an increasing life expectancy.

Additionally, many young adults these days are delaying marriage and choosing to live alone due to financial and other reasons, while more single women are living on their own amid the rising divorce rate.

The statistical office said views regarding the institution of marriage are changing here, with 27.7 percent of the population saying marriage was a matter of choice last year, up from 24 percent in 1998. Only 68 percent thought it was of major importance that men and women tie the knot, down from 73.9 percent over the 10-year period.

Found this statement interesting:

Meanwhile, it said that Korea spends less than other OECD member economies in public education, but that students here perform better academically on the back of booming private education.

Asia’s fourth-largest economy spent $2,426 per head in 2005 to educate pre-school aged students, ranking 24th among 25 OECD members.

The OECD average was $4,888. The story was pretty much the same for Korea’s expenditure on elementary, middle and high school students, as well as collegians.

However, Korean students scored much higher grades in reading, mathematics and science than their OECD peers, ranking within the top five for the respective subjects. Their superior academic performance is attributed to widespread private education here.

I guess that’s perhaps even ‘public’ education systems here are user-based meaning that there is a tuition to send kids to school which allows less taxpayer’s money to be allocated to public education.

In other countries, many who fall behind in public school go to private learning institutes to catch up. But here, the more academically excellent a student is, the more likely it is that he or she is enrolled in private institutes.

Additionally, the richer parents are, the more they spend on children’s private education.

Korea’s employment rate is not higher than the OECD average, contradicting the widely-held belief that the labor market conditions here are better than those of advanced economies.

The country’s jobless rate stood at 3.34 percent in 2008, much lower than the OECD average of 6.05 percent. But the employment rate, which measures the percentage of employed people aged 15-64 against the entire working-age population, came to 63.8 percent in 2008, lower than the OECD’s average 66.5 percent.

Additionally, the employment rate of those aged 15-29 stood at 41.3 percent, lower than the 59.6 percent in Canada and 51.2 percent in the United States.


It said this discrepancy is due to Korea’s larger economically inactive population, which makes its jobless rate appear lower, as those who have given up seeking jobs and are staying home are not classified as unemployed.

Now this is true.  I know of countless able-bodied men and women who simply choose not to work.  I’m not talking about college-aged students; these are folks in their late-twenties and thirties.

With the introduction of a five-day workweek, Koreans are now enjoying more leisure activities and spend more money on outdoor activities. The nation spent 4.5 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on leisure and cultural activities, much lower than Iceland’s 9.9 percent and Britain’s 8.6 percent.

More Koreans feel insecure about their safety and less trustworthy about others. About 61.4 percent of Koreans said the society has become more dangerous, due mainly to rising heinous crimes, the office said.

What the hell does this have to do with the article?!?!
Only 28.2 percent of Koreans said people are trustworthy, the 14th lowest rate among 19 OECD member countries. About 68 percent of Swedish and 58.9 percent of Finish respondents said they trust other members of society.

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December 22, 2009 at 10:05 am

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Take everything you read with a grain of salt…

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Perhaps I’m stating the obvious but remember to not believe everything you read on the internet.  What I mean by this are the reviews of hagwons and recruiters, mostly on Dave’s.  Of course most of these reviews are negative and and most of the time these recruiters (and hagwons) deserve the negative publicity.  I’ve never once seen a school or recruiter get 100% positive reviews.  With regards to schools/hagwons, even the best of the best (great management, follows the contract to a tee, always paid on time and in full, etc), will have a negative review.  Nowhere is perfect and one would be very hard pressed if he/she sought out that ‘perfect’ position.

I think most of the complaints that instructors face are warranted whether they be major issues or small.  However, through my experience, I’ve met/spoken to a lot of you cuckoos too.   Sometimes these guys just want to stir the pot and create havoc for something that never happened.  Perhaps they’re disgruntled or just have a chip on their shoulder.  I know that lots of these guys have a severe lack of self-awareness, but in the case that you do exhibit some sense of your distorted personality, stay at home (home being your home country).  You’ll save yourself and lots of others much trouble.

Don’t believe everything you read.  A school that previously had a poor reputation may have changed ownership and things are on the up and up.  Who knows?  Best thing to always do, speak to current instructors and faculties at the school.

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December 19, 2009 at 5:12 pm

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Oh Korea Times

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Another piece of outstanding journalism the Korea Times.

A teenage girl distracted one driver by flashing her breasts at passing motorists and got hit by the car in New Zealand.

According to The Southland Times, Cherelle May Dudfield, 18, dared to flash passing cars in the southern city of Invercargill after a night out drinking with her friends on Sept. 27.

She claimed that she was egged on by her friend. “She tried to run from its path when she saw a car coming toward her but she got hit by a distracted driver. She rolled over the bonnet of the car and cracked the windscreen but she had not suffered any big injuries,” police prosecutor Sergeant Rob Mills said.

Duty solicitor John Fraser said while Dudfield’s actions had been “stupidity in the extreme,” there was a question whether the driver could have been more careful. However, Fraser conceded the driver could have been distracted.

Judge David Holderness called her actions dangerous, adding that she was lucky not to have been badly hurt. She was convicted this week and fined $275 for her September incident.

Can someone tell me how this news is relevant to Korea?  It seems that they’re running out of reporters (and definitely short of an editor) as there are a lot of submissions originally written in Korean then translated to English (한글 번역).

Soooo stupid but too funny!  Keep up the ‘great’ work Korea Times!

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December 18, 2009 at 11:56 am

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Disgusting story about race

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I’ve discussed Korean race relations and the ESL recruiting industry previous.  Anyone who has taught or teaches in Korea knows that race (and appearance) plays a big role in the hiring process of any job in Korea, not just English instructors.  I honestly thought it was getting better over the past couple of years.  Believe it or not, the fact that Obama is now president inclines schools to hire more African American/Canadian instructors (at least at my agency).  They somehow stupidly believe that a black American president validates a race of being capable of teaching English.

Then I read this post from BlackChild in Korean Kimchi Kountry.  First of all, I would like to commend BlackChild for basically telling the driver to fuck off (not in so many words but in a somewhat humourous way).  It’s absolutely disgusting that someone would get treated in this way in this day and age.  It’s funny how Koreans think that yelling and causing a scene will result in them getting what they want.

To be quite honest, you have to have super-thick skin to work in this country if you’re not Korean or white.  There I said it.  Very blunt but it’s true.

This isn’t the only incident I have had trying to access Korean conveyance. I bought a bus ticket to go home from Seoul about 2 minutes prior to departure. I usually buy my ticket early and the gate agent usually refrains from sitting Koreans near me. On this particular morning I bought the last ticket for the packed bus so I was going to have to sit next to a Korean. Fine by me but when I get on the bus the lady in the adjacent seat knows immediately I’m coming for the seat next to her and we will be seatmates for 4.5 hours. That bitch starts yelling at the top of her lungs something about waegookin(foreigner) and go. She might called me a couple of niggers but I had my headphones so I barely heard. The driver gets on looking like a Korean Arthur Ponchorelli from C.H.I.P.S in his extra medium dress shirt to take tickets. This bitch is screaming next to me and I am sitting there with the most beatific look on my face enjoying Dave Chapelle at the Beacon. The driver is suppose to take my ticket and go on about his business but he is motioning for me to take off my headphones. I do and he says “changee busa”. I pretend like I don’t hear him so he says it again I pretend like I don’t understand. That slick back sonofabitch tried to put my ass off the bus on some old Rosa Park shit. The next bus wasn’t due to leave for another 4 hours and there was no way in hell I was getting off the bus. I just smiled put my headphones back on and continued to listen to Chapelle . He got frustrated and since he didn’t have to sit next to me he just shrugged and walked away.
If you live in Korea or seek work here you quickly realize that their is a racial hierarchy at play. The most sought after archetype is attractive young white girsl from America, next is attractive young white girls from any place else, it goes on like that until you get to me the “Black”. When I lived in Incheon there was about 4 major chain schools that had a corporate policy of not hiring Black people .So it wasn’t exactly surprising when I saw this post of an ad from Idiot’s blog.

They are looking for an active, funny and bright white guy teacher.(Their highlight not mine)

Please send me your resume and recent photo ASAP. or call me 016-405-5396

At least none of us darkies have to bother sending them a resume.
Now lest you think these are isolated incidents of Korean Bullshit and the government couldn’t be as unenlightened as the citizenry or private industry. I turn your attention to exhibit 322,789B in the case of Common Sense v. Republic of Korea. These screen grabs are from a blog called Popular Gusts

(Notice the two different spellings on Cheongwadae on the official government site) I’m telling you attention to detail is not a high priority here.

The notice on the left says the tour is closed “South Korea has been relatively safe from the pandemic but infections are worried to accelerate as people getting together like group tour”.
The notice on the right says only children under 18 and foreigners are to be excluded from the tour. What takes this from just average Korean bullshit to the sublime is this man.

His name is Lee Cham and he is the head of the Korea Tourism Organization and decidedly not Korean. This low self-esteem sonofabitch rolled around in some Korean got out of the bed put his pants on and changed his name. Now I’ve been with women from around the world and when I was finished I didn’t jump out of the bed and yell call me Qui Que Rodriguez, call me Ryu Hayabusa, call me Shmuley Schvartze Finklestein, or call me Qing Dao(Shing Dow). The crazy part of this story is he should be banned from the building . Imagine it, the head of the national tourism agency is banned from one of the more popular sites based on his race. I wonder how this kimchi cheerleader gets out of bed every morning and promotes this bullshit. (In the interest of full disclosure I must say I could give 2 fucks about cultural tours as far as I am concerned I’m not here on a field trip)
Korea Sparkling

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December 18, 2009 at 11:47 am

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The bait and switch trick

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I read a lot of these threads on Dave’s where a recruiter informs the applicant of a great position only to be told later that the position was filled or canceled and they would place the applicant in a not-so-desirable position.  To be honest, I don’t know anyone that does this on purpose but that’s not to say that it doesn’t happen.

I want to discuss this because cancellations frequently happen with the schools that we work with.  Reasons vary from mis-forecasting enrollments, another instructor at the school taking over classes, instructor whose contract was up decided to stay on x amount of months or for another contract.  It sucks when this happens but for agencies, there’s very little recourse in terms of ‘forcing’ a school to accept someone they’ve already OK’d.

A GOOD agency/recruiter will not be a dick and try to place them in a shitty position.  We know it sucks, we know you’re pissed, so only an idiot recruiter will try to do this.  As a matter of fact, when this happens, we try to place them somewhere better than the first place so in the end the applicant may think, wow, glad that first gig fell through.

Now some of you may think that sending in documents before a job is secured is something that I won’t recommend.  But the truth is, our agency does this.  It’s simply a timeframe issue to process as many candidates as possible into our monthly slated positions.  However, I definitely don’t recommend sending your docs to anyone; obviously do your research first and have several phone calls/correspondence with the person/agency you’re dealing with.  Having said that, if you decide to go another route, simply ask for your documents back.  If he/she is not a prick, they will send it back via FedEx (our FedEx bill is astronomical by the way).  Petty recruiters may say that you must get a job through them and try to hold your documents blackmail.  If they do this, threaten legal action or just tell them that you won’t be coming to Korea after all.  Again, only a dumb recruiter will try to make something out of nothing anyways.

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December 16, 2009 at 9:30 pm

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Salaries of various professionals in Korea

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Interesting article from the Chosun Ilbo.  Tax accountants come out on top in terms of top earners.  Fresh grad salaries were touched on before.  I know a few English instructors who make 10 million+ but it’s usually seasonal work teaching AP classes.

Average salary around 2.04 but the average age of an employee was 43!  Still, those 5 mill plus guys piss me off!! HA

Tax Accountants Are Korea’s Top Earners

Tax accountants were the highest-paid professionals in Korea last year. According to figures announced Tuesday by the Korea Employment Information Service (KEIS) based on a survey of 100,000 people who landed jobs, the average monthly salary of a licensed tax accountant was W10.73 million (US$1=W1,162), the highest among 426 professions. The average salary of tax accountants rose from ninth place last year.

Managers in information and technology companies came second with monthly salaries totaling W8.86 million, followed by other business managers, who made W7.48 million on average. Managers at culture, arts, design or visual media companies came in fourth with W6.73 million, while airline pilots ranked fifth with W6.4 million. Lawyers, who ranked at the top of the pyramid last year, came in at sixth place this year with W6.23 million.

Park Sang-hyeon, a researcher at KEIS, said, “The reason tax accountants rose to the top of the rankings is that a lot of high-income, self-employed people were included in the latest survey and not because of a structural shift in the labor market.” If employers and self-employed people are excluded, then corporate managers lead the pack with W7.81 million. In second place are lawyers (W6.74 million), pilots (W6.53 million), managers at culture, arts and media companies (W6.23 million) and employees of financial or insurance companies (W6.23 million).

The average monthly pay of Korean workers stood at W2.04 million in 2008, while the average age was 43.4. The average worker was employed for 8.5 years and worked 49.3 hours a week. / Dec. 16, 2009 09:15 KST

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December 16, 2009 at 3:48 pm

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Start naming names!!

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Following up on my previous post, I know that the mods on Dave’s strongly discourage name-dropping in a negative light since a lot of recruiters are their customers (understandable).  But feel free to do it here!

Anyone been legitimately screwed over by a not-so-professional recruiter or agency?  List their name here so that other applicants can avoid them.

However, let’s not play the same shady games that they do and ensure that your experiences are accurate.

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December 14, 2009 at 11:27 am

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Recruiters getting a bad rap on Dave’s

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Going through the job discussion forum on Dave’s, I’m noticing more than usual discussion on recruiters and they’re ALL negative.  Here, here, here, and here.  And that’s only on the first page.  Let me give you the breakdown on the recruiters these posters are dealing with:

They’re unprofessional, pathetic idiots who are better off in different jobs.  I was going to suggest the service industry but obviously these morons have no social skills so that would be inappropriate.

If a recruiter is intentionally trying to screw you over he/she has way too much time on their hands.  Do they actually think that going this route would actually result in something positive, like a placement fee?  If I knew that a relationship with a candidate was heading south, I would just end it right there.  Why be malicious for something fruitless.  You’re only making yourself look petty and giving you and your agency a bad name.

A recruiter is trying to sue you for backing out of a contract?  HA!  Now I do understand it sucks for recruiters if you sign a contract and then back out.  But hello!?!  It’s NOT illegal.  I don’t want to condone this kind of behaviour; candidates, please research jobs thoroughly before signing on the dotted line.  But again, this idiot (the recruiter not the candidate) is trying to get water from an empty well.  Now, this recruiter can be a dick and try to hold your documents hostage but in the end, THAT’S ILLEGAL, and you can and will get them back.

Another poster suggested that the above case was a scam that some recruiters try to pull to get some blackmail money from applicants.  If these guys think that you’re really that stupid then it could be possible.  But obviously anyone with a high school diploma wouldn’t fall for something like this.  So it makes the recruiters who pull this ‘scam’ stupid.  Hey, anything is possible right?

Yes, recruiters are getting a bad rap these days (well it seems more than usual).  These douchebags deserve it and I’m somewhat ashamed to be a part of this industry (if you can even call it that).  Rest assured, these guys won’t be in business that long and they shouldn’t be.

If at all possible, try to apply directly to a company rather than going through a recruiter (sorry again boss, but it’s true!).

I remember advising that you send off your resume to as many recruiters as possible.  You know what?  Axe that.  There’s too many dummies out there.  Just follow these steps (more here too) in finding/using decent recruiters to help you land that position.  Don’t bother sending your resume to anyone that seems ‘off’.

Maybe it’s the economy but it seems that these guys are getting more desperate.  Desperation is trouble so avoid it if you notice even a hint of it.  Good thing that I get a base salary so I’m not too worried.  The straight and narrow path is the only way to success so I’ll be laughing when these guys are delivering 짜짱면 when they’re in their forties.

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December 14, 2009 at 11:16 am

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Anybody have a Blackberry Bold?

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I just got mine last week.  Very tricky to use but more convenient for emails and typing in English (useful when I’m not in the office or at home).  Gotta learn lots of shortcuts but getting used to it.  I was thinking about the iphone but I’m not too into ‘touch’ phones; I need to actually feel the button being pressed.  The iphone is a lot cheaper (around 200 or less I think?).  This baby cost more than 600,000 KRW but less if I choose a higher airtime plan in the future.  They forced me to get BIS (Blackberry Internet Service) but I think I’m going to cancel it as I have no use for it and it’s an extra 14,000 KRW a month.

Does anyone else use this or iphone?  Advantages/disadvantages?  Cool apps?  I miss having an English-Korean dictionary on my old phone and can’t seem to find an app for this.

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December 11, 2009 at 12:18 pm

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