Race Matters In Korea?

As you all know I’m looking for jobs in Seoul. I literally apply without fail to four or five positions + a day (excluding the weekend). Well, a recruiter replied back. This is what they said:

Thanks for your email. I’m a former black teacher so whenever we get black applicants I like to cut right to the chase. At the moment we only have one position in Ulsan that is open to hiring black teachers. You’ve been here a while so you know the discrimination that exists in Korea.  Once in a while we get Seoul positions for black candidates but it is a rarity. It looks like you’re looking for a Seoul position and so I’m afraid we don’t have anything to offer you at this moment. In the event that something pops up I will be sure to let you know. Best of luck in your search.

My response:

Everyone I’ve met in this country has been very kind, and most people I encounter want to know where I’m from. I’ve had nothing but good people approach me and wave. And for that, I’m lucky and grateful.  It’s really sad that as you say, Seoul isn’t very open to black applicants. When someone says they’re looking for a female teacher, I think that’s me–I’m female. Without question, I think of my qualifications, love for teaching and having professional references on my resume is what really matters.

Such selectiveness creates a bad image for schools who think that way. But I also wanted to say thank you for “cutting to the chase.” This is the first time I’m hearing about this and I really appreciate your being honest. I’d like to take a look at the Ulsan position for sure.

Too bad for me, the position in Ulsan was ASAP… Good news:  The recruiter will keep me in mind if anything opens up for Seoul.

After reading this, I had to do my own search. I mean I was a bit jilted because I’ve been fortunate enough to not have ever experienced racism. Upon my search, I found a blog called Korea Diva, an EPIK teacher (who I met during EPIKs August orientation) who blogs about her life and happenings in Busan. I found her post entitled “Seoul Versus Busan,” you can check it out at this link:


I’m glad I got that email. The truth about Korea on race is out in the open for me. I’m just happy not everyone feels that way. I continue to stay positive about my job search…

The truth doesn’t have to hurt after all.



Filed under Life

15 responses to “Race Matters In Korea?

  1. I encountered a little of that when I was first applying for EPIK. My recruiter was straight up with me. He was like “Most schools want White people. When the parents think of America, White people is what they think of so that’s what they want.” There was even a little tab on the recruiter’s website about how being gyopo [Korean by blood but not by nationality] can hurt your chances and what to expect.

    However, when I actually got here I found out that a lot of schools seek out gyopo on purpose, and that a bunch of schools were jealous that they didn’t get me. I’ve got to bet that there are schools who feel the same way about black candidates, uncertain at first and then grateful. Is it that you’re looking at hagwons? If it doesn’t work out, couldn’t EPIK reassign you closer to Seoul?

    Man, I hope you get a job in Seoul. That’d be awesome. Sending good vibes.

    • Thanks Ginny! The only way I feel I’ll move up is if I move on to better opportunities. It has nothing to do with EPIK. I love where I live and both my schools are awesome. But I have to move on, for me. You know?

  2. Stephanie

    Korea Diva mentions a Facebook group, Brothas and Sistas of South Korea – have you checked there about what schools might have openings and also open minds?

  3. john

    hi khadijah,
    is the “former black teacher” a white teacher now? haha! sorry, i couldn’t help myself; i love a good semantics joke.

  4. Pingback: Racist ESL recruiters in Korea | Strange Lands

  5. Charles

    Whenever anti-black prejudice in Asia comes up I’m reminded of what a professor I traveled with told me about China, where he taught in the early ’90s. He said the Chinese whose opinions he solicited typically didn’t consider blacks people. “Maybe very smart animals, but not people” is how he put it. I suspect contact with Western culture has at least somewhat eroded such attitudes in younger people, but it’s hard to overcome xenophobia when meaningful contact with the other is so limited. Your work in Korea is the kind of interaction that’s necessary, so I think you’re right to feel good about it.

    • Charles,

      Foreigners have been in Korea for many years, yet there’s still xenophobia felt by many of its citizens. Hopefully soon though, it will too be something that’s overcome.

      Thanks for the comment.

  6. thebobster

    The recruiter probably did you a favor, if this is stuff you didn’t know before.

    Probably the best thing I can ask you to consider is: if an employer is a stupid, narrow-minded bigot is that something you’d rather find out before or after you’ve started working there?

    Personally, I prefer working for people who are at least as smart as me, and racist attitudes like that means they failed the “stupid test.”

    I think recruiters are more useful for people back in their home country and who’ve never taught here before. If you’ve been here more than a year already, you don’t need them, I think – in any case, it’s just one route among many others are open to you if you are already here on the ground.

    • Bob ,

      I agree, working for people that are “at least as smart as me” is the best route to go. I really am applying everywhere in the Seoul area. Sometimes I get in touch directly with a school (which is really great) or I get a recruiter. I just apply to the jobs that suit me best.

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. Ziggy


    I accidentally came across your blog while doing some free lance research in preparation for a business trip to Shangai. I msut admit I was moved and intrigued by your experiences. I strongly commend you for having the ability both mentally and physically to put up with such backward behavior and despicable treatment. What I can’t quite get and I am still deeply intrigued about is why do you stay or remain there i.e. Korea? I have heard many horror stories about Korean racism and abject frankly absurd xenophobic cultural attitudes and I for one know I won’t ever put myself through that kind of experience especially if I had the readily exercisable choice of returning back to the States. I had a friend who went on a business trip there, a 3 day stay in Seoul he was not Black but he was of Indian heritage with a fairly dark skin tone and the deepest of mid-western American accents he went on one visit and swore never to go back again based on what he rightfully perceived as plain pure abject ignorant and unacceptable culturally embedded xenophobic and somewhat racist practices.

    So I guess back to my question what keeps you there, i.e. why do you continue to stay there i.e. in a place where you know beyond any reasonable doubt that you are not entirely welcome? I am really intrigued and hope you do not view my inquiry as offensive in any way shape or form I am merely intrigued and curious to your mindset and ultimate justification for remaining there.

    I hate to admit that unfortunately based on everything I have heard to date i.e. other peoples experiences, blogs and articles on this topic I have developed what I shamefully admit is a somewhat negative stereotypical view of Koreans in general as backward and ignorant and I hope I’ll be able to overcome this outlook as it most likely will influence any future dealings I have with people of Korean descent including Korean Americans here in the states.

    Something I am also deeply baffled of / about is the apparent hatred Koreans harbor against Japanese for alleged Japanese imperialism, Japanese airs of superiority and yet turn around and subject those they deem different from them i.e. race, ethnicity etc in similarly despicable behavior. Please excuse any spelling errors just typed and submitted without using any spell check applications etc 🙂 …



    • I continue to stay in this country because I really do love teaching kids here, the job is so much more rewarding because of them. Also, my experience here has been the most positive in terms of people welcoming me–those are my main reasons of staying.

      Thanks for reading the post, and take care.

  8. Pingback: Racism, robots and marketing: ESL in Korea | TEFL Or Bust

  9. Pingback: Does Travelling Broaden the Mind? | Strange Lands Travel Blog - Travelling and taking pictures for life