A branch of the Chungdahm April institute in Seoul has come under fire from expats for a racist recruitment advertisement.
The hakwon’s advertisement on Craigslist specifically said applicants “*must be Caucasian.*”
The Korea Observer emailed the contact person for this ad and asked whether a highly qualified black person would be eligible.
“I have a Masters of Applied Linguistics majoring in TESOL studies from University of Queensland, which is ranked 43 in the world by QS Top Universities.
I have taught English to all age groups for the last eight years in Hong Kong, Dubai, and Iraq…
I am a highly qualified native English speaker but my skin tone is black. Is there any reason why you are seeking Caucasians? Should I still apply?” The email asks.
John, the listed contact person for this ad, replied minutes later.
“Sorry im not trying to racist here but our BM wants caucasian. Wish you find a better job,” he wrote.
The Korea Observer questioned the initials BM and the phrase better job.
“BM is branch manager. Btw When i say hope u find a better job doesnt mean our job is bad,” John wrote.
The Korea Observer then said it was racist, morally wrong, and discrimination to exclude qualified people based on race.
John replied with the usual rhetoric that so many expats have heard before.
I born in canada n have a lot of different kinds of nationality friends.
However, our BM wants someone who is caucasion because thats what the students’ parents want.
Now I tried my best to make u understand. If u still didnt get it then its too bad.
Hopefully u don argue with me anymore.
After investigations from The Korea Observer it can be revealed that John is the branch manager and “Caucasian only” is his policy.
John has worked for the disputed branch for a year. He said he hasn’t tried to hire non-Caucasians for the native teacher’s classes but he heard from his predecessor that the hakwon will receive complaints if they hire non-white teachers.
“I am acutely aware of discrimination as I am a Canadian citizen. We cannot hire non-white teachers because we get too many complaints from parents,” he said to The Korea Observer over the phone.
“Hiring only Caucasians is not a rule but a common practice in Chungdahms as well as other language academies.”
For many expats, discrimination in Korea is not news and they accept that Korea is openly discriminatory.
James Yu said discrimination against non-whites by hakwons was one of the reasons he stopped working as a recruiter after several years.
“At a regular English language hagwon, attractive candidates will nearly always, if not always, get a teaching position over a similarly or more qualified candidate who does not fit the ‘right look’ criteria,” he said.
“As much as hagwons like to beat their ‘we’re looking for qualified teachers drum,’ looks come first. Qualifications are a secondary screening tool, used to compare like candidates or when negotiating salary demands.”
James Yu said hagwons get away with this because as far as he knows it is legal to discriminate in Korea based on ethnicity.
“There is no such thing as equal employment opportunity law here, nor is there a watchdog organization that does any more than make sure visas are filed and settle contract disputes. And even for these grievances, a simple bribe is usually enough to sweep the problem under the rug.”
South Korea does not have anti-discrimination laws.
However, Eugene Hwang, a former employee at Chungdahm Institute, said that the April branch’s discrimination policy was not synonymous with his experience at Seodaemun branch from 2007-09.
“At Seodaemun, we had an ethnically diverse teacher population, where at times whites were in the minority. Usually More than half were non-white.”
Some expats cite that Western countries selectively filter applicants based on desired characteristics but note that applicants are often judged on merits rather than skin color.
Park Kyung-ha, a spokeswoman for Chungdahm, said it was against the guidelines and manual of the hakwon to post discriminatory job openings.
“We will look into the case and find out what had happened,” she said, noting that the branch is one of franchises that are not under the direct control of the company.
John’s father and the head of the April Chungdahm branch, offered an apology, saying he will not post any advertisement that would discriminate job seekers based on skin color.
“I’d like to offer an apology for causing trouble,” he said. “We won’t post discriminatory advertisements again.”
He, however, noted that it will be inevitable that non-White teachers as well as those who do not have American accents will be at a disadvantage in landing a teaching job.
“It is very difficult for us to hire teachers that parents want. Parents don’t even want teachers with British accents,” he said, noting that teachers with non-American accents, such as, those from Australia and New Zealand get paid slightly less.
Chungdahm Learning is one of the largest private education companies in South Korea with more than 60,000 students registered according to their LinkedIn profile.
Their core brand identity promotes itself as encouraging “critical thinking, motivation, self leadership.”
Their brand slogan is ‘learning and beyond.’
“Learning and beyond fosters leadership and takes students beyond learning into the realm of discovery. This in turn will breathe new life into society,” their website states.
Chungdahm Learning’s CEO Kim Young-Hwa wrote on their website that the real purpose of ESL is as a medium for thinking.
“At the individual level, the phenomenon of the ‘English Divide’ will occur as one’s English ability can determine where he or she belongs in the social hierarchy,” the CEO writes.