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Nearly all foreigners victim of discrimination in Seoul

Results of Seoul Institute survey
James Hyams
Written by James Hyams


Discrimination against foreigners based on nationality, appearance and education level has reached epic proportions according to the results of a Seoul Institute survey released May 24.

The institute surveyed 2,500 foreign nationals and found that 94.5 percent had experienced discrimination, leaving only 5.5 percent who had not.

Participants indicated the two of the most common types of discrimination they received.

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The report states that 62.2 percent indicated they were discriminated against because of nationality, 28.8 percent based on physical appearance, 18.7 percent based on education level, 14.4 percent based on income level, 12.9 percent based on occupation, 12.4 percent based on place of origin.

Fifty five percent of Anglo-Americans indicated they faced discrimination based on appearance.

Participants indicated that the cost of living in Seoul is on average 32.3 percent more expensive than their country of origin. However, Europeans (0.95 percent higher) and Anglo-Americans (4.78 percent higher) indicated prices are nearly on par in their home country.

Quality of life in Seoul was rated an average score of 69.7 points out of a maximum of 100.

Deputy editor’s note:

South Korea has been a culturally homogenous society for thousands of years. Only recently has Korea opened its boarders and its culture to foreigners.

Discrimination is blatant and rife and most will have a story of how they have been a victim.

The attempts to remove education discrimination from recruitment were disingenuine.

“You can say it is more of a symbolic gesture,” said an official of Employment and Labor to The Korea Observer last year. “We hope punitive measures will soon be introduced given that a number of bills that stipulate penalties for offenders are pending in the National Assembly.”

Nearly 12 months later there are still no recorded cases of punitive measures being enforced on offenders.

HIV tests are also mandatory for non-Korean English education teachers, which has attracted the attention of the United Nations.

Appearance and being “overweight”

There have been numerous cases where foreigners living and teaching in Korea have reported that students, parents, and co-workers have told them they are fat and need to lose weight.

Korea is one of the least obese countries in the world with only 4.6 percent of the population categorized as obese according to the OECD.

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A quick google search using the term “fat in Korea” reveals a host of blog posts about being told you are overweight in Korea.

One male American teacher said he is 6’4″ (193cm) and about 210lbs (95kgs) gets called fat most days.

On a thread of Roosh V Forum, a teacher discusses their experience as an average sized American:

“Teacher,” one student called out, “is everyone in America fat?”

“No,” I corrected him, “not everyone. Most people are about my size.”

“But Teacher,” he shouted, “you are fat!”

The blog “American [no longer] in Korea” wrote that they were shopping in Nampo and a young Korean pointed to the bottom of friend Kari’s jeans and said, “You, nooooo” while crossing her arms in X shape.

“In the Korean clothing stores, the dialogue would go something like this: [English] Do you have my size?”

[The reply in Korean] “Yeah, you just missed them. Turn around and walk ten steps right back the way you came.”

Another common example is that a Western lady is told that she looks tired when she is not wearing make-up.

While this can be considered discrimination in the West, Koreans usually say these comments out of concern for the victim rather than to humiliate or discriminate.

One source notes that his Korean wife tells people they look fat or need to eat healthier when she is concerned for their health.

Perceived nationality and skin tone

The Korea Observer documented discrimination against black people on more than one occasion.

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There are also examples where Asian-Americans have been told they cannot teach English because parents want white Americans who they think speak better English.

This institutionalized racism is common in Korea among recruiters, hagwons, and parents.

There is no anti-discrimination law in Korea and this discrimination is practically legal. Victims sometimes report blatant discrimination to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea who are virtually powerless to enforce anti-discrimination measures.

More than 90 percent of complaints filed to the NHRC concerning discrimination, based on race or nationality, over the past 14 years were dismissed.

Between November 25 in 2001 through February 28 in 2015, the commission received only 100 complaints concerning race or skin color.

Of them, it dismissed 93 and referred only three of the cases to the relevant ministries.

About the author

James Hyams

James Hyams

James Hyams juggles several careers including being a journalist and a social worker. James has an avid interest in 'telling it as it is', exposing matters of public interest, and reviving investigative journalism in the new digital era. Testimony to this is his thesis titled: “U.S. Government secrecy and the withering watchdog: Is WikiLeaks the answer?”

  • Culturist John

    Korea needs to keep its its minjok via keeping its culturist laws, not follow the West into multiculturalism. Not all discrimination is irrational racism. Cultural diversity is real. So, being culturist is rational. Especially, when it is what maintains your Korean cultural identity.

    Please watch my speech to the Korean Association of Multicultural Education on the subject:

    • me

      maintaining your culture is not the same as a policeman telling you that your complaint of a man with a butcher knife chasing you through your apartment building is unimportant, that you smell bad, and you should go home to your own country–of course all in korean as he assumes you can’t be intelligent enough to have learned his language… having made complaint regarding criminal activity to the appropriate authorities and having it immediately and rudely dismissed with common racial slurs isn’t maintaining your culture… and frankly nearly every person employed to teach korean people how to interact with westerners can easily find a dozen similar examples that go beyond being called fat

      • blondein_tokyo

        Yeah…what that guy is saying essentially is that racism IS part and parcel of Korean culture. I bet more than a few Koreans would not like him saying that.

        I live in Japan, and things are slightly better here, it seems. People are still racist, but at least the Japanese are too polite to actually say something rude to your face. They just look you up and down and suck air through their teeth. That’s bad enough, but I think if I had to hear direct insults or get cursed out, it would be worse.

        I also find it highly amusing that there are Koreapologists for racism just like there are Japanapologists for racism. It’s funny how Caucasians in Asia cultivate their feelings of superiority though racism towards their own people. All I can say is, they are sad, desperate people.

        • me

          “Yeah…what that guy is saying essentially is that racism IS part and parcel of Korean…” and they should revel in it… he’s an idiot…

          i’m having a difficult time understanding how you jumped to a broad generalization of caucasians living in asia without seeing the irony of contrasting it with “…cultivate [your] feelings of superiority…”

          • blondein_tokyo

            I’m not generalizing about Caucasians living in Asia. I’m talking about a specific group – Caucasians who are apologists for racism against other Caucasians. In my experience in dealing with those types, I have found that they brag of how integrated they are into their adopted culture, so much so that they are “accepted” by the natives and therefore never experience racism, or else feel the racism is “natural”. They then support racism against other Caucasians because in their eyes, those Caucasians deserve it for not integrating as much as they have.

            These people look down on other Caucasians because looking down on others gives them a sense of superiority. Since they are in the minority and can’t look down on the natives, cultivating the feeling they have attained a status above “ordinary” foreigners gives them the sense of superiority they crave.

          • me

            did you read your own comment before posting? you not only generalized about caucasians living in asia as a class of people but also about korean and japaneses people… shut up idiot, winning you are not…

          • Leo Kayura

            You are the only idiot here, he/she is solely talking about people with racist view AMONG caucasian, japanese and korean people. Stop trying to stir a fight for no reason. I agree to your answer to Culturalist John, but the fact that you turn to insult and insipide deduction to blondein_tokyo makes you lose all credibility.

          • me

            Doesn’t seem to be qualified to me, but let’s read it again just to make sure…

            ” It’s funny how Caucasians in Asia cultivate their feelings of superiority though racism towards their own people. All I can say is, they are sad, desperate people.”

          • me

            for example twit… in your own words ” It’s funny how Caucasians in Asia cultivate their feelings of superiority though racism towards their own people. All I can say is, they are sad, desperate people.”

          • me

            irony… you’re too stupid to get it…

          • Leo Kayura

            What you describe is actually something going on in most countries. A foreigner integrated the culture the best he/she can, then decide to prove his/her worth by turning against other foreigner, especially targetting people with a common background. On one hand he/she proved to be “better” than them, and on the other hand, he/she proves the complete assimilation of the “host” country.

            This was very common to various degree at the end of slavery among Afro-Carribean people. To this day, some comment in a much MUCH harsher fashion people’s action with Afro-Carribean descent. Not to the point of racism thought, and the idea behind thought similar, as the difference of wanting to prove that “this kind of behaviour” is not proper to Afro-Carribean people, therefore, if you act like this, having those descent, you are trash. To various degrees, to various situation. The most extreme case in my country (France), are a known amount of carribean people, voting far rights party, thought those are almost openly racist, and blame every “immigrants and their children” for everything. The complex situation here, is that French Carribean people, are NOT immigrant, and French since generations.
            Korea and Japan have a very different history in terms of colonisation and foreign exposition. Therefore, the racist discourse has less ambiguity and shades of grey. It is litterally, ‘Us’ versus ‘All that are different’. Ironically here, BETWEEN Japan and Korea, you might however find a common trend with the depicted French Carribean situation. Of course in both case, it is a very small percentage of the population concerned, some people with identity issues or else.

          • me

            irony.. you, as well, are too stupid to get it… ” actually something going on in most countries. A foreigner integrated the culture the best he/she can, then decide to prove his/her worth by turning against other foreigner”

            i’m not sure which is more idiotic… the broad generalization to virtually every country, and therefore peoples, of the world–so poorly phrased as to have virtually no meaning or semantic quality–or the transparent attempt at limiting you speech so as not to appear quite so stupid–“A foreigner…” as if you are referring to a specific one or two you have actually encountered–i can consequently refer, now, to two specific ones… three if you count original poster who is obviously a spokesman for the Klan…

            you don’t get to pass judgement on anyone based on race, ethnicity, or country of origin… but look at you all three doing exactly that… did you miss the point of being human idiots?

    • me

      moreover, having viewed your ridiculous lecture it is obvious that you are an idiot. while the population of korea is nearly a single ethnic group, 15% of marriages as of 2007 were between a korean and foreign person due to the preference for male children that led to a population decline in marriageable women. korean men in the age range of 35-45 outnumber korean women in terms of total population by 10%–that is to say 60% male, 40% female–and so korean men of marriageable age have increasingly turned to foreign women to fulfill their biological imperatives.

      your ethnocentric idiocy ignores reality, and further is ignorant of basic vocabulary–racism refers to bias based on obvious physical differences such as skin color or facial features; the word you are searching for is xenophobia.

      the korean population is increasingly faced with two very real and present truths. first that they are unable to support population growth among themselves, and second that they must, as producers, deal with a multicultural world.

      to attempt either with the korean stigma of “foreigner” sitting as a chip on their collective shoulders is as idiotic and ignorant of the interconnectedness of the modern world as your retardidly simply speech…

  • Shawn Falkner

    So now you are getting anecdotes from a “pickup” forum? You need some tips for the ladies when you aren’t working?

  • Caploxion

    If you don’t like the discrimination, then don’t live there. People have natural biases to their own culture and race, and it is plainly evident in Feminist, SJW, feeling-police states like Canada, Sweden and Australia (if you read polls; people doublethink themselves in public), let alone South Korea where there is no such state. Don’t be surprised when you get blown out in Korea when you know full well that it isn’t a hug-box state. Stop expecting culture to change just for you.

    • me

      don’t like the biases in canada? move out of your native country idiot…

  • Smith_90125

    I experienced some anti-foreigner stupidity when I was there back in the early 2000s, but no violence. However, I definitely did see violence against others, and saw it in the news. A man (Bangladeshi, IIRC) was caught working illegally, chased down by the incompetent cops (*) and beaten into a coma. He probably died, the government cutting off medical care because he’s not one of them.

    (* Those clowns didn’t even know there was a serial killer operating in Korea, Yoo Yeong Chul, until he was caught on a traffic violation and confessed to 20+ murders.)

    As more and more non-Koreans go in, it doesn’t surprise that the bigotry gets worse. I read a news item saying that in 2014 about one in 20 babies born in Korea was of mixed ancestry. The response by Koreans was full of racism. They have a three tiered hierarchy – Koreans on top, “preferred people” second (white, Japanese, Chinese) and everyone else at the bottom, treated worse than dogs (which says a lot in the land of boshintang).

    Korea isn’t the only country where this garbage goes on. I live in Taiwan and the racism against non-white and non-oriental people is just as bad here. My employer desperately needs to hire new foreigners, but he refuses to hire anyone who isn’t white – never mind the fact that all the African-American and African-Canadian applicants were all more than qualified, while the white applicants were a bunch of morons.

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