Racism in the Korean workplace

Exactly two weeks ago, I wrote this:

67 applications, 10 interviews, 9 hours of testing, 3 rejections, and 2 offers later, I finally have a job.

Often discouraging and sometimes insulting, this job search has been a merciless test of my resolve and patience. Over the past five weeks, I’ve been judged, criticized, disrespected, manipulated, and lied to, but none of it matters anymore because after all of that, I’ve landed my first choice job.

After today’s final interview at that job, I was promised that good news would be delivered to me within the day. I had dinner in my neighborhood, talked to my best friend, and came home. Once I was in my apartment, all the tension dissolved and I cried. It had been so hard.

And then I stopped writing because I knew there was still a chance that I might not get the job. But I also knew the Vice President wouldn’t make such a promise lightly, so I kept my hopes up and stopped looking for more jobs (mostly out of sheer exhaustion, not confidence). I waited all afternoon and evening that day for the promised email, but 8 o’clock rolled around and it still hadn’t come and I had to leave for a date. Throughout the date, I checked my phone every time it vibrated. Still no email. I kept the above writing in my drafts and waited some more. A lot more.

Two weeks passed, and I got a call from the headhunter regarding the pay. He explained to me that native English speakers and gyopos (Korean Americans) had different pay scales. He wanted me to keep that in mind when I receive an offer on Monday.

I was born in Korea and I moved to the US at the age of 9. I lived there for 13 years before moving back to Korea. By most workplaces’ standards, including the Korean Department of Education, I qualify as a native English speaker. In fact, I’ve been working for two and half years as a native English teacher.

If the company doubts my English abilities, they should have a native English speaker evaluate my test results. But I know that’s not the reason behind this; for all intents and purposes, I am Korean to them, despite my American citizenship and upbringing. This means they can pay me less, no more than the Korean employees, and avoid dissent from said employees who would find a higher pay scale for me—someone who was born in the same country as them and looked just like them—unjust and unacceptable.

My brother occasionally receives hints of resentment and jealousy from his Korean coworkers. When his team travels to the Middle East for business trips, some of his colleagues would remark, “I guess you don’t have to worry about your safety, being an eagle and all; I’m sure the US embassy would protect you.”

Koreans have long shown prejudice against gyopos for various reasons, the biggest one being that many gyopos are now coming here and usually out-earning the natives, thanks to their fluent English. Gyopos who cannot speak Korean are hated even more. But then again, a whole new level of jealousy exists for bilingual gyopos. I have experienced it personally.

What really disappoints me about this company’s behavior is that they specifically need someone bilingual like me, because most of the work is translation and native English level editing. They also want someone who can communicate with the Korean employees without a problem. I meet these requirements better than 99% of bilinguals of non-Korean descent could ever hope to meet them.

I want this job so badly, and I am willing to give it my all. I’ve done everything I can to show this to the company. It just hurts that this is what I’m getting in return, and there’s nothing I can do about it.




  1. Rachel said:

    Those assholes! I’ll write to you today. This makes me so mad!!!

  2. j said:

    Naz don’t despair! your chance will come! =) and you don’t want to be working for ppl who would treat you unfairly — you want to work somewhere where you’ll love the environment and get along with the ppl. Keep looking, you’ll find that job 😉

    • n said:

      j, i got a different job. i’ll update you in an email soon. ^^

  3. I think “native English speaker” is often code for “White person”. I worked in Korea for about three years and saw the glaring double standards for White Americans/Westerners vs. any other American.

    • n said:

      very true :/

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