Time reports about the the anti-foreigner attitudes getting stronger in South Korea
King Gojong, Korea’s last monarch, didn’t think much of foreigners. “Uneducated louts,” he called them, driven by “lechery and sensuality.” But that was 1882, when American missionaries were knocking at his country’s door, and Gojong could do little to stop their evangelical advance. The kingdom, he realized, would have to cope with the outsiders. Learn from them, he told his people, but beware their lustful ways.
More than a century later, South Korea, a thriving nation of 50 million, is coming to terms with a different sort of outsider: foreign English teachers. Demand for English training brings upwards of 20,000 foreigners to Korea each year. They work in public schools and private academies, teaching the language of global business to a generation of achievement-oriented youth. For the most part, they are well received. But every few years, a fresh wave of anti-foreign teacher sentiment shines a light on the nation’s lingering xenophobia.
This year, tensions over mandatory HIV/AIDS tests for foreign teachers have re-surfaced, sparking a heated national debate. In 2007, a series of sensational press reports fueled rumors that foreign English teachers were molesting students and spreading HIV/AIDS. Though the reports were never substantiated, the government began to require that all foreign teachers get tested for HIV, including those who were already in the country. Those who tested positive could have their contracts canceled and faced deportation.
Three years later, the law persists, though ethnic Koreans are exempted, regardless of where they are born or raised. Says Andrea Vandom, a former teacher who is petitioning a constitutional court over the tests: “I was being pinpointed a s disease carrier simply because I am not of Korean blood.”
Indeed, most anti-teacher sentiment seems to turn on the Gojong-era notion that non-Koreans are predisposed to vice. To a certain extent, this is understandable: American soldiers stationed in Korea have indeed fueled the country’s sex industry. But they are hardly the only customers