Are Gyopo English Teachers in Seoul Contributing to Sex Trafficking?


written by gkim

The typical academic life of a Korean child starts at the age of four years old through enrollment in a preschool where Korean and English will be learned. Once the child turns six years old and enters the first grade however he or she will be inserted into the first of twelve years in the world of after-school academies. The typical Korean elementary school schedule consists of class five days a week and a curriculum which consists of over twenty subjects. After school, academies for English, science, American history, math, musical instruments, martial arts, and Korean calligraphy are attended until ten o’clock in the evenings usually and in the afternoons on Sundays. At home, most children have private tutors who help with academy and school homework. These students have numerous backpacks crammed with textbooks for school as well as for each individual academy they attend. Many children become anxiety-ridden, compulsive, disoriented, and have nose-bleeds often. Also, at ages six or seven, children are trained to be so highly competitive that often depressive disorders surface when test scores aren’t perfect. By the time a child has been in this type of rigorous academic system for six to seven years and puberty hits, many want to escape the confinement and end up running away from home and turning to prostitution as a source of income. In the midst of such poignant and rigorous system, there is no educational warning about the ramifications of entering the sex industry which is so rampant in Korea. According to the Korean Government’s Ministry for Gender Equality and the Korean Institute of Criminology, statistics have shown that one out of twenty five of the female population are currently in the sex industry and one-fifth of men in their twenties seek prostitutes at least four times a month.

The Korean Board of Education has not established a curriculum to work with even though legislation for mandatory sex trafficking education in public schools was passed through the anti-prostitution law that was enacted in 2004.[1]Furthermore, most schools refuse to discuss such topics to the Korean youth viewing the issues as uncouth, therefore opting for rape or violence education. The Korean church should fully assess and comprehend why there are so many teenage runaways and administrate policies on how to prevent the increase of teenage runaways who end up being trafficked rather than focusing solely on outreach. Safety and security of church policies for these topics should be made available in a handbook and distributed in church as well as be updated on a church’s website.

After a year of teaching English in Seoul, Korea, so many questions have entered my mind as to whether or not English Teachers in the Korean hakwon (academy) system are positive role models in this country. First of all, any native English speaker can come to Korea and be registered as a hakwon teacher as long as he/she has a four-year college degree from a credible American university and a cleared FBI background check. Secondly, any native Korean can also become an English hakwon teacher in Korea as long as he/she has a four-year college degree from any university. Having gotten to know many different teachers here from numerous backgrounds, and observing the extremity of competition within Korean pedagogy, I feel as if the system is seriously flawed. Furthermore, hakwon teachers may be contributing to the problems in this society and perpetuating them unknowingly. The evidence for this is that more than half of the sex industry’s Korean workers in Korea and throughout Asia are teenage runaways who have fled immense societal and academic pressures. Are we truly educating these children properly? Below is the teaching schedule I had to abide by this past year:

7 Regular Classes
MWF 2:0p0-4:00p (2nd grade)
MWF 4:10p-6:10p (1st grade)
MF 6:30p-9:30p (4th grade)
TTh 3:30p-6:30p (3rd grade)
TTh 6:40p-9:40p (4th grade)
WSa 6:30p-9:30p (4th grade)

2 Extracurricular Classes (all grades)
Sa 9:00a-12:00p
Sa 12:30p-3:30p

This ridiculous schedule cramming all of the exact same subjects and textbooks from the States is viewed as normal here in Daechi-dong, Seoul. Furthermore, gyopo teachers are paid on commission, so the salary is dependent on the number of students a teacher can retain. Teachers can make up to $140 per student a month with a cap of 80 students. Keep in mind that the tax deduction is only 3.3%.

As academy teachers in Korea, are we enticed by the high salary offers? Do we truly care about Korea’s future? Are we careless as we teach, not fully registering that we are affecting these children for life? Do we even like children or teaching? Are we good at teaching? Are we instilling proper morals and values in these children? Are we setting good examples as to how community leaders and citizens should be. From my own experience this past year, the motives of the foreigners who come to Korea to teach are questionable, not excluding myself.

[1] in 2004: the Special Law on Sex Trade (referred to as the “Anti-Prostitution Act”)


2 responses to “Are Gyopo English Teachers in Seoul Contributing to Sex Trafficking?

  1. I’ve met a lot of Western (white and otherwise) teachers in Korea who were there just for the money. They had no connection to Korea and her people and were often derisive/dismissive of both. I lived and taught ESL in Seoul for three years while visiting my parents. I made Korean friends and joined a hiking club, essentially making a point to immerse myself in the culture as much as comfortably possible. Although I did meet foreigners who were also interested and respectful of Korean culture, that was not he norm. I think some Koreans are eager to make American (white) friends so they will accept their bad behavior to a point.

    • Hello! Thanks for your comment. I believe there’s a serious problem with the way the Korean educational system operates in terms of after-school academies. The kids are under way too much pressure starting at such an early age. In many cases, this has a direct link to the problem of child trafficking in Korea and Asia. However many educators are unaware or unconcerned.

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