From Korea with Love

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Prejudice against Filipinos in Korea

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I thought that I have lived in Korea long enough to evade discrimination or at least get used to it, but when you are a Filipino living in Korea, you have to accept the fact that there will always be prejudice here against Filipinos, and you just have to deal with it, period.

Don’t get me wrong, life as a Filipina in Korea isn’t that bad. I have made a lot of Korean friends who are kind and unpretentious, worked with wonjangnims who treated me well, and met a couple of Koreans who have much respect for Filipinos and have good things to say about the Philippines; however, there are others whose blatantly racist remarks about my country and its people have made me feel so small, such as:

Oh, I can share a number of personal experiences with discrimination from the moment I came to this country, but to do so will make this article too lengthy and boring to read. I used to cry and complain to my husband about others’ unfair treatment, but I have learned that the best way to deal with prejudice is to NOT LET YOURSELF BE DRAGGED DOWN INTO THE PIT OF OTHERS’ IGNORANCE AND ANIMOSITY by feeling angry or drowning in self-pity. It’s either you ignore them, or you speak up. You can ignore jokes or petty remarks, but if you feel the need to say something, do so. Don’t sound so defensive, though. Speak to enlighten others of their wrong perceptions and not to argue.

They can't even get it right... T.T

They can’t even get it right… T.T

Last week, I started working in a new hagwon. While I was getting ready for my next class, a co-teacher approached me to say that if students ask where I am from, I should tell them that I’m from the United States and not from the Philippines, because as she puts it, Koreans “look down” on Filipino teachers. Although that wasn’t the first time I was asked to lie about being a Filipino, I was flabbergasted at how facilely those words came out of a fellow educator’s mouth. She probably thought that she was doing me a huge favor by giving me a heads up and by lying to the students about my nationality: “Some students were asking (me) where you are from and I said (that) you are from the USA.”

She wanted me to lie, too: “Maybe it’s better (if) you don’t tell them (that) you are (a) Filipino, because if they know (that) you are (a) Filipino teacher, they will not listen to you.”

“If their parents know (that the foreign teacher is from the Philippines), maybe they will not like it.”

As she was gabbling on and on about what Korean students or their parents might think if they find out that the new foreign teacher is a Filipino, I was thinking whether she was really referring to others’ prejudice against Filipino teachers… or she was trying to feign her own xenophobic attitude.

I was fuming inside, but I knew that if I let anger get the best of me, I would prove her right about all the things she previously said. “You know, the first time I was hired to teach in Korea, I was also asked not to tell the students that I am from the Philippines. I had to say that I was a Kyopo. I soon quit that job,”

I wanted to tell her to read my resume and watch me teach, so that her preconceived notions about Filipino teachers will somehow change, but even if I succeeded in changing her opinion of me, there are so many bigots out there who will always see Filipino teachers differently no matter how we try to prove ourselves.

Photo Take from: Pinterest

Photo taken from: Pinterest

“I’m not going to lie to keep a job,” I told her. “Besides, I already told most of the students that I’m from the Philippines, and they don’t seem to mind that their teacher is a Filipino.”

She looked at me, slightly surprised, perhaps not expecting that answer. Her last words to me before she left me alone were: “It doesn’t matter.” That was the only thing she said to me that day that actually made sense. I have been an ESL teacher for more than ten years, and I know that to the students I have taught, where I come from doesn’t really matter. I am a teacher who happens to be a Filipino. As an educator, I am damn good at what I do, and there are many Filipino teachers in Korea who are very good, too. It’s just disheartening that in a country like Korea, there are still some who believe that Filipino teachers are not competent enough to teach English, even if they have the degree and years of teaching experience.

An accomplished Filipina professor in Daegu, Prof. Emely Dicolen-Abagat, was also not spared from this kind of discrimination. In the Philippines, she wasn’t just any teacher, she was a respected administrator… but when one of her friends recommended her as a private teacher, this is what happened:

One time, my friend recommended me as a private English teacher to a “Gangnam Omma” to her daughter. We met in a coffee shop in Gangnam and the first question she asked me was, “Where are you from?” I proudly answered, “I’m from the Philippines!” Without hesitation, she tactlessly answered, “I don’t want a Filipina teacher for my daughter. I want a native speaker.” Without letting me finish my coffee, she left. When some Korean moms learn that I’m from the Philippines, they would immediately quote a lower price of tutoring fee compared with westerners.

(Source: abs-cbnnews.com)

If you search the net for teaching jobs in South Korea, you will usually find ads that require NATIVE SPEAKERS ONLY. Some hagwons (academies) will hire Filipino teachers, but will offer the lowest salary. When I started looking for a teaching job in Korea, some hagwons offered me a salary that I thought I didn’t deserve, but no matter how I wanted the job, I DID NOT accept the offer. If you are a Filipino teacher in Korea, please do not accept less than what you think you are worth as a foreign teacher. It’s not merely about money. It’s about being treated fairly.

Discrimination is everywhere. The truth is, we can never get rid of it… but we can learn a lot from it and strive to be better. Because of experiencing prejudice in a foreign land, I have learned to love my country and appreciate my heritage. I have learned to be humble and tolerant of others. I have become stronger in my beliefs.

All the things that I heard Koreans say about the Philippines and Filipinos, whether good or bad, have helped me grow as a person. I may not be able to evade discrimination or get used to it as I have gotten used to kimchi, but now I know that I can cope with it by maintaining my integrity as a Filipino.  

38 thoughts on “Prejudice against Filipinos in Korea

  1. @michael,

    And remember that Han Chinese chauvinism still rears it’s ugly head in the Philippines like it does elsewhere. The notion of cultural/ethnic superiority is still not uncommon among segments of the Chinese community in the Philippines. And the Chinese due to their higher wealth status have a tendency at times to look down on the native Filipino masses.

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  2. @Michael,

    Filipinos blatantly racist against chinese ? Are you kidding?! You ask the Chinese in the Philippines how they are generally treated and they will say they have been treated well. The highly respected chinese-filipina scholar Caroline hau has even stated that Filipinos are generally tolerant in liu of all the years she has lived there. Actually, the Chinese are even more racist towards the filipinos. Just look at how filipinos are being treated in places like Taiwan and Hong kong. Even in the Philippines many Chinese are not accepting if their daughter were to marry a Filipino man. On the other hand though Filipino families are far more accepting of marriage with a chinese.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There are racists everywhere, even in the Philippines, I agree… but not as obvious and as common as it is here in SK. Have you been to Korea? If you have, you will know for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Filipinos are blatantly racist against chinese and black people in the philippines…so maybe they should remove the rafter from their own eyes before trying to remove the splinter from the eyes of koreans?

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  5. That experience sounds quite disturbing to me… but I don’t necessarily think that Korean teacher was xenophobic. Perhaps she was, perhaps she wasn’t. However, I am not surprised that she stated “[i]f their parents know (that the foreign teacher is from the Philippines), maybe they will not like it.”

    If you think about it, (without knowing about any prior credentials) who would you rather have your child taught by–a native or non-native English teacher? Lets go one step further… in a society where children are forced to be little study machines and and their parents pour money into their child’s education, it wouldn’t be unheard of to feel some dismay if you found out that your child’s teacher was a non-native. After all, you spent all that money on this hagwon that you are sending your child to. To me it seems like a way to cover the hagwon’s butt in case some idiotic parent complains (which I wouldn’t be surprised if they did–some people are quite shallow). However, giving the teacher the benefit of the doubt, it’s sad that they (hagwon) would rather protect their own financial interests at the expense of a human-being’s psyche and emotional stability.

    I believe this issue stems from Korean society which seems obsessed with brand names. It’s seriously unfortunate that you have to deal with such narrow-minded people…but I believe (and hope) that the prejudice and bias are slowly changing.

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  6. Ive been browsing korean dramas when i read this post. Nakakapanghinayang lang pala na iba ang expectation mo sa magiging reality mo sa Korea, …

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  7. Hi, Camila! Your theory makes sense. Sad to say, most Asian English teachers are discriminated against by fellow Asians. A friend who works as a teacher in the US told me that Americans are more open-minded and have high regard for Filipino teachers. Another friend from Canada said she has never experienced prejudice there for being a non-native English teacher. There was a time when Filipino teachers were in high demand in European countries. I just don’t know now.

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  8. Hi, Areum Han. I sometimes get those comments, too. We can’t really blame Koreans if they think that the Philippines is a dangerous country for tourists. Medyo totoo naman kasi… pero siyempre mali parin to generalize. Para sa mga foreigners na mayayabang and hindi marunong mag-ingat, the Philippines can be a dangerous place… but I have met many foreigners who love the Philippines and feel safe living there. Tama yung ginawa mo, you opened the mind of that Korean… in a nice way.

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  9. True. As I have mentioned in this post, SPEAK UP TO ENLIGHTEN OTHERS… NOT TO ARGUE.🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Your right, most academies here are more of business than a place of learning. In one of the hagwons where I worked, we had to finish all of the books assigned to the students in one month, and it didn’t matter whether or not everyone has learned the lessons. We could’t change the pace of the lessons, even when some students were behind others. We were told that every month, students have to purchase new books from the hagwon.

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  11. The way to beat xenophobia is not by lashing out in anger, but being loving and compassionate to those in spite of their behavior.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. The same thing happens once my co-teachers see how hard I work. When you have the right attitude towards your work, and the more you show Koreans how good you are at your job, the more they appreciate and respect you.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Most Koreans are nice people who generally treat all with respect, but you do have those who show xenophobic behavior (discreetly or not). I think how you present yourself also has a great impact on how Koreans perceive you. While I’m of Indian ethnicity, I don’t act like other Indian workers here and definitely don’t sound like one. As soon as Koreans find out I’m American, they tend to be more interested. In any case, I hope things change for better, and I’m sure they will, but it will be slow.

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  14. I can’t agree with you more, KetaninKorea. Sorry that you had to experience prejudice, too. I think it is normal for us ESL teachers who are not White to be seen differently here in SK. I can’t even bring myself to say White or Black or Non-native… they are bias words for me now.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Hello, Harry. You seem so happy in China, so it never occurred to me that you have also experienced prejudice there. I am sorry that it happened to you, too. I guess, prejudice is inevitable regardless of your nationality, because there will always be narrow-minded people in this world.

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  16. Those prejudiced and ignorant Koreans should really study their history again. The Philippines helped them wholeheartedly and even sacrificed lives when Korea was still poor as dirt by helping them fight for their freedom, and this is what they do in return??? I have seen slum areas even in Seoul, so who are they to judge other countries when they themselves aren’t well off?!

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  17. ooohhhh Crissy… I feel you… Korea isn’t that far different from China… I was once told by a principal to tell the students and parents that I’m from Singapore and another English training school blatantly told me to introduce myself as a Filipino-born American… (Punyetaaaa sila diva???) That’s beyond crazy, right?… Those incidents really happened and many forms and shapes of racism are still happening… I’m just fortunate that I have been living here for quite a long time to be known by many Chinese who know me for my body of work, as a professional teacher and not just by this undeniable fact that I’m from the Philippines… Racism is everywhere and what truly matters is knowing your core and worth as a GOOD TEACHER and as a Human Being… KIVER sa manila basta ang alam ko MAGALING TAYO no… haha

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  18. http://peftok.blogspot.com/

    I was reading this post while having a class… YES! with Korean students. Mahirap mag generalize kasi we or I won’t be different from them. Take some time to read and take pride of our great nation! SOMEDAY!!! ALL NATIONS WILL KNEEL BEFORE US! JK! Just Kidding.
    I’ve watched the movie “The Dictator” again. Pabasa yung nasa Link!

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  19. Koreans generally expect a hakwon native english teacher to be a white person from the US, Canada, England or Australia, kinda. So, I can say there is not much demand for a Filifino teacher. That explains the low salary. I don’t think it’s a discrimination. They have the right to hire people who are mostly likely to fit the image their customers want. How competent one is as a teacher is none of their concern as long as the teacher looks like a westerner, hold a minimum degree required by the law and speak (preferably) good American English. Their primary goal is making profit not educating people but most Koreans naively believe the hakwon will take care of everything about their English once they pay the tuition. Although all the thriving hakwon business is a nonsense for me, most of my fellow Koreans refuse to take my view.

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  20. Hi! This is the first post I read in your blog, but I think it’s a very interesting subject. I really think that Asia (although I’m talking about China-Japan-Corea, which are the countries I have the most information about) has a problem with English. My theory is that because they were closed countries for a long time and didn’t have much contact with other cultures, now that they want to learn English, for example, they think that ONLY native speakers will be able to teach them. And that is just not right. I am from Argentina and that doesn’t happen. Why? Because we have respected degrees in translation and in teaching (not just English- French, German, Portuguese). Schools (even the expensive ones and the ones that want to pretend they are expensive) don’t just hire foreigners from Australia, UK or USA. Why? Because the person teaching NEEDS to have a degree in what he is teaching. You can teach if you are an advanced student in that degree, but nobody here would hire a foreigner just because he speaks English. That’s a horrible idea they have in Asia, that just because you are a NATIVE SPEAKER you are automatically a TEACHER in the language you speak. Not every person that speaks Spanish or English can teach that language or knows how to, or knows why things are the way they are (or what is a verb and a subject…).
    Sorry for the long post, it’s just that this really gets to me😛 There are a lot of reaaaaaally good teachers/translators here, but I know that if they went to Asia they would be less qualified for the job (and would earn less money) just because they aren’t native speakers, even though they have their degree, credentials and years of experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. HK, it is NOT illegal for a non-native English-speaking teacher to teach English in South Korea if the teacher has the right visa. E2 is not the only legal teaching visa in Korea. If you have an F5 visa or you are a naturalized Korean citizen, YOU ARE ALLOWED TO TEACH LEGALLY IN KOREA, and even do private teaching. Get your facts straight before making assumptions. FYI, I am a permanent resident (F5 visa holder) and in all the hagwons where I have worked, I was registered under the government as a legal teacher who pays taxes just like any other E2 visa holder or Korean teacher, so to answer your question… NO, I am not scared of getting caught, and I am certain that no one is going to catch me. Oh, and yes, I am 100 percent Filipino.🙂

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  22. That’s really true. For me, they can”t barely see that im a filipino. They thought Im korean because of my korean like features. But everytime I told them that Im a Filipino, they would say Philippines is poor. Then they asked me about the standard of living there, I told them its almost the same here. There are poor, middle and high class persons. The only difference is that, the hi technology, established roads and highways, and comfortable transportation. One time my co-teacher told me that its scary to go to the phils. because of the increasing deaths of koreans. Then I told her, do you know who was behind those killings? They are koreans as well killing their fellows and i showed him a news video. And she was shocked. Starting that time she didn’t say any negative about our country.

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  23. It’s actually illegal for hagwons and schools to hire non-native English speakers as NESTs (native English speaking teachers), so the ambivalence expressed by others about your nationality (Filipina) irrespective of your qualifications or abilities, is not racially discriminatory or even illegal per se. In fact, any hagwon or school caught hiring non-native English teachers can face stiff penalties. There are exceptions for Koreans working as English teachers, as they are bilingual and afept at teaching beginners and subjects like grammar, especially in the public schools. However, it doesn’t appear you are a native Korean, but rather an English-speaking Filipina teaching English and doing privates somewhat illegally in the ROK. Is there more to this story, e.g., are you a U.S. citizen, or are you a Citizen if the Phillipines? If it’s the latter, what kind of teaching visa do you have, b/c Filipinos don’t qualify for E-2 visas? Aren’t you scared of getting caught?

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  24. China got a high level of racism anyways and most of them think its normal (Africans are called black devils or something like that and so on). My mother-in-law was surprised to see that racism is not really a great thing once she visited us first time in Europe

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  25. In here, that isn’t weird at all.
    Is it the same in China?

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  26. Oh these kind of things I really hate. Of course every country got these issues but that they spoken out (like the woman in the restaurant) and no one steps in is really really weird

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  27. Hi, Mercy. ^^ Here in Korea, no one will know I am a Filipina until I start talking in Korean, and my foreign accent gives me away. They will then start asking where I am from, how come I don’t look Pinoy, if I’m half-Korean or half-Chinese or half-Japanese, etc. I don’t usually experience discrimination when I deal with strangers. In fact, I find Koreans I just meet in public places more friendly than the ones I deal with on a regular basis like some colleagues or acquaintances.

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  28. To tell you honestly, I don’t know where all the prejudice is coming from, but I can name a few theories:
    *** Some Korean men who can’t find wives in Korea come to the Philippines to find Filipina wives through match-making agencies which are legal in Korea (but illegal in the Philippines)… so Filipina marriage migrants in Korea are stereotyped as foreign brides from match-making or mail-order brides.
    *** Filipinos are usually characterized as destitute and needy on Korean TV shows and documentaries, so some Koreans look down on Filipinos for being poor.
    *** There is a common misconception about Filipino English accent, so some Koreans think that Filipino teachers are not good English teachers.
    *** Just because most Filipinos are browned skin and look entirely different from Koreans

    Liked by 1 person

  29. “Those who were determined to die would survive the battle, while those who tried to live would perish.”
    Admiral Yi Sun-sin

    His fleet defeated 300 Japanese ships where they (Admiral Yi Sun-sin fleet) had only 13 ships. Try visiting The Korean War Memorial and check the first Asian country who helped Korea.

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  30. I’m married to a Korean gentleman and been to Korea couple of times. Never expereince such discrimination maybe because i look like Korean in features and did not stay for quite long in the country. I have fun correcting them that i am not a Korean but a Filipina which left them puzzled more because when they hear my son speak , He speack English in a British accent. Just dont take them seriously. Most of those ajjumma that make those comments are those who had not realize until now that the world is not a small world after all and that working with people in diffrent races and skin colors are lots of fun.

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  31. Hi! Im 20 years old and a half blood, Filipino-Korean.. And yes, it happens to me every time too! Good for me my parents didn’t let me go to a Korean School instead they let me study on base with military kids. If I went to a normal korean school, then probably I’ll be their victim every time I go to school.
    As a proud filipino-korean, I always tell everyone that I’m from the Philippines, and I lived there for years. But most often, if I tell them that half-blood they disgust me like I’m a man full of disease. Well, there’s of course good people who accept me for who I am, but I just don’t understand why, some of them hate us or disgust us.
    Hindi po silang marunong tumingin sa pinang-galingan nila, I mean, the Philippines helped them cope from the Korean war. They are really SMART people, but doesn’t know about their HISTORY!
    Sana po may pag babago para po sa mga katulad kong 2nd generations.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. I am sorry you have to go this sort of discrimination. I guess people are intolerant or afraid of what is different. What is beyond any doubt is that human beings, regardless of their nationatlity/ethnicity, are the same in what makes them happy, sad, what inspires them and so on. I am from Greece and to be honest, I have never felt any discrimination against my race or country, but I know of Greek people who are blatatly racist. Those are usually the uneducated, too wrapped up in their own world and they haven’t travelled at all. I have two Filippino friends here in Athens, and they are such sweethearts. I see no difference in how they and I think. Deep down we are all the same.🙂🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  33. So what is the reason for all this prejudice against filipinos in Korea? I actually have no idea about the whole thing but this sounds really terrible! Sure I had some bad encounters of the racism kind over the years too but only minorish things and never anything like this

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  34. Its nice to read an article like this to serve as a guide to every Filipina in Korea.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. Reblogged this on The noisy banana and commented:
    A thought I was already experiencing in Korea before. Sad

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  36. It’s sad how xenophobia affects how Koreans treat other nationalities. They want to present themselves as a pure, kind people, but their actions speak differently. I’m am English teacher here who is also a U.S. Citizen, but I’m also not white. I’ve had more positive experiences with Koreans in the six years I’ve been here, but have also had some negative ones. I’m currently reading a book about North Korea, and one thing l the author mentions is how the Korean Peninsula has been a pawn between the Soviets, Japan, the U.S., and China over the past century – so I can somewhat understand their resentment towards foreigners in general. It still doesn’t make it right though.

    If Koreans want international support and acclaim, they need to treat citizens of all nations equally (the same goes for Japan, too).

    Liked by 2 people

  37. All thaat you have said is true and i am thankful for you have share to us your experience in korea. This is an eye opener to our kababayan .for spending many years in korea gave me courage to fightback for my right. Luckily .we won the our case . We also shared our experience to fellow filipino by creating an organization with the help of hfcc comunity to prevent abuse from korean employers.

    Liked by 3 people

  38. Salute ako sa iyo..

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