“I’m Not White and Korea Won’t Hire Me!”

This is a touchy subject. At the same time though, it’s just reality.

In the Korean ESL job market for private academies, or hagwons, there’s a lot of negative press. And for good reason. You don’t have to look far to hear of the countless horror stories of bright-eyed, hopeful teachers excited to go to Korea being mistreated in many ways. It serves no purpose getting into the details as I’m sure you’ve heard the same stories that I have.

In addition to the working conditions of some of these schools post-hiring, the recruiting process has left multitudes of people stunned and offended.

There are numerous recruiters and private academies who make distinctions based on ethnicity.

This also is not a new concept. It’s a very unfortunate aspect of job acquisition in South Korea, and it won’t be changing any time in the foreseeable future.

This is Asia, and though the global community has become smaller in some ways thanks to technology, it remains “the same as it ever was” in many other ways. This includes their perception of other nations and ethnicities around the world.

I have been contacted through YouTube and Facebook by folks who feel they are at a disadvantage in comparison to their white counterparts. Well, they are at a disadvantage. This should neither surprise nor insult you.

It is critical that anyone interested in obtaining an ESL job first come to grips with the fact that hagwons are business entities. Their #1 goal is to turn a profit. To that end, they are going to hire based on the factors that will fill the most seats and generate the most profit. This includes the RACE of applicants.

Allow me to veer off momentarily to draw an analogy.

I love judo. Tens of millions of people around the world love judo too. It is arguably one of the top three practiced martial arts in the world. That means it is being practiced in the greater majority of all nations globally. Not too long ago, judo was introduced to the Olympic Games and it was during this time that Japan monopolized the medal table. It is their sport after all.

However, it didn’t take long for other countries to come up the curve and turn out champions of their own. Nowadays, champions are hitting the mats from dozens of countries. Yet, no matter how many champions France, Brazil, Central Asia, Europe, North and South Korea turn out, when Japan speaks – people listen.

It doesn’t matter that Russia dominated the last Olympic Games. It doesn’t matter that a French player is one of the most dominant heavyweights of all time, and still winning. Many countries can demonstrate the technicalities of judo just as well as any Japanese can today.

But we all LOVE when a Japanese player does it!! It’s just so…Japanese. So…judo. So authentic. So much better!

Is it? Of course not.

But just look at the view counts on YouTube. Read the forums. Watch people’s EYES! They all love when someone Japanese performs a judo technique. It’s almost as if it’s still the only way to learn judo – even today. In most cases, if people are going to dish out MONEY to go to a clinic, they prefer it be with someone Japanese.

Back to hagwons…

I’m sure I’ll be impacted by the phenomenon someday, but I don’t pay mind to it. People from Asia always say to me, “Oh, your father is American. That’s why you’re tall”.

LOL! And “American” means white to them. There’s no distinction or preemptive question.

I’m tall because my genetic code was written by a gracious developer. I’m taller than 95% of white males in this world. Still, they say it. Still, they want English demonstrated by someone white; as they understand the language to be originated by white folk. Hey, I still love watching the Japanese perform judo more than others.

It is what it is.

How does it go? Something like this…

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”


  1. Thank you for the clarification. Many people assume and just give up because they hear things that are not true. Great article I really enjoyed it.

    • Exactly, Cerena! You can’t assume they’re all this way. Some, maybe many, are. You just have to move past the bad fruit to pick them ripe apples! Thanks so much for commenting!

  2. It’s important to keep positive and continue to apply through different sources. I haven’t received this discrimination yet, so really depends on the recruiters you go through, but don’t let one poor judgement discontinue your pursuit!

    • Right on! And that’s my point in all of this. Regardless of industry, you’ll never land all jobs no matter who you are. Just move onto the next thing and put your focus on that. All the best to you.

  3. Hello. I’ve always been a silent avid reader and YouTube subscriber to your channel. However, you asked on Facebook to please comment on this one so I will. I am fortunate enough to be a woman with an education degree so although I have brown skin, I was able to get a job quite easily. Nevertheless, I have noticed that the Korean staff does prefer to photograph the teachers who are Caucasian over me. All the advertisements for English schools I have seen portray a Caucasian teacher. Parents prefer to have their child study with a Caucasian person so that’s what schools want and advertise. It’s unfortunate but that’s the way it is.

    • It is unfortunate, and you’re right…it is the way it is here. People forget that behind the glitz and glamour of K-Pop and recent economic surge is an old-school country that not too long ago was in ruins due to the war. A lot of the mentalities of a past world are still lingering today. Some stronger than others. Even with the “pure blood” fiction in the society here, even though there is Chinese and Japanese blood running through most veins in this country. I think you sound like you’ve taken it in stride and just made it happen. Kudos to you. Also, with your credentials, you could probably pick your spots now in other countries as well. Good luck.

  4. I have a different perspective on this. I realize that my experience is limited, but the hagwon that I teach at is the most ethnically diverse workplace environment that I’ve been in. I’m sure if you asked the various teachers what their experience has been as teachers, you’d get a lot of variation. But as far as hiring at this hagwon goes, the ethnic backgrounds of the people that are hired are as diverse as those of EPIK (or so I’d imagine from how you described it in your video).

    • Brad, thanks so much for commenting. Also, it’s REALLY good to hear a positive story coming out of the hagwon world. Not because they don’t exist, but because positive reviews of anything are usually outweighed by the complaints. I had a friend in the judo/BJJ world here in Busan who worked at the same hagwon for 4 years. He even recommended it to me when he was leaving. Also, QiRanger from Youtube also has only good things to say about his experiences as the hagwon route was how he got started.
      It really does depend on the hagwon and this is the very reason I encourage people to just move on from the bad ones and keep trying. Sooner or later something will hit. Just keep trying. Thanks again!

  5. I found your youtube video and this blog post on the subject interesting, but a bit disheartening. I am a 6ft tall white female and I will be apply for the TaLK program in the next few months (my research led me to your youtube channel). While the TaLK program is a government scholarship, very unlike the hagwons, I still wonder if my race will be a factor. As well, I had already come to terms with the fact that if I am accepted into the scholarship program and go to South Korea I would be likely gawked at, daily. However, it didn’t really dawn on me that people would, on top of the gawking, ask me about my heritage constantly. This doesn’t deter me though, I’ve been a “spectacle” my whole life. But, I do thank you for your honest and frank discussion on the subject.

    • Sarah, I would assume it wouldn’t be an issue for you getting into the program. You will get looked at here though! lol. When I walk around I am undetectable. When my friend from South Africa was here (he’s white) and we’d walk around, I would always be amazed at how many looks he’d get. It’s just because he’s different than what they see every day. Not always a bad thing. I think you’ll be fine in the long run though. Stay positive and make the most of it.

  6. Avatar Cindy L. says:

    Great topic! Aspiring teachers should take a look!

    It’s like for anything, don’t find yourself any excuse: just go ahead by thinking it will work for you. I’m not a teacher but I was an educator. When I gave my resume at a convention in France, nobody was looking for someone with my “skills”. I thought I came to the wrong place, my english was pretty bad, other abilities recruiters were looking for were out of my league. I found a job related to my skills and discovered after I was living in Canada, educators were needed in every single province and territory… but recruiters did not attend to that specific meeting in Paris.

    Just to say: even if you think it’s impossible, there’s a chance for you.

    • Very awesome story and great advice. Teaching English can be a short or long-term endeavor. No matter what it is to people, just keep trying until you find what you’re looking for. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Hi everyone I’m new to this ESL teaching idea so I just like to come to The Red Diaries and get the inside perspective on the job…I have never taught in South Korea but after reading countless blogss and watching your videos and going there on vacation I have a way better perspective on what to expect as for this topic ,I have been to Seoul so I can tell you that they look at Foreigners all the same regardless of what color you are some like African-Americans over Caucasians because of Musical influence and style …Being a white male I don’t personally believe I will have a certain edge over a tan skin or Black skin person again I think all foreigners are looked at all the same not in a bad way or a better way…anyways those are my thoughts I’ve only been there once last month but I’m probably gonna start teaching there in October…

    • That’s great, Neil. I hope you find something and come to Korea. Also great that you already visited once to see what it’s like. That should help you a lot over time.

      I think you’ll find your perception will change a little over time too with regards to how Koreans generally view the different races out there. Regardless of how they view you, though, just make the best of your time and enjoy it while it lasts.

  8. I married a south Korean 30 years ago, he disappeared no contact my son is doing his PhD. I have looked up his bussinness and the picture and date of birth is different. I know he dissolved many bussinness and l do not know who l married and my son is heartbroken. What can l do? Any advice???

    • I wish there was some way I could assist you. Unfortunately, I know very little about matters such as this, let alone handling them in Korea. I believe everything will work out for the best in the end.

  9. Avatar Ivana Barber says:

    Please help Tom.My friend has been interviewed dozens of times and cant seem to get an teaching job anywhere! She is ready to give up; if you could give me advice on what to say to interview questions that would help!

  10. I’m Korean-American and much older than most people teaching here. I was aware of the age discrimination and the fact that they favored blue-eyed, blond foreign teachers. My advice to all you non-white potential English teachers is to just pursue your dream no matter the obstacles before you. Whether it be teaching in Korea or doing anything in life, don’t let others and statistics stop you from doing what you want. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

    • Great perspective. Also, those types of jobs are generally language schools or hagwons. As you move up the food chain into public schools, international schools, private schools, and any institution that is running a highly professional operation, the only factors that matter are your qualifications. You must meet their requisite qualifications to be considered and race is rarely a factor. Even if race is a factor, if you are qualified and then know how to interview well, you will break the molds. I’ve never not been offered a job because of my racial background, but rather my record and ability to convey my value added during an interview.


  1. […] Yes, but if you’re applying for a teaching job here and you’re currently in the Philippines, there is only one way to obtain a teaching visa. It’s known as the E-1 visa, one that is given to lecturers and university professors. The other teaching visa, the easiest to obtain, which is the E-2 visa, is only given to citizens of one of the following English speaking countries: Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa or United States. No matter how fluent you are in English and how impressive your resume is, if you’re not from any of the countries mentioned, you won’t be given an E2. Yes, the requirement is racial bias and it’s BS… but this is Korea where getting a teaching job is not as easy as pie if you’re not Caucasian. […]

  2. […] given an E-2. Yes, the requirement is racial bias and it’s BS… but this is Korea where getting a teaching job is not as easy as pie if you’re not […]

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