Category Archives: Filipinos in South Korea

On Filipinos Teaching English In South Korea

Filipino teachers attending a meeting of the Association of
Filipino Educators in Korea (AFEK)

Most universities here in South Korea (and other Asian countries) prefer to recruit English teachers from countries where English is the native language. That is a matter of policy but it does not follow that the best English teachers are the ones coming from those countries… they could be somewhere else just waiting to be given an opportunity to prove their mettle in ESL teaching. And whether that policy reaped dividends and made the students in those countries better at English or ripped those countries of their precious dollars is an interesting topic for discourse.

There are a few tertiary institutions in this country employing teachers from the Philippines to teach English. These are the universities that believe that teaching English is not a monopoly of the teachers labeled as “native speakers” coming from the following countries: USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ireland. I have also written an article about the Filipinos and their romance with the English language. I also discussed in the same article a little bit about the thesis that ACCENT  is getting in the way of INTELLIGIBILITY and COMPREHENSIBILITY. I am planning to explore the topic further in future articles.

If the statistics gathered in 2013 by the Association of Filipino Professors in Korea (AFEK) is accurate then there are more or less 100  teachers from the Philippines in this  part of the Korean peninsula. That could still be the same number as of 2022. Reportedly, there are more in elementary and  secondary schools and academies (hagwon). This AFEK came to know when they launched in May, 2017 the program “Skills Enhancement for Filipino Teachers Teaching English in Korea.” Several of the attendees were Filipino women married to South Koreans and are employed as English teachers.  The Philippine Embassy in Seoul, however, doesn’t have any official record that could give the exact number of Filipinos teaching in the basic education schools and academies here.

Filipino professors are not limited to teaching English subjects only. They are E-1 visa holders and are allowed to teach content subjects depending on their fields of specialization.

The writer – with his TOEIC students

E-2 visa holders are allowed by the Ministry of Education here to teach strictly English subjects only. One advantage of hiring Filipino professors, because theirs is E-1 visa, is they can be asked to teach content subjects related to their fields especially if the curriculum requires that the content subjects should be taught in English. Currently, in the university where this writer is teaching,  three teachers from the Philippines, aside from teaching English subjects, would once in a while be invited to teach content subjects in the university’s Graduate School or serve as advisers to foreign students writing their dissertation.

I wouldn’t say that Filipino professors in universities in South Korea are lucky to have been hired. Why? They have to go through the proverbial eye of the needle to have a chance of getting hired. They applied alongside teachers who are native speakers of English who have the upper hand, not because of their qualifications and pedagogical skills, but because of their geographical roots.

Most of the Filipino professors here are PhD degree holders. The minimum requirement FOR THEM  is Masters. Surprisingly, some native speakers of English, are allowed to teach in universities here even if they don’t have Masters.

To the universities that opened the opportunity for Filipino professors and hired them, the applicants needed to prove that they are as equally capable as their counterparts from the native English-speaking regions of the world. When they got hired, it was because they are qualified and have proven that they have what it takes to be English teachers. It wasn’t luck.

Filipino teachers are trained in the Philippines to both know what to teach and know how to teach what they know.

The writer – with a fellow-Filipino teacher and some of their students

Modesty aside, the Philippines has a very good education curriculum implemented through the Commission on Higher Education which closely monitors  TEIs (Teacher Education Institutions) to ensure strict compliance. Thus,  Education graduates from the Philippines can be relied upon not only in terms of the knowledge, skills, attitude, and values in their field of specialization but also in pedagogy and in research. Filipino teachers are good in both instruction and research.

One of the best features of “teacher training” in the Philippines is teachers are made to understand that the most important stakeholder in a school is the STUDENT, not the TEACHER. When they need to, Filipino teachers know how to adhere to the philosophy that the teaching-learning process  should be student-centered.

One reason, if not the main and only reason,  most universities in Asian countries (like South Korea, Japan and China) prefer to hire teachers from those seven countries is ACCENT.

The Filipinos are good at English with the said language being the official medium of instruction in the Philippines from kindergarten to college – even in graduate school. Filipinos, at an early age, write and speak English. They hear and read it everywhere. It is also the official language of communication in the Philippines.  All business and government transactions are done in English. The country also has the 3rd largest group of English speakers in the world. Their accent is not bad. It’s neutral, to say the least. This is the reason why the Philippines is one of the leading countries for BPO. But notwithstanding all the aforementioned, still the said universities prefer native English speakers and do not include Filipino teachers in their lists of preferences.

But there are two things that would make hiring a Filipino teacher a wise investment – two things far more important than ACCENT… their PASSION for teaching and COMPASSION for the learners.

It is easy to learn to mimic somebody’s way of creating vowel and consonant sounds and diphthongs but it is hard for teachers to be passionate  about the job and compassionate with the students…. especially if they are not really trained to be one and were only forced to accept the teaching job for lack of better options.

South Korea: In the Eyes of an Expatriate (3)

(Last of 3 parts)

Part 1

Part 2

I really tried hard to figure out what happened. What went wrong for my country and conversely,  what did the South Koreans do correctly? To think that in the 1950s, while my country was soaking in the glory of being Asia’s second strongest economy, the Korean peninsula plunged into a devastating war.

I tried to probe deeper into this nation’s history to find the answer to the following questions: 1. How were the South Koreans able to  slay the ghosts of a bitter colonial past?;  2. How did they survive the devastation wrought by the Korean war?; and 3. How did they triumph over internal political turmoil while at the same trying to ward off a belligerent neighbor in North Korea?

How were the South Koreans able to accomplish all of the aforementioned then  eventually catapult themselves to their current lofty position in the global community?

Then I found out what the South Koreans did in 1998 at the height of the Asian financial crisis. They willingly donated their gold – jewelry (including their personal wedding rings), medals and trophies, good luck keys, and what have you. This they did to save their economy during that crisis. The collective weight of the gold they donated may not be that much. But more significant  than the corresponding monetary value of their donation was the willingness of the South Koreans to make a personal sacrifice for their country. I call that nationalism. If it’s not then I don’t know what is.  It is the same sense of nationalism that emboldened them to resist one military junta after another… to sacrifice their lives and limbs to lay the democratic foundations of this country which eventually became a fertile ground that nurtured the economic prosperity they are currently enjoying.

I also learned about the collectivist culture of these people. They think first of the general welfare over and above their personal interests. This I witnessed first-hand when I saw how the South Koreans willingly obeyed the restrictions set by their government during the early onslaught of Covid-19. There was no need for their leaders to implement a “hard lockdown,” the way other countries did, including mine. The citizens just strictly wore their masks, observe social distancing, and avoided leaving their homes unless it was necessary. They are willing to sacrifice for the greater good.

I think I found the answer to what  enabled the South Koreans  to attain prosperity and stability –  the combination of  their nationalism and collectivist culture. I may be wrong but I could not really see any other possible reasons for their success as a nation. There is nothing more potent of a mix for nation-building than the combination of the two. And if they keep using this formula, the future of this nation is secured.

Other expatriates living in this country may not see things here the way I am seeing them. To them the observations I made may not be a big deal. To me, given the situation in my country now, they are.

If only my countrymen would consider including the South Korean model of nationalism and collectivism among the things from this country that we allow ourselves to be influenced by. We should try to find out if we could also propel our own native land to greatness if we would try to emulate the way South Koreans profess their love for their country. We need to see if we could also make our country better if like them we would put the greater good over and above our personal interests.

We copied hook line and sinker (Or was it forced down our throats?) the socio-political and economic models of our colonizers and we are not getting desirable results. Obviously, our needle of success as a nation is barely moving. We have been trying to fit our colonizers’ square peg into our round hole. It’s not working.  It’s time for us  to rethink our strategies for nation building. Why don’t we try the South Korean model? Let’s see what will happen if we embrace, not only K-dramas, K-pop, and kimchi but also  the values that brought the South Koreans to where they are now.

South Korea: In the Eyes of an Expatriate (2)

(2nd of 3 parts)

(Part 1)

I started mingling with real Korean people – real men and women and not fictional characters. I dined with them, drank their wine and beer, ate their kimchi and their delicious dishes, and spoke (a little) of their language.

I witnessed  their way of life and even adopted some parts of it. I saw what’s inside their houses, their theatres, their bars, restaurants, and coffee shops. I have entered their museums, strolled in their parks, and hiked in their mountains.

Through daily encounters with my Korean students, colleagues, and friends, I was also able to probe into their character. I confirmed that just like what I saw in their dramas, South Koreans fall in love, get angry, feel sad and happy, and suffer from anxiety and stress. In short, just like me or any average human being from any part of the world, they also ride the roller coaster of emotions. They do have strengths and weaknesses too.  They are not faultless… like me. Anyway, nobody is. They also have fears and uncertainties. But just like me and anyone else, they have dreams and ambitions. They have plans and a vision of a good life in the future for themselves and their families.

I discovered more. I found out that their prosperity is not a myth. Those things I saw in Korean dramas and movies that indicate how progressive and modernized their country is are not fictitious. Their provinces, cities, and towns are effectively interconnected by  impressive  highway systems that how I wish we could also have in my country of origin. How I wish that our telecom companies could provide us with internet connectivity as fast as South Korea’s.

With everything that I have seen and experienced, I could not help but compare this country to mine. I could not help but be envious of the South Koreans for what they have accomplished as a nation. As I stayed here longer, my “How I wish!” list grew longer. How I wish that in my country, packages could be left in front of our doors, even for days, not fearing that somebody would steal them. How I wish we could also send to prison our politicians who would be found guilty of wrongdoings without fearing that when a political ally would become the next president they would be granted a pardon. How I wish we would take research as seriously and meticulously as the Koreans do.

Whatever metrics I used for the comparison, it was a mismatch with this country always ending up on top after all the comparative analyses I performed except for this – my country has a younger population where the median age  is less than 26 years. For this country, it’s more than 40 years. I will no longer be citing other statistics like those of life expectancy, GDP, and international ranking of universities.  South Korea’s numbers are far more superior to my country’s.

In addition, South Korean students perform better  in Math and Science as compared to the youth of my country. If there is any consolation though, I and my countrymen scored higher in English proficiency.

But does it matter if we in our country are better at English? Does it make my country better than South Korea? The answer is obvious – NO. There is no direct correlation between a country’s English proficiency and its economic performance. If there is, then why does this country, as of 2020, rank as the world’s 10th biggest economy while mine  barely  made it to the list of newly-industrialized countries?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not putting my country down while I am seemingly extolling South Korea. I love the country where I was born and I am proud to be its citizen. I am just wondering how come this country has gone this far leaving my native land way behind in the race to prosperity and stability.

My desire to figure that out  led me to read more about the history of this country. In the process, I discovered certain uncanny similarities between our historical experiences. Both South Korea and my native land are colonized nations and earned independence after the second world war. Both countries embraced the democratic form of government thereafter. Additionally, just like in my country, the development of democracy  here in South Korea was interrupted by military takeovers, and what a coincidence that martial law in our countries was declared both  in 1972. Was it also a coincidence that powerful military leaders in both countries were removed via popular revolt in the mid 1980s?

Unfortunately, the similarities in the historical development of this nation and mine stop there.  We took different paths in building our nations from the ashes of colonization, the second world war, and military juntas.

Part 3

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