Monday, July 6, 2009

Society and Law in South Korea: Some advice for new teachers

Here's the question:

Are there some basic laws you think foreigners should know? (i.e. In pretty much every other state in the U.S., jaywalking is illegal, but isn't enforced. In the state of California, jaywalking will lead to a ticket.)

On the same token, anything that IS legal in South Korea that foreigners will be happy to get away with that they usually can't at home.

Also, is it true that only foreigners with passports are allowed to gamble in the casinos?

Interesting. First of all, Korean law enforcement has a reputation for being highly corrupt(able). Things are improving, but they still have a ways to go. One should also consider that the application of the law is dependent the officer and/or judge involved in the case. There are cases in which you will get in serious trouble and then cases where the officer will let it go due to his apathy or the fact that a few bills were slipped his way. Gangnam, in particular, used to have a very bad reputation to the point that even housewives pushing 60 years of age could manage to bribe a traffic cop. Again, this trend seems to be slowing, but I'm sure the right price can get you out of anything.

The average expat isn't going to be that involved with the law like they would in their own nation, so I'll just focus on a few things that some people seem to get in trouble with or accused of more often: assault and fighting, driving laws and accidents, drugs, and improper conduct in the classroom.

While some of these don't seem like that big of deal, there are some things to consider.


Fighting is something that everyone wants to avoid. It's a waste of time, it hurts and ultimately settles nothing. Fighting with a Korean is even worse. In most cases, the law is going to back the Korean citizen rather than you. Even if you were sitting in a coffee shop, minding your own business and were accosted by a drunk Korean man, the first reaction of the Korean police is likely to assume YOUR (the non-Korean) guilt. The Metropolitician has a pretty good example of what it's like to be on the wrong side of the ethnic divide.

So the cops arrive. They listen to his harangue, filled with racial slurs and expletives, then when we're packing up because we've had our fill for the evening and thought our little friend was in good hands, the cop says *I* have to come down to the station. When I incredulously shot back, "Why?" the cop says that the guy is now saying I kicked him.

Make sure you read the whole thing and once you finish it, make sure you read his "Tips to avoid being assaulted in Korea" or even put in that situation. It's wordy, but worth it.

Of course, the police won't always side with the Korean citizen, but you should know what you could be up against.


Now, you might -as I did- feel inclined to increase your coolness and cruise around on a motor-scooter. Well, there are lots of drawbacks to that. Brendon Carr of the now sleepy K-Blog, Korea Law Blog, offers his thoughts on why he doesn't drive in Korea.

Korea handles automobile accidents according to an odd “blame-sharing” concept whereby both parties are always deemed to have some fault in the accident. The usual apportionment is 60-40. What this means is that the driver who caused the accident bears 60% of the responsibility (and therefore cost), and the driver who simply got crashed into gets stuck with 40% of the responsibility on some cockamamie theory that had he not been operating a motor vehicle he would not have gotten into the accident. So the 60% driver pays 60% of the damages incurred by the driver he struck, but receives from the driver he struck an offsetting payment of 40% of the 60% driver’s damages.

He also offers a horror story which is really close (if not the actual case) to one that my friend experienced a couple years ago.

We had a client and friend, an avid motorcyclist, who got himself struck by a bus—from behind, after the bus blew through a red light. Our friend was still deemed 20% responsible for the accident even though he spent weeks flat on his back laid up in the hospital, and had to pay the bus company some settlement for its damages (this was offset against what the bus company owed him, of course).

And accidents are common. As I Tweeted recently, I saw two semi-serious car accidents within ten minutes of each other on the same road (about a mile apart). Both of them were totally one-sided and every time I see those accidents, I think about how liability will be split. Honestly, there is no need to drive in Seoul. The transportation system is amazing.


Now on to drugs. Don't do them. Don't look for them and don't talk about them at work or with Koreans. Personally, I have no problems with people who use drugs. As long as they don't bother me or anyone else, then they're only harming themselves. I do, however, have a problem with it in Korea. The stereotype runs so deep among Koreans that even a Korean staff reporter from ABC News took a few shots at teachers here. All it takes is a few idiots who can't stop getting high for a few months and the media runs with it. It's impossible to truly quantify how many teachers actually use drugs here, but the arrest rates are very low. If you do get arrested, it will not be a simple fine. Prepare for some huge headaches. Matt from Gusts of Popular Feeling has a solid write-up on it.


Behave as you would at home. Don't go to class drunk. Don't teach your students stupid and inappropriate things. Don't teach your life. Don't talk about drugs. Don't talk about drinking. Don't talk about your love life (especially if you are dating a Korean). Don't vent your frustrations with Korea in the classroom. Don't let them give you stupid nicknames. Don't sleep. Don't do any excessive hugging or lap-sitting. I know it seems like a lot of warnings and that's because it is. Even though these all seem obvious as hell, some teachers continue to behave poorly in class. Due to the current state of the Korean media and their love for scapegoating, I'd say that for every shitty teacher who gets in trouble, thousands of other teachers must share the blame. It's not fair, sure, but that's the name of the game.

If you want to teach in Korea, then you must act like a teacher. Sure, it's fun to have a relaxed class and fun atmosphere, but there is a tendency to let that relaxation effect your teaching style and passion. Once that happens, trouble starts.

Teachers get accused of bad things from time to time. Don't let it be you.

Things that do not exist in Korea...

* Innocent until proven guilty
* Pretty much everything in the Bill of Rights.

Korea is not a strict place, but sometimes a seemingly small infraction can lead to big trouble. So, do yourself a favor: Be smart and stay clear of trouble.


RL said...

What about the gambling in casinos is only for non-Koreans?

The Expat said...

Gambling in Korea is a very broad subject. I'll be covering it today. Short answer: There is only one legal casino where Koreans can gamble and that's at Kangwon Land in Gangwon-do.

ZenKimchi said...

I'd also add from personal experience that South Korea is one of the last remaining democracies with criminal libel still on the books. Watch what you say about a person or business, even if it's true, or you may get a little letter from the local cybercrime division.

The Expat said...

That's a good point, ZK. I had a former Korean co-worker that was sued by her previous workplace because she had "spoken ill of the director" which was said to habe caused many parents to pull their kids from the school. Of course, the truth was that the parents were moving their kids to the school where she was heading because they liked her and her methods, but that didn't matter. It was enough to pursue the suit. She lost and had to pay damages.

When I left my last job, they tried to force me to sign some letter promising that I wouldn't shit all over them. Well, I refused to sign and have quietly shit all over them for the past year or so. Not the school or management, but more the method of luring teachers with inflated salary figures and extended vacations.

In my opinion, this law amounts to one thing and it's the same as the absurd adultery law: revenge.

Unknown said...

Very informative and worthy post. Thanks for the sharing such a precious updates with us.
Homework Assignment

creation said...

Digitizing Punching Embroidery Designing & Training Center.

Digitizing Training

Teleri said...

Presumption of innocence may not be followed by netizens in S. Korea but it IS in the law books - the legal profession claims to follow it. said...

I always liked the news on such a topic and I always followed them, and always interesting articles are exciting, therefore I read gambling news UK and play slots and games of popular online casinos.