Bullying in South Korea
To begin with, sorry for the constant disclaimers in these videos. We know the crowd of commenters here on our site are a lot more civil than different crowds on different sites, so these disclaimers aren’t really relevant to you lovely people :D It seems like you here understand that we’re just talking about our experiences, and not as Korea scholars. So, yay to you guise! We really like the discussions that happen on this page and really want to thank you for your contributions :D
Anyhow, on with the show: we’re getting a lot of serious topics this month for our TL;DRs and today is no exception. Today’s question is from eaguyao001 from San Diego, California who asks,
“have you seen bullying as bad as they make it out to be in Korea? And if so, what do teachers normally do about it?”
Now we weren’t too clear on who this “they make it out to be” actually refers too, so we just assumed it meant Korean media, such as dramas, movies, and comics, aka “manhwa” 만화 in Korean or “manga” in Japanese. It’s true that any avid watcher/reader of Korean or Japanese drama and comics – such as myself, Martina – will know that high school life is a very, very common theme, and within this theme of school often comes the topic of bullying. Now we all know bullying exists in all parts of the world and at all age levels, so is bullying different in Korea, and if so, how?
Well the idea of bullying being “bad” in Korea, suggests that maybe it’s not as bad somewhere else, and frankly, we don’t think it’s possible to say one countries bullying is worst than the other, because bullying is equally terribly everywhere. So I don’t think that was the intention of the question (was it?). We’re thinking that the question was asking whether bullying is as prevalent in South Korean schools as it is in its depictions, which we really can’t answer. We taught at one school each, and our schools were in no way the norm. So the most we can talk about here is what we noticed in bullying in South Korea.
Our main point of interest deals with the school environment itself. We feel like Japan and Korea are similar in this way since both countries have ridiculously long school hours (7am – 11pm or later, Monday – Saturday) and in turn, the classroom becomes a second home. Students pretty much live at school; they brush their teeth after each meal, change into slipper shoes, personalize their desk with colourful seat cushions, pencil holders, and bring pillows to sleep on.
This is very different from how we experienced high school, both as high school students, and as former high school teachers in Canada. Since you moved classes between every subject, your desk was just an impersonal place to sit and be used by the next student. Our lockers were the only personal part of our high school career, and those were locked up tightly and often decorated with photos of friends and/or stuff we liked.
Korean students, on the other hand, have a single homeroom class that they stay in for the whole year. It’s the teachers that move between the classrooms. The students might leave that classroom once or twice a week to visit, for example, the Foreign English teacher’s classroom or the music room, but most classes are taught in their homeroom class. They also have little shoebox sized lockers, but they are located inside their homeroom classroom and many students don’t even bother to lock them. This environment creates a very important difference between how bullying occurs in North America and Korea. An attack by a bully in Korea can be aimed not just at you as a student, but also at all the stuff you deem important, the stuff you use to make you feel happier in your second home, the second home you study in for 16 hours, with the same students for the whole year. If you are being bullied by a classmate, there is no escape from them since you have to see them all day everyday. We’ve heard cases of shoes being vandalized, tacks hiding under seat cushions, or insults scribbled on desks.
We have heard stories from our Korean co-workers of students secretly fighting and bullying others in the washroom or outside the classroom for money or food, but personally, we’ve never seen that at our former schools. Possibly because we were at very good schools that were very focused on grades and studying, possibly also because our experiences with the students were a bit limited, since we had to teach around 22 different classes per week or so. However, even if you’re at a school that caters to students who are super duper focused on grades, there are forms of silent bullying that we actually have experienced, such as certain students being made 왕따 (wang-dda) which basically means they are made a social outcast and completely ignored by EVERYONE. Even if you don’t personally have a problem with this person, interacting with them will make you a wangdda and then you too will be isolated. In turn, students feel that it’s best to just ignore them as well. This most frequently happens to students who don’t find a social circle to fit into right away. Even if you’re made wang-dda in 1st year highschool, it can continue throughout your whole three years in high school. We were told some students will move schools in an attempt to escape their wang-dda labelling. A wang-dda student can experience bullying from silent ignoring all the way up to physical fighting. It depends on the school and the type of bullies present.
So what can teachers do to prevent this from happening? It seems like not much. When we talked to our Korean co-workers about it, they said that most students will just cast their eyes to the ground and not speak during their interrogation. Whole classrooms can be scolded for their bad behaviour but everyone just remains silent. Sometimes addressing the issue can make life worse for the bullied student, so many teachers feel like ignoring it is the best method. Just one of the big problems we see with Korean school system is that there are no guidance councillors available of any sort. There is no one for the students to confine in when they are stressed out or upset, and seeing a councillor or a psychologist outside of school just isn’t available and is really looked down upon.
If there’s anything we missed out on, or any other stories you care to share about this topic, please do let us know in the comments below. Yeah!