130 COMMENTS

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!

ToFebruary
  1. José Campos

    I would like to know how the social security system works in korea. When you get unemployed they pay you something? you have to work at public office or so if they are paying u? how long it last how many years u have to work to have that right etc.. XD regards

  2. That “ruining my kid’s reputation” thing pisses me off SO HARD about East Asia. Too many parents think their kids’ shit don’t stink, and it’s always those evil family enemies conspiring to make the family lose face. Sadly, I don’t think this will abate anytime soon, especially when people are occupied with image over substance.

  3. Do they really stay in school for 16h/day?! Do they have a life? When do they exercise or meet friends? It sounds like torture. It can’t be accurate? You probably meant that they stay in school studying on their own after the classes are done for the day? Right? In Sweden the school day usually begin at 8.00 am and finish around 16.00. Of course you do have home works etc, but you usually do them at home. I feel so sorry for the Korean students right now. Should I or not? I must have missed something.

  4. Robyn Park

    I just started watching a new Korean drama called “School 2013″. It definitely sparked my interest in how the Korean school system works and how bullies are handled. I know it’s only television, but It’s almost heartbreaking to see how difficult it is to take control of not only bullying, but also issues like stress, competition, and reputation. Lots of school systems are suffering currently, especially here in the US, but it would be interesting to see how the Korean system addresses its myriad of problems.

  5. littleleek

    Hi there :D
    Many thanks for this great article!

    I found your site by pure hazard and I’m totally happy I did haha
    I’m currently working as a french language assistant in the UK, but plan to move to South Korea and work there after becoming a teacher.

    I am sure you guys are very busy, but do you have any tips on how to become a teacher in South Korea?

    Many thanks in advance :)

    Take care!

  6. Wow this post was really interesting, I thought I was well-informed about schooling in Korea but obviously not.

  7. thats crazy and really sad. :( will soon

  8. eb

    There actually are groups cropping up here and there to help support victims of school bullying and to help educate students about the effects of bullying.  Here’s some uplifting proof: http://tinyurl.com/bullyinginkorea

  9. Bullying does seem to be a very large problem…but with any problem with that kind of scope, it’s hard to tell even HOW to start to help. Talking about the issue enough to make it known, though, is certainly an amazing start. Way to go on the video! Sidenote: Nu’est came out with a song “Face” which is a story about bullying…I’d suggest that everyone votes for Simon and Martina to talk about it! I’d be awesome to have it out there with so many viewers!

  10. Bullying will never stop in Korea, as sad as it is. It’s not like in America where everyone is taking a stand. People in Korea care more about their image than they do about the person’s feelings.

  11. I know this is a late comment, but I’d like to share a little story that I experienced in Korea.
    I remember this one girl who always used to always wear pink dress in our class and pretty much she became a ‘wangdda’ as soon as everyone started to notice that she was one of the princess-y girls.This sounds terrible, but everyone went against her just because of that stereotype. There were 2 powerful girls who pretty much lead the entire class, and if you didn’t befriend them, or if they didn’t like your for what you wore, liked, or even stuff like academic results, they would pretty much devalue and bully you. And I mean verbally + physically, like throwing out your pencils in the bin or pushing/tripping you whenever you were in their sight.Everyone was so afraid of these two girls and it was terrible, because you just HAD to fit in with them to be the ‘cool’ people who were in their ‘safety zones’. Now that I think about it, I just feel so horrible, because I’ve experienced racial discrimination here in Australia, but to experience stereotypying from another Korean is just disgusting. Back then, I didn’t feel anything really. I just went with the flow. And I bloody regret it still.

    From these experiences, whenever I look at Korean shows with school bullying, I just think “Who the f*** made this stupid drama?” I know it’s fictional, but to actually act it out might actually trigger the bad memories of those who have actually experienced it in reality. I know some of them did for me.
    I think the problem is, most of these shows’ directors don’t know how to represent bullying as negative thing. Rather, the audience tend to pity the protagonists who are being victimised and these bullying scenes become entertainment or the climax of the show, not a message that should be taken seriously. This is with most dramas and TV shows I’ve watched – I’m sure there are ones that make it a serious issue, but the majority of the famous ones don’t portray it properly.

    Sorry for the huge rambling – I just wanted to say that Korea can be a f***ed up place to live in, if you land on the wrong school. But hey, every country is like that, except I find bullying in Korea more frequent than in Australia.

  12. kanika_Tamashii

    This makes me wonder. Does bullying ever occur outside of the high school age? Can adults be bullied as well? I’m still young and live in Canada so I haven’t really experienced that kind of thing at work yet, but it makes me wonder. If a student is labeled as Wang-dda throughout their high school careers, will it bleed out into their adulthood? How would adults treat workplace bullying?

  13. ah that sucks! at my school we have 5 counsellors for students of all ages to see 

  14. “eat your kimchi” is racist. these are pretty cool white people but like everybody who doesn’t experience racism, including the koreans reading or whoever from a homogeneouss society, they have no idea when something is racist. every american knows you don’t tell a mexican to “eat your beans” or a black person to “eat your watermelon”.  and you don’t do it to asians either because asians are degraded in the same way.  “eat your curry”. “eat your sushi”.   in no way do i think these guys are racist but just misinformed.  

    • chamber25

      But this blog is not targeted towards korean its targeted towards foreigners wanting to know more about korea.

    • You don’t understand the origins of the name of our site, “Eat Your Kimchi,” and so you’re very much misinformed about our site name stemming from Racism. If you’d like to know how we came up with the site name, view our interview with Arirang TV’s “Heart to Heart.” Otherwise, I’d ask you to, please, do your research first before you level such a severe accusation.

      Thanks :D

  15. queenmarsha

    I think the problem is that most South Korean students don’t know how to be independent or leaders in high school. It’s the lack of socialization and extracurricular activities. In the U.S., having a strong personality with a wide range of friends in school will often make for a great ally for the bullying victim.

    The school tells us not to fight back because it brings annoyance and chaos to authorities, but American parents often tell their kids to “Never start a fight, but always end it.” In South Korea, it’s seen as a vice because you always have to be thinking about the ‘group.’ But this is fallacious thinking. How can you think of other people when you cannot even take care of yourself? And I still think it’s unfortunate that standing out in the classroom is seen as a bad thing. This limits creative and independent thinking. Why suppress who you are just to please others? What kind of life is that? South Korea needs to evolve from being so dependent on the group to accepting its unique and independent citizens. I can only imagine how many talented geniuses in South Korea have been prevented from reaching their full potential just to appease the mindless masses.

    • wow. you’re completely misinformed about america.  bullying is rampant in america, just as much as it is in korea. except in korea, i don’t hear about mass killings from a bullying victim like cho seung hui or columbine.  whatever reasons kids get bullied in korea, add onto that institutionalized racism, extreme homophobia or fear of anything not considered “manly” and a cultural ideology that rewards physical and mental domination and you’ve got american bullying.  american kids are like wild animals compared to korean kids. this is not an exaggeration.  i actually believe korean society is much more civilized than american society. they’re not quite to japan’s level yet but it’s getting there.  

      you might find things wrong with the korean school system but don’t relate it to  bullying which happens everywhere.  and what you don’t seem to know is that korea is still a young country.  korea was a dirt poor country 40 years ago.  but just like americans did during its industrial revolution, koreans put their heads down, work, choose jobs that are practical and don’t value individuality as much as the group.  but just like every other country, after they have been developed for a while and can afford to sit back and look around, that is when  is koreans will have the chance to explore their individuality, become artists, musicians, whatever. 

      americans are known to be dumb.  the school system is obviously flawed here too.  the huge economy that america built, a good portion of it through exploitation of minorities and its own citizens, is stagnating while korea’s economy is considered a miracle and is like the 15th largest in the world despite being so small. education and innovation are the main drivers of growth in every economy. koreans must be doing something right.  don’t be so quick to judge other countries.  

  16. wow weird… I only school for 7 and half hours (7 to 2:30) and then every 2 days in a week we have extracurricular class like sports or foreign languages for 1 and half hours. School is from mon-fri. In my country we dont really have issues about bullying, it’s a pretty rare case actually. I myself never see bullying action in front of my eyes. It’s shocking to know bullying is exist in South Korea, it’s scary and inhuman. I hope government do something about this, this is a huge issue.
    Now thinking about it, if i ever marry a korean guy I dont want to raise my children there, who knows what will happen to my child?

    • Bullying exists in your country and your school. The fact that you never saw it just means you were never the victim and/or you weren’t paying that much attention. But I’d bet that bullying at your school made at least one person’s life hell.

  17. Lux magelet

    7Am to 11pm? Is this for elementary or high school students? How many classes are there in a day? How do those idols who are still in school have the time to be idols if they have schedules like that too? I just can’t imagine being in school for so long, I know in some Asian places they have regular school and then afterwards it’s clubs or prep classes (at another academy) but… do they do homework there too? Are teachers actually working for that long as well?

  18. This is our topic in my class room! and acutually it’s hard to deal with all the situation! but hank you guys! you help me with this info about Korea :)

    <3 Love Simon and Martina

  19. Anonymous

    You made it sound so much more horrible by explaining how school is like a second home.. UGh! bullying makes me so sad! but even more mad. I come from a culture where its acceptable to beat the snot out of a punk kid for being a Punk Kid(not the sub-culture, rather a snarky kid who is rude and disrespectful), so seeing bullying makes me really angry, Especially when rather than putting a stop to it people join in/pretend they don’t see. 

    Your scenarios sounded like they fell out of a movie… thats really sad… and horrible.. hopefully the rising generations will bring change with them. I read an article about suicide rates in Korea (apparently they are[or were] the highest), and it mentioned that seeking psychological help is really taboo in Korea, but slowly people are starting to realize that it’s not a bad thing. 

    so hopefully people will remember how they hated being a wangdda and discourage it. 
    I enjoyed this video, it was interesting

  20. In my school, backstabbing is very common. Someone actually made a Facebook profile just to spread gossip and lies about the students in our school.   A lot of those students who get humiliated by the Facebook profile get the “wang-dda” treatment. The teachers didn’t do anything about it. As a matter of fact, they even added that profile to their friends list!

  21. Anonymous

    I hope you guys were able to help the students who were being isolated. I always was, and still am, bullied, for many reasons that are too personal to go into here, but I never cared. The bullies didn’t matter much to me. They had their own issues most likely that made them bully others. But the one thing that always bothers me is that there are people who can stop it. And yet, most never do. It especially bothers me when it comes to the teachers. The always talk about speaking up, but when it came to the students, they never cared much to help the kids who were outcasted by the rest of the class. Even when there was cases of bullying blatantly happening right in front of them, in all my years of schooling, with 4-7 different teachers per year, only one ever spoke up about it. My fifth grade teacher. And to this day, she’s the best teacher I’ve ever had. Even if it does nothing to stop the bullying, teachers need to let the kid know they’re not alone. That’s the least they can do.

  22. I feel these problems could most definitely be solved if the teachers would lend out a helping hand.  My teacher realized i was having problems during my schooling days and actually gave me her phone number as well as her e-mail address.  My whole life changed by realizing i had atleast one person who i knew i could talk to. 

  23. I think that the thing that bothers me most about bullying is that the parents refuse to acknowledge that their kids are either causing the problem or that they have a problem.

  24. Mabuhay! from Manila. I may have experienced “wangdda” here in Manila…we didn’t have terms for it though. What I can say is that no matter how a person’s experience is as bullied, it only boils down to one: a mental suicide. Like you would ask if you did something wrong or if you don’t look right…..when actually it has nothing to do with what you did or not do. You know how in the movies they would say that kids are mean….I’m beginning to think they are, haha although maybe they don’t mean to….its all about social survival. Its weird now actually that one of my bullies then became my friend now. :)

  25. i’m from the philippines and i’ve got to say i’m really fortunate that here in the philippines bullying is not that prevalent. maybe because respect is something that schools here strictly teach.. and also, teachers here are not that -excuse me for the term ill be using- spineless like in the western countries and in korea. in short, teachers here are very powerful in school, and they will not tolerate bullying..
    although when i was in college i somehow experienced (with my bestfriends) being outcasted from the class during the last year of college. i think it also had been partly my fault, somewhat being a stand out and also being too straight forward, that sometimes i scold my classmates for their childish behaviours and everything.. so everyone was like outcasting me… but then fortunately this issue was resolved before we graduated.. this is somehow bullying in some sense, but not actually the bullying in that sense…(im not making sense right? haha)…

  26. 정확히 꿰 뚫어 보고 있네.  수많은 바보 같은 외국인들과는 다른 분들이구나.
    괜히 몇년동안 한국에 있었던게 아니구나 .
    멋져요 . 한국인들이 빨리 깨우쳐서 한교 교육이나 가정교육이 바껴야 할텐데 ..
    한국이 선진 마인드로 갈려면 제 생각에는 40~50년은 걸릴거 같아요 .
    아직은 겉으로만 으시대거나 그런척을 하는게 대부분이거든요 .ㅎㅎ

  27. Copying Error

    When I think of how I was bullied in Korea (I finished elementary school in Korea before moving to US) the people I’m bitterly angry at aren’t the bullies.  They are my teachers for turning the blind eye.  All this happened before the bullying problem escalated in Korea, so I can’t even imagine how bad it is for some of the kids now. 

  28. That is so sad but its good to know about it in case in the future I do end up going to teach in South Korea…thanks~ 

  29. aakkbb2 park

    폭력문제가 심각한 이유가있어.
    한국의 학교와 법은 가해학생들을 거의 처벌하지않아.
    기껏해야 훈방조치.

    There’s a serious problem because of violence.South Korea’s schools and students rarely applied law does not punish.At best, warning, action.

    16세 미만의 성범죄자는 감옥에 보내지도 못해

    Offenders under the age of 16, not be sent to prison.

  30. Anonymous

    Back when I was still in school somewhere in Malaysia, the school hours are about 6/7 hours or less.. We would have extra class if needed typically finish around 4pm or less..and we were like “teachers are torturing us!!” i’m shock to know Korean hours of study!

    I had experienced bully, and it shaped my personality in a bad way. I am still a loner and it’s hard for me to engage a conversation other than really close ones. The awareness of bully wasn’t there and all those time I thought I deserved it. Now that I know I was a victim, I wished I did something.

  31. So the students go back home at 11PM, and go to sleep, wake up at maybe 6AM and get ready for school. That’s only 7hrs of sleep. And when will they get the time to do their homework?

    • aakkbb2 park

      23:30 – home
      24:00 – 02:00 – studying, sukjae
      2:00 to 6:30 – Bedtime
      07:00 to 23:00 – Schools
                                   (17:00 toegyo –
                                    Permanent School 17:00 to 23:00)

  32. I can understand your situation there as well. I teach Korean kids here and although most of them are respectful to teachers, a lot are bullies as well. Sometimes it’s really hard when it comes to class management. I experienced being hit by a chair when I came in between two students fighting. Not a nice memory. :P

  33. I can understand your situation there as well. I teach Korean kids here and although most of them are respectful to teachers, a lot are bullies as well. Sometimes it’s really hard when it comes to class management. I experienced being hit by a chair when I came in between two students fighting. Not a nice memory. :P

  34. Mouth wide open!!! Wow. What a post. Well here in the US bullying is on the rise.. not like when I was a kid it was just minor childish jokes that last 2 days or so.. now we too are experiencing rapid suicide. I know that Lady Gaga really stands up for this issue too and we are trying to get it under control. I still plan to move and live there! <3 thats some K-love! :P

  35. Why hasn’t anyone tried to fix this before? You’d think that something that unpleasant would be at the top of everyone’s list of issues over there. I personally think that the lack of measures in place to help anyone who is a victim of such a thing is a major failing of the system.

  36. jericho98

    hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

  37. I think I should feel grateful for having attended a school that consisted of Army children when I was in Korea and other schools on military bases during my dad’s time in the Army. I was almost always surrounded by kids who were the same mix as myself, other mixes, and kids of all sorts of ethnicities. In fact, I wasn’t really quite sure what bullying or racism was until I started school in Chicago at the age of 7. What’s sad is that the bullying came from black students who didn’t appreciate me and my sister being “light skinned” and having long, natural hair. Racism within ethnic groups is such a big thing among African Americans, and I’ve always hated that that’s how I learned about this topic.

    I’m glad that attention is being brought to bullying in Korea, and I hope awareness continues to spread throughout the world and that change will come about it.

    • Yeah, what tipically happens in America is racism….

      • To be honest, that was pretty much the only time I felt people were being racist towards me in a harsh manner, and it was from people, basically, of my own ethnicity. But because I’m half Korean, they saw it as unusual or no different than other “light skinned blacks” which has a background dating back to slavery where “light skinned blacks” were treated better in society because they were usually mixed with white. We’re all aware of the racism that occurs between different ethnicities, but I don’t think people are fully aware that “racism within race” is very big too.

  38. akasha kanter

    Bullying has been a big problem and receiving a lot of focus in MN, USA lately.  I saw this article in today’s paper and thought of your video. http://www.startribune.com/politics/statelocal/138217529.html

    I teach in an elementary school in Jeollanam-do.  I was shocked by some of the bullying and by the play fighting, kids pounding the heck out of each other (boy- boy, boy-girl, girl-boy…) When I tried to stop it or challenge it my co-teachers responded that it is for the children to solve amongst themselves.  They said that adults don’t/ shouldn’t intervene. Some of my students here get walloped on a daily basis. 

  39. i wish peeople would’nt trry to belittle others (i know i was treated the same way), i guess people don’t think about how their words can hurt, i hope and pray that there will be a change someday

  40. irritablevowel

    Has anyone ever read the children’s book The Hundred Dresses?  I can’t stop thinking about it in relation to this topic.  It’s such a sad story, but it’s told from the viewpoint of one of the silent observers.  The kid who knows that what is happening is wrong, but is too afraid of retribution to do anything.  That book was written in the 1940’s, and is based on the author’s real life childhood experiences during World War 1 era America.  The book was actually an atonement of sorts. The funny thing is, if you don’t tell kids when it was written, they assume it’s in the present.  It’s often required reading in elementary schools, but I’ve always felt kids should have to read it again in middle school, then again in high school, just to keep reminding them that:
    1. It’s never okay to be an asshole. 
    2. Silence is the voice of complicity.

    • That was actually the first book I ever read that had more than one chapter, and I still have it! I really connected with it because I really related to Wanda, who had to live two lives, and feeling like she couldn’t connect with anyone. It’s a book that everyone should read, in my opinion, because it’s one of the few that shows the real side of school life, without being so lengthy that young kids are unable to understand it.

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