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!

  1. As a psychology student, I would hope that counselors and getting psychological help would be more accepted and embraced in South Korea, especially considering that, I think, it’s currently the country with the biggest suicide rates. I think while bullying is seen here in the states it’s not as, visibly at least, prevalent and perhaps not as bad, because there are many outlets in to which those who are victims of bullying can get help from. I was thinking of going to South Korea for grad school ( I believe there is one school in Seoul there where classes are in English) maybe I’ll think about it more seriously and go there and try to set up a hotline or something.  

    • Hi Samantha, I’m a fellow Psychology major too! You’d think that such services should be recognized around the world already, but it’s still not as developed in Asian countries. The culture as a whole, tends to internalize issues which makes it harder for students to even seek help. On the other hand, I love your idea of starting something at the community level to spread awareness!

      • There’s also your or your families reputation to uphold.  When you see someone for help it’s not seen as you going to seek help for your mental health (akin to going to a GP), rather it’s seen as you being a weak person or there being something wrong (abnormal, as my family in the Philippines would say) with you/your family.

        I’m bipolar and when I first went to see a psychiatrist to try to figure out whether it was clinical depression, bipolar disorder or just me, the Dr. asked me to try and find out if there was anyone with similar symptoms in the family history.  That was an easy thing to find out on my dads side of the family, but my mom, whose Filipino, didn’t even want to acknowledge that there was a problem in the first place, let alone trying to admit that I might have inherited it from her side of the family.  Even the fact that she’s a nurse really didn’t effect her long held habit of keeping a front that Asian cultures tend to have.

        Reputation comes before everything and with the brain, where it’s not really widely understood with the public or even acknowledged as being fallible, reputation will come before someones mental health in a lot of these cases.  If they want to make a dent in their suicide rates they have to understand that if a body gets hurt and its acceptable to go to a doctor it should be equally acceptable for someone to seek help when their thoughts are damaged.

        • I agree someone has to take a stand and not be afraid of what other people think. I blame the public and the Asain mentality of how they think, i love Asain people (Korea, Japan, etc) but i don’t agree with some of the things they do and this is an example.

  2. No wonder korean netizens are crazy.

    • We’ve been told that cyber bullying is a big part of the bullying cycle as well.

      • I would agree with that. At my old hagwon, I had one student who was so badly bullied on the net by other students that she left. They would leave really awful messages on her page etc. She just used to cry whenever she came to the school.

    • That’s a good point abt Korean netizens. Maybe the trolling is releasing pent-up frustration.

      • But even then, they shouldn’t be trolling others who they don’t even know nor did anything to them. By them harassing others they become equally guilty as their offenders. If they want to release some frustration, all they gotta do is punch a punching bag (or a wall, like a boss.) They could even using their experience to educate people and create prevention programs or hotlines.

    • I remember about twice there were times where bullying had started/gotten extremely out of hand. A few teachers spent the the whole class time addressing previous incidents where students would either commit suicide or went to school carrying a gun and shooting the person(s) antagonizing them.

      Maybe korean schools should also have a day addressing the issue with the same incidents from other countries.

  3. it’s so sad when you hear about bullying situations like this where people know it’s there but not enough is done about it. It really amplifies the whole korean culture influence of where there is this “hierarchy” of “rich/influential” people that can get away with a lot and not just in relations to school students but also in the work environment. In a lot of asian countries the idea of having a “certain image” or “having face” triumphs over what is morally right.. hopefully with the influence of western countries that are addressing bullying as a problem, korea will make a change to this issue.

  4. In Canada, I myself have had some REEEEEAAAALLY bad experiences with bullying.  Like, really bad.  But the principle at my school would only TALK about things she’ll do to help and honestly nothing ever changed.  I ended up having to wang-da myself just to survive the taunting.  I think that since Korean students spend so much time in school, the school system should step up and adress the issue instead of concentrating on reutation and stuff.  If bullying is really bad in North America WITH initiatives (and we really aren’t in school that much), I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for a student who practically lives at school where there is no initiative.

  5. So the whole “BULLY ONE STUDENT” thing from BOF was real……hm….. that’s kinda sad.
    And then the teacher tries to be helpful, and then the teacher also becomes a victim.
    FUDGE to that.

    • But the BOF drama thing was extremely exaggerated because the teachers were super cowards that pretended things didn’t happen due to money bribes from the rich families.  If any teacher caught what was happening to Jandi in REAL LIF, they would call the cops and/or run down to break it up. Teachers in Korea always make an effort to break up fighting, the questions is if they SEE it happening. 

  6. bullying is such a sad topic.. not just in S.korea.. I have seen people beeing outcasted and was so myself so i can say it  is pretty hard to do something against it.. my teachers just ignored it because they would rather give attention to the trobelmakers than to the victim…what I was pretty shocked about that even schooltransfers wouldn’t stop it… reputation sure is scary…

  7. I’m not surprised to hear that there aren’t guidance counselors in the schools. What I have learned is that the East Asian countries handle mental needs differently then North America. 

  8. this is just sad , do they just pick someone randomly to pick on?

  9. yea…i know that this is a hot topic in korea but i expected that the bullying will be strictly monitored…..its kinda sad…..T.T dont the teacherzs give some puneshments to the students to realise that this is horrable??? something like push ups or a hit ( in korea hitting students is allowed…:( ) ?????? i hope that tey will make a blog or a phone line where students/ people can share thair bulling experiences and can take advice !!!!!!!

  10. I liked this very much. I was really shocked when I read the students in S.korea have school from 7AM to 11 Pm! they really are som fighters. Impressive to put up with that. 

  11. I guess what people find surprising is the reasons that the bullying starts, i guess?
    Cause I remember watching an episode of Happy Together with Lee Hyori, and she actually said that older girls would pull her hair and hit her cause she was pretty and the others agreed that it was common.

    • I had an assignment for one of my classes where I wanted them to rant about whatever was bothering them.  They were to write it in essay form and only I would see it.  A lot of the frustrations were centered around some girl or guy who was very beautiful and they were very jealous.  Or their parents and their grades.

      It’s very weird.  If you’re very attractive or considered attractive, you either get ostracized and bullied or you’re loved and put on a pedestal.  There’s no middle ground and it’s extreme on both ends.

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