Friday, March 28, 2008

The E-2 Interview

The mandatory E-2 interview is a new part of the Korean E-2 (i.e Teaching English) visa process. The new regulations came into effect shortly after the great pedophile scandal of 2007 in which Christopher Paul Neil, a Canadian national and target of a international pedophile manhunt, was arrested for sexually assaulting a nine-year-old boy in Thailand. Shockingly enough, before living in Thailand, Neil was working as an English teacher Gwangju at the Gwangju Foreign School.

But after roughly 3 months in to the process, it's still fair to say that the regulations have done nothing but increase criticism of Korea's TEFL hiring process and many ex-pat commentators view this a classic case of a knee jerk reaction leading to poor policing making. The new rules are doing more harm than good to Korea's ESL industry; the simple matter is they simultaneously fail to stop more Christopher Paul Neils and deter qualified teachers from considering Korea.

The thing that I'm finding the most useless about the process is the interview. From the initial stories coming in it seems like they are beyond wasteful and border on insulting. Even way back in November, a Korea Herald article voiced some initial concerns:

There are concerns about the logistics of the consulate interview part of the plan. "It's about time they had criminal record checks, and the health check is a good idea," says Tricia Elliot, a teacher at a private institute in Seoul. "But this interview at the consulate is a bit overboard because it cuts out a lot of people from smaller areas of large countries.

"A lot of the Canadians who work as teachers are from the East coast and the nearest consulate is in Montreal," she explained. "That's really far away, and impossible for most people to get to on short notice for an interview that doesn't guarantee a job."
So at first it seems like nobody really thought of mandatory interviews in a country that has 3 consulate and 6 timezones. But is the Korea government that short-cited to force mandatory travel on distances that are five times the journey from Mokpo to Seoul? This wouldn't be the first time that I've come across this phenomenon. I've talk to friends and family from Japan, England, and other small countries and they don't quite grasp the shear magnitude of Canada's landmass. Of course they all think that Canada is mainly a permafrost country where we eat baby seal eyes for breakfast, live in igloos, and our policemen have yet to discover car technology. But I digress; consider this quick map mock-up:

View Larger Map

Basically the distances involved for some people are equivalent to asking people to travel to and from Japan, China, Russian and even Taiwan. And it seems like still there's a lot of confusion about these interviews; for example you can submit an Introductory CD if you're in the jurisdiction of the Vancouver Consulate (but live outside of BC) and a rumored telephone interview if you're in Montreal Consulate's jurisdiction. But if you're in Northern Manitoba it looks like you're out of luck; I couldn't find anything about a compromise on the Toronto Consulate's website.

Geographical and logistic ignorance aside, the actual interview itself comes across as shear stupidity. At first it seemed normal:
1) Where will you be employed?
2) Do you enjoy working with children?
3) What is your educational background?, transcripts were reviewed and discussed with interviewer.
4) Why do you want to work in Korea?
5) What is your teaching philosophy?
6) If you weren't going to teach in Korea, what would you be doing?
7) Do you smoke?
8) Cool Have you done drugs in the past?
9) Have you ever broken the law?
10) How long do you want to stay in Korea?
But then there's the other stories, like in a comment over at the Marmot's Hole:
I just spoke with two Canadians who arrived in Korea this evening, fresh off the boat. They’d done the whole rigmarole: Degree double-checking, background checking and even an interview at the Korean Embassy in Montreal. Apparently, the interview involved a guy who “barely spoke English” asking them where they went to school, then checking on the school’s existence. Then it got weird. One girl was asked how many high schools there were on Prince Edward Island. She was also asked if she’d heard anything about teachers working in China and Japan, and what her feelings about Japan were. The other, who’s got a degree in Psychology, was asked to “Please psychoanalyze me [the Korean interviewer].”
I don't know if you can put that much weight with one comment but there's more, like over at Cows by the Fence
My name was written Zauhory, good times. The diplomat asked me my name, where I was from, my educational background, and my opinion of the Spitzer affair. The whole process took less than five minutes to do. Then I had to hop the bus home which was another four hours out of my day. Eight hours on a bus for a five minute interview?
And at ESL Daily:
"The interview was HILARIOUS. He asked: 1) Where my last name came from 2) About my experience in my two years in Daejeon 3) My possible long-term plans in Korea and 4) Was surprised and delightedly commented on the little Hangul I wrote on my visa application. It was less than 10 minutes. [After] a $45 fee, another week [delay] and today I FINALLY HAVE MY PASSPORT WITH MY E2 VISA IN IT."
And at Tree Top Chatter:
A few minutes later, probably an hour ahead of my 3 PM appointment time, I was called back for my interview. Behind a tiny table wedged into a corner of some forgotten area of the office was a Korean man in a bad gray suit. He seemed pleasant enough. He asked me a few questions about why I wanted to come to Korea, what I knew about Korea, and what I had studied in school. He made a few notes on the visa form I filled out, and I mentioned that I had left some things blank, but he said, “Don’t worry about it.” I’m pretty sure I would've flunked the interview if I was being scored on it. It lasted five minutes, and he said, “Thank you, there is the door.” I stood, bowed slightly, thanked him, and left.

Then I drove home in inclement, snowy weather, another 3 hours. My total time spent in Chicago was probably an hour and a half. Thankfully I know the city pretty well so it wasn't as big a deal as it could've been if I was unfamiliar with driving around in Chicago.
And at Alia in Korea:
I was forced to drive to my "local" Korean consulate where I had mailed the application materials to complete an interview with the consul to determine my eligbility. This meant taking three hours to drive to Newton, Mass. for a ten-minute interview and driving all the way back. Had I known this (and they could have told me when I called and asked a bunch of questions about the visa process), I would have scheduled the interview and brought in my application at that time, instead of paying FedEx to overnight the docs. What a hassle. I went, though, and got even more angry that all the consul asked me was already written on my application, plus the question about why I want to teach in Korea, all of which could have been done over the phone (they refused a phone interview).
And one more, at Uncertainty can be happiness, just for good measure:
I wasn't sure what kind of questions to expect when I went there, and the interview was more of a getting to know you type conversation then a formal interview. I did the get ones I expected, such as: How long do you want to stay in Korea? If given a situation A as a teacher, what would you do? Where do you want to be in Korea? What subjects have you taught?

The last one was amusing; the interviewer stopped me in the middle of my answer to say that this question was more for his own sake than as a part of the interview, as his son needed help in AP Chemistry (which is one of the subjects I am currently tutoring). And no, he didn't offer me a tutoring job for his son.

At the end of the interview, he also mentioned that being a Korean-American will work in my favor in the decision making and more than offset my lack of any teaching certifications.
I've probably copied and pasted enough examples to make my point but I really appreciate this last example. If I'm reading this right, then a member of the Korean consulate just said that ethnic origins also play a factor in the visa application process. Does that mean that belonging to some other demographic will be detrimental? That's a policy that hasn't backfire:
South Korean police have arrested a Korean-American man wanted by the FBI for first-degree murder. The suspect had fled the U.S. to South Korea 10 years ago and had been teaching English in private language institutes until he was captured.

The Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency on Wednesday said it had arrested a 31-year-old Korean-American man identified as Nam on charges of killing a retired American policeman in the U.S.


Nam was finally arrested on Tuesday. He had been teaching at a private English-language institute in Toechon, Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province for two months.

Over the past decade, Nam had moved from one English-language crammer to another in Seoul, and Gyeonggi, Jeolla and Gyeongsang provinces, working two or three months at each institute. A South Korean court will rule on his extradition.
Now I doubt that was the true intention of the comment; I would vote for properly trained Korean-anything as a teacher but the consulate interview by the government's own admission is about security, not teaching qualifications.

So the policies, the logic, and even the implementation behind these interviews belongs to some understanding that eludes most westerners. Maybe the real reason behind the mandatory interviews is to physically examine the candidates and somehow spot the eugenically bad seed since its obvious that the questions do nothing to filter out the potential Christopher Paul Neil, or, to finish on a big rhetorical twist, the next Seung Hui Choi.


Brian said...

Really good post here. Like I said, I really really really hope I don't have to go through all that.

Sorry, off topic, but do you know what local buses will go from the Mokpo Bus Terminal to Yudalsan? Looking to go to the festival on the 12th or 13th.

Anonymous said...

I would be interested to know of any Newspaper links to the extra requirements for teaching in Korea, such as a police check,an interview etc., as being ascribed to the fact that Christopher Paul Neil was a teacher at Gwangju Foreign School.

I have looked high and low for an official statement about this. If you know of any would appreciate your listing the reference.

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