The Gold Rush

Korea has been one of the most xenophobic places on the planet, only reluctantly allowing those things tainted by the outside world within its boundary. Nineteen-ninety four changed all that. In that year a mysterious force altered millennia of cultural practice; white-faced English teachers became mandatory at all universities. In fact, it’s not so mysterious. For decades, a similar policy had been in practice in that nearby country – Japan. And like that old saying goes ” As Koreans see Japanese do, so Koreans also do”.

Overnight Korean universities needed thousands of foreign teachers. This vacuum sucking in the graduates of Western universities was a gold rush, the likes of which the planet had never seen and perhaps never will again. To be fair, even before then thousands of native speakers had been employed teaching Koreans foreign languages. Without the Gold Rush there had still been plenty of money to be made. What the Gold Rush did was to put the whole English teaching game into a new dimension. Now, in a country that cherished learning and scholarship, there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different coloured faces bearing the name cards of the finest universities in the land, many with that honored title “professor” emblazoned upon it.

It was a gold rush because good wasn’t what mattered. There were suddenly so many jobs that competence, experience, or ability paled next to important factors, such as where you were standing. It was a crap shoot, a lottery, Russian Roulette. If you had a foreign passport and a master’s degree from a Western university you were in. Missing a job was like getting hit by lightening.

And just about anybody did get in. Sucked in by a black hole they came. From all over the English-speaking world, in they spilled. Fired from their jobs as security guards at the local shopping mall, released from jail or the local asylum, sporting their graduate diplomas from Northeastern Western Southern Mississippi State Christian University they sent off their resumes and didn’t even wait for an answer to get on the plane and head for that pit full of cash.

It was a gold rush because for that lucky person, it was like a license to print money. There was more cash than you could spend. Tailored clothes, never-ending drinking parties, trips overseas every 2 or 3 months, were not enough to even dent the pile of gold they threw at you.

But the best part was the babes. For some smuck, who’d never dated anyone even remotely attractive, it was paradise. Beautiful, willing girls who thought you were special. For some dork fresh off the burger grill, the old Korea held the promise of merely teaching kindergarten. When the Gold Rush hit, they were transformed. Those Korean babes, all dolled up like models, who had hidden their foreign liaisons with the utmost of secrecy, suddenly realized the wisdom of their forbidden choice. Against the name card of a major university, dad, horrified by the thought of a pale-faced son-in-law, was reduced to speechlessness. After all, what could he say to a –hushhhhh – a professor.

But there was more, much more. The local English newspapers had yet to plug into the outside world. They were eager to publish the work of those talented writers fresh from the stock room. Many a frustrated journalist now had a forum ready to swallow the swill failed by even the most liberal of grade 10 English teachers. And instantly, the make-believe world of Korea had its own celebrities.

Korea became the home of Steves and Bobs, despised and unemployed at home, but in Korea teleported, as if by magic, into a world of respect and prestige. They carried that coveted title of professor, dated a gorgeous Korean babe whose photo created envy back home, made enormous salaries, and walked the streets with the utmost of respect.

And it was so easy to believe. To believe that you were the rich, refined visiting professor at a leading university because of some skill, some talent, some ability that no one at home appreciated. Certainly everyone on the sidelines cooperated. The students, your friends, the people in the stores were all so eager to play along. All it took to reduce a Korean from a frothing xenophobic racist was to say that you were no mere English teacher. No, no you were in fact a – hushhhhh – a professor.

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