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It is to Flunk

I was grading a stack of student assignments — specifically, feedback on readings, which I make them do on the theory that it helps them prepare for discussions of the texts — when I ran across a particularly saddening passage in response to “The Multiculture,” an essay about Torontonian multiculturalism, which I’ll only paraphrase here:

If I were a Torontonian, I would look at foreigners in two ways. In one way, I’d see them as invaders, because they would be speaking foreign languages and bringing foreign customs to my land. But I would also see them as bringing new life into my country, just like in Korea, where I can see so many Japanese signs in some neighborhoods, because of Japanese tourists. It makes me feel like I’m in another country. On the other hand, immigrants are developing the country because they’re making a living and having a better life after they flunked in their homeland.

And yeah, the emphasis is mine.

Here’s what my response was to that little bit of the sentence:

Why do you assume this? Do you assume all foreigners in Korea came here after “flunking” in their home country? Is “flunking” the only reason people would ever have to go abroad, and do you really think the only people attracted to Korea — the only people who would ever actually choose to live here — are those who “flunked” in their homelands? What an insult to your country!

It’s a quite sad and perplexing self-contradiction, this: so often people who say they love their country and are proud of it, also speak of it in this subtly disparaging way.

I know, I know; arguably, it’s the idea that nobody would actually choose to emigrate at all (to anywhere including Korea), rather than the idea that Korea’s a bad place to which to emigrate, that underlies her sentence. Arguably, but I’ve seen this sentiment expressed so many times, in so many ways, and more often than not the sense I get really is, “Why would anyone who was actually skilled or intelligent move here?”

The myth of how all expats in Korea were once Wal-Mart/McDonald’s/Burger King employees (not to mention unemployed, AIDS-ridden, drug-addicted pedophiles) is so widespread and deeply ingrained now that a law (which has immensely complicated immigration to Korea, not that this is a bad thing) was passed on the basis of one case of a Canadian pedophile with no criminal record.

(And yes, I do believe the Myth was the real foundation of the law, not the case of Chris Neil. Otherwise, why suddenly test all incoming E-2 visa applicants for AIDS (but not for other health conditions — I mean, testing for HIV might be fine but on its own it says something pretty weird) and why try to implement a test for THC, as was originally suggested but later abandoned?)

I’m not saying freaks don’t emigrate to Korea. (They do, in large numbers, mainly because emigration to Korea remains relatively easy compared to lots of places, and because any dolt with a BA and white skin can get an English-teaching gig.)

What I’m saying is that there is, it seems to me, a link between the myth that all foreigners in Korea came because they were losers in their homeland, and the self-image of Korean society. Or am I wrong? Do French, Chinese, and American citizens go around assuming that the only people who ever want to emigrate to their country are losers or idiots? Even Canadians, plagued by an inferiority complex all their own, don’t tend (in my experience) to assume that!

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