After teaching in Korea for two years, UC Irvine political science graduate student Andrea Vandom was told that all foreign English teachers needed to get tested for drugs and HIV or she would lose her job. A court case in the Constitutional Court of Korea ensued that is pending resolution as well as a curious connection with a racist organization and the city of Irvine itself.
Vandom had been teaching English in Anseong, a city in South Korea when all E2 visa holders were suddenly ordered to be tested.
“Various other groups had been tested up until that point,” Vandom said, “such as sexual entertainers.”
In addition to the feeling of being isolated from her peers and unnecessarily tested, the testing itself concerned Vandom as well.
“It is degrading. When we take AIDS tests, we do it to care for each other, for detection and prevention,” Vandom said. “These days people can live healthy and productive lives if they are diagnosed and get treatment, but these tests aren’t about that. They are designed to stigmatize and banish.”
Vandom was not the only English teacher who stood up to the testing. Another teacher who taught at a Korean elementary school, an instructor named Lisa who wished not to use her last name, also declined to be tested, and was fired from her job and forced to move back to the United States.
Much of this need to be tested originated in fears caused by Christopher Paul Neil, an English teacher who had worked in both South Korea and Thailand and was arrested in 2007 and convicted of child molestation.
Many xenophobic organizations in Korea played off of this fear.
One such organization was known as the “Anti-English Spectrum” (AES), a group based in Korea with around 17,000 members who spread racist information in public locations like subway stations as well as online.
According to the Anti-English Spectrum Web site, some of the online examples of racist propaganda included phrases like “90 percent of white men in Korea are villainous human garbage.” Other examples targeted Korean women, calling them “White Man Groupies” and claiming that any Korean woman engaged in a relationship with a white man was “betraying Korea.”
The majority of the Anti-English Spectrum is composed of Korean men and most of the hate towards foreigners, Vandom said, was due to the fear of “white men taking their women.”
But when Vandom and her lawyer Ben Wagner, professor of law at Kyunghee University Law School continued to research the organization, their studies took an interesting turn.
According to a presentation Wagner prepared for the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, AES has an online “Internet café” where its members voice their opinions and encourage fear and hatred of foreigners. This online café is hosted by the most popular search engine in South Korea, called NAVER.
NAVER is owned by a corporation called NHN, a company also associated with internet gaming.
NHN has a few bases around the world, including China and Japan. It also has a base in the United States. In Irvine.
When asked about its racist affiliations, the NHN Corporation in Irvine stated that they were simply a gaming company and had nothing to do with the search engine NAVER.
Despite this claim, Vandom wrote a letter to NHN, stating her grievances with the company and pleading them to disallow the hate speech posted on the Anti-English Spectrum internet café.
“This would be like Google hosting a place for the [Ku Klux Klan] to meet and discuss their racist ideas,” Vandom said.
Her letter specifically advocated the removal of content that claims that “foreigners are targeting Korean children in order to sexually molest them,” that spreads rumors of foreigners who “infect Koreans with AIDS,” that contains “racially derogatory images and messages,” that involves “vigilante activities such as the tracking of any persons,” and that targets interracial couples.
“AES is not a reflection of Korean culture. Koreans are kind and generous. It is upsetting that a group such as AES could potentially diminish these qualities,” Vandom said.