Multicultural society hits bullying roadblock in Korea

Four out of five foreign teenagers in South Korea do not attend school because of harassment and bullying.

By Nicholas Nehamas

Multiculturalism isn’t an easy sell.

In South Korea, an American teacher says her students routinely bully another pupil, one of whose parents is Japanese.

“If we passed a ball around in a circle, it would stop with him, and no one wanted to touch the ball after him. They’d run and get paper towels so that the ball he touched wouldn’t touch them directly,” the 23-year-old teacher at a Seoul school told The Korea Herald.

Relatives mourn a victim of Korea’s most notorious bullying incident. In 2005, a soldier who had been bullied repeatedly threw a hand grenade into his comrades’ barrack and then opened fire, killing eight others. (Reuters)

The teacher’s Korean colleagues had no problem with the other children’s behavior, she said. Statistics describe how that attitude is pervasive throughout the Asian country.

Korea is becoming more and more multicultural, according to the Herald. “From 2008 to 2011,” it writes, “the number of foreigners married to Koreans increased by almost 50 percent and the number of children from multicultural backgrounds aged 6 to 18 more than tripled.”

But diversity doesn’t necessarily result in acceptance. Forty-two percent of students from multicultural families said their classmates had bullied them in a 2010 study conducted by a human rights organization.

Furthermore, another study found that an astonishing four out of five foreign teenagers in South Korea do not attend school because of harassment and bullying.

“Despite multicultural families being on a steep rise in Korean society, the perception of Koreans toward them has not caught up yet. Koreans do not accept them as real Koreans,” Yoon Pyung-joong, a philosophy professor at Hanshin University, told the Herald. “We are now living in a global society. People should expand the concept of what makes a Korean.”

Korea, of course, isn’t the only nation with a bullying or racism problem. In Britain, the government recorded almost 88,000 incidents of race-based bullying in schools between 2007-20011. And in the United States, Asian-Americans report being bullied at a significantly higher rate than any other ethnic group. That’s led to high profile incidents like the suicide of Pfc. Danny Chen in Afghanistan in October of 2011. Chen’s family claims his fellow soldiers bullied and taunted him almost every day for being Asian.

You can visit our Bullying Topic Hub for more stories on bullying from around the world.

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