“My client does not hire Irish people due to the alcoholism nature of your kind.” This is the email response Katie Mulrennan, an Irish woman working in Seoul, Korea, received last week after applying for an English teaching job.
The email quickly went viral, and the story was picked up by international media. Katie spoke to The Hook about her experience, and about the not-so-subtle racism that pervades Korean society.
“I’m smiling now,” said Katie, “But when I saw the mail I was really annoyed, it was tough to read.”
At the time Katie was desperate to find a job. She had spent weeks searching with little success. It was only when her friends pointed out exactly how unfair the response was that she decided to make it public.
Katie originally moved to Korea to leave behind poor employment prospects in Ireland. She applied for this particular job with two years teaching experience in Seoul, a year in Abu-Dhabi, and a Major in English from the University of Limerick.
Sometimes though, qualifications alone aren’t enough.
“It really is quite racist,” she said. “They want a well-spoken, non-drinking, Christian, North American teaching in these schools.” When Katie first came to Seoul, a Korean friend of hers had told her to speak with an American accent to increase her chances of finding work.
The school’s response brings to mind the “No Irish need apply” signs that were apparently a common sight in 19th Century America.
This attitude gets to Katie. “If they could meet me in person and see me at work they would realize how professional I am,” she said.
“No blacks wanted. Attractive teachers only. You see this kind of thing on job posts here all the time, I know a lot of Africans here and they are definitely treated like second-class citizens.” For Katie, her own experience is just one example of an endemic racism in Korean society.
Discrimination in Korea has been recognized by the UN, who urged the state last month to enact a wide-ranging anti-discrimination law to counter incidents like these.
Examples of these incidents are easy to come by. There’s the bar is Seoul’s Itaewon district that came under fire in August for refusing to admit Africans in light of the West African ebola outbreak.
Then there’s the public bath house where Soojin Goo was denied entry in 2011. Goo is a Korean citizen but was born in Uzbekistan. The management of the bath house barred her because she was a foreigner, and caused “fear of contracting AIDS” among regular patrons.
Now, Katie hopes that the publicity around her own story can inspire some change. She told The Hook how she has received countless messages from Koreans apologizing for the attitudes of some of their countrymen, and has since found another job.
“I just hope the playing field levels out for Irish people,” she said.
And when asked about how she would respond to a similar email if it happened again, she laughs and says “I’d probably invite them out for a drink.”