The color of English

Yellow is the new black. Now don’t get excited. Titles are supposed to grab your attention. All this discrimination against the Chinese certainly has. . .

I didn’t really think about it until now. You know, I was aware that teaching English in an Asian country might be tricky because of my ethnicity. And I even asked the question before I moved to Thailand to the school I was attending for my TESOL certificate. Do you think I will be discriminated against? Will I have a hard time finding a job? But until you are in the fight you don’t know what it feels like to be punched until it happens.

My friend in Bangkok who graduated from the same TESOL course complained, “Don’t you think it’s interesting that everyone else from the course found a job but us? Do you know how many times I have applied to schools? They don’t want me or you because we’re Asian. We’re Americans but were Asian.”

I listened with mixed feelings. I thought it will be different for me. I have teaching experience and I’ll have a better attitude. Now to be fair, I have been picky and I live in a town that is coveted and teeming with expats. If I was willing to move anywhere something could have come up but I’m not desperate. I know what it’s like to teach. Teaching is hard work and I wanted to be in a place that I really enjoyed.

But once I decided that I was going to leave Thailand and look for teaching gigs in other countries I discovered Thailand wasn’t the only place. Now I had heard a little bit about immigrant Chinese being discriminated against in Australia and New Zealand because they have an open door policy for foreigners. Apparently they need citizens because everyone is leaving and no one is having children. They just don’t like the ones coming in.

So my research brought me to articles on Russia, Indonesia, China and Korea. In Russia they are killing the Chinese and I have a first hand account from a friend who travelled to Russia with a Korean who was refused admittance into places like clubs. When I read forums I inevitably crossed the path of someone complaining about how Asians who speak English as their first language can’t teach English in Asian countries. Singaporeans have this problem as well.

It’s weird but my friend who is ethnically Japanese is teaching in Okinawa. I know the JET program hires many people from Hawaii. So it’s not like it’s impossible. I also read a very positive experience here. It’s just all this research is raising my eyebrows a bit.

It’s the equivalent of wanting to be taught Judo by a Japanese person or Muay Thai by you guessed it, a native Thai. Or learning Spanish from a bona fide Spaniard. I understand. I also know, at least in Thailand, that there is special status surrounding being taught English by a Caucasian male. Females hold second place except in the case of working with young children.

Of course, it’s kind of amusing because it’s a numbers game. There are many many many Asians being raised in English speaking countries. Sooner or later Asian countries will have to accept people like me.

Why do we assume that expats are white? Why do we assume that teachers of English have to be white?

I don’t want to lay all of these table scraps at your feet, I know that we are masters of our own domain (and I’m not talking about in a Seinfeld kind of way). I know there are those who are fighting the dark fight and somewhere a little Asian’s head is exploding under the astonishment of hearing an Asian speak perfect English. I know, I know. Folks stare at me all the time. I’m not trying to be a drag but when you start researching something and that something leads to another something. You can’t help but wonder how much this something has effected you or will effect you or like a lot of information, if you were better off not knowing something at all.

I’ll leave you with this. I laughed when my friend told me this: overheard in the songtaew (taxi truck) after I left, “She spoke really good English.” Why yes, yes I do. Thank you.

2 thoughts on “The color of English

  1. Awesome blog!

    Like you, Im an Asian American. (actually half korean half black). In doing my research to come try and teach English in Chiang Mai, I found your blog. The people I have talked to and the forums I have all visited all say the same thing, “You cant find a job teaching English in Asia if your Asian.”

    Reading your blog gives me some hope I’ll be able to find a job if I’m patient and am wiling to look around and network. Im doing an online certification now, have a college degree, but no teaching experience 😦

    Do you have any tips or advice (or even warnings)for a fellow asian looking to get employed? (I’ve been told it will be easier to gain employment in Central or South America, but I want to come to Asia)

    Like

    1. Hi Adam,

      I’m glad you found me. You might have noticed it’s been a long time since I wrote this post. Since then, I moved to Ecuador where it was easier to find work and moved back, because I love Thailand.

      I don’t think you’ll have too much trouble because I found work. One of my co-workers is Filipino American and we also had a teacher who was Nepalese…

      Many more AAs are coming to CM and traveling so I think you can do it. Korea is also very popular in Thailand so you should play that up.

      I think Korea, Taiwan and Japan will also be much more progressive hiring a non-white. I’ve been keeping my eye on Vietnam but I don’t know how folks like us would be treated. China – the same.

      Don’t worry about teaching experience. Your degree and cert should be enough. Don’t listen to others. I’m glad I didn’t because eventually I found great work.

      Good luck!

      Like

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