Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Banana Split: This Darn Face of Mine!

As previously (and rather obviously) established, I'm ethnically Asian.

I'm okay with my face. It's gotten me through 30 years of my life and hey, no complaints so far! In fact, I'm more than just okay with my face! I'm proud of it!

Unfortunately, trying to find an English teaching job in Hong Kong and looking Asian...well, let's just say, looking the way I do just ain't helping.

Based on some stories I've heard, it's been my sneaking suspicion that I've been having trouble finding a job because Asian parents do not want to have their children taught English by an Asian looking teacher, even if that Asian looking teacher happens to be American, fluent in English, TEFL certified AND has experience with children.

See? Kids LIKE me!

Casting my doubts aside and not wanting to be too pessimistic, I plugged away with sending out my resume and credentials to schools looking for "immediate hires" and had "open vacancies now". I received many positive responses to my job inquiries but as soon as I send the schools a recent photograph (as requested), STONE WALL.  ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. At best, I receive an automated email thanking me for my interest and that they would contact me should anything open up. Yes, these are for the very same immediate hires and open vacancies that they had just advertised days before.

After talking to a friend in Hong Kong, I was told "that my being Asian-looking is a big negative in people's eyes here. Fundamentally, the locals are racist and don't want an Asian person (no matter how American they actually might be) teaching their kids English." Then it was suggested that I accept the fact that I will need to be persistent and understand that I will not get the same level of pay as white people will. 

This is completely frustrating and infuriating! I have to accept that I will get paid LESS for a position I am qualified and experienced in, and in favor for someone who may not have the same credentials and experience but has blond hair and blue eyes???

Racism or not, that just doesn't make any sense to me!

It doesn't matter that I speak native English. It doesn't matter that I am already TEFL certified. It doesn't matter that I have a load of experience working with children. It doesn't matter that I'm a good teacher either. None of it matters because I look Asian.

Wow, I feel like human equality just went back several decades... 

What's an Asian-looking girl to do beside keep positive, continue looking and hope for the best? And perhaps rethink her career choice in Hong Kong? That could be a fun challenge! Career change!

© Connie Hum 2011


  1. That really sucks!! When I was growing up in Indonesia having a westerner as an English tutor was (and maybe is) like the coolest thing. Parents would brag. Nevermind that the tutor is a high school drop out who didn't know his 'its' from 'it's'.

    Don't really have any advice for you since I don't know what it's like there in Hong Kong... but hopefully it will all work out.

  2. @Jill - Jack and Jill Travel The World So true. There is definitely a fascination with Westerners in Asian society. I just think it's too bad because then you have a lot of people trying to learn English from people who may not necessarily be able to teach it. I'm sure it'll work out eventually. I just need to stay positive. Thanks for the good vibes, I definitely need it!

  3. Wow, Connie. It appears racism and snobbery are alive and well in Hong Kong - something that somehow I'm sure you'll rise above! We all visit new places to learn new things and as you've just demonstrated; the new things are not always nice!

  4. @Julia Yes, I think sometimes travelers can get too wrapped up in the excitement and forget that not everywhere is safe/nice. Thanks, I'm sure I'll rise above this as well!

  5. WTF? Wow, ummm I would think the only factor that parents would care about would be the fact that you, you know, speak English fluently? Sorry, I hoop you find someone with an open mind!

  6. @Scott That makes sense, right? Shockingly, that's not what the parents here think. I'm sure I'll find something soon! Thanks!

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  8. @Dan.Eliot A new reader! Hi Dan, welcome to my blog! Thanks for the employment tips, but I think you missed the point of my post. And I'm in no way suggesting I'm too good for another type of job. The post is about the racism and inequality I'm facing in finding this particular type of job, which is based purely on my ethnicity and appearance. And don't you worry, I'm already proud of all my accomplishments. You should check out my other posts to get to know me a little better. Thanks!

  9. Oh man, that really sucks..I had no idea that there was this stigma over here, particularly since you are applying as a completely native English speaker. Are you applying over there, where you can go in person, or from abroad? Perhaps if you go and put yourself in front of them? Good luck with the job hunt!

  10. @Shannon O'Donnell I am currently in Hong Kong and applying through email. I did go in for an interview my first week of applying (they hadn't seen my photo yet), and even though I think I answered their questions and inquiries rather well, I haven't heard back from them since. Oh well, their loss! I'll keep hunting until something right comes along.

  11. Connie, I think it's time to go blonde

  12. Brian Tully (Hey Connie!)February 9, 2011 at 9:20 AM

    Maybe I should apply! I'm white and VERY American. I'm also ignorant of other cultures. So I'm a shoe in right?

    But seriously, that seems like such an illogical selection process. I'm sorry to hear about your troubles. I wish you luck Ms. Hum!

  13. @Juan JUAN!!! Going blonde would be easy, but what do I do about my eyes???

    @Brian Tully (Hey Connie!) Honestly, I'm tempted to just fake a bad resume with no credentials, stick Matt's photo on it and see what kind of results we get. But thanks for the luck, Brian Tully! And by the way, I LOVE that your blogger name is "Brian Tully (Hey Connie!)"

  14. To reiterate what Shannon O' Donnell said - That sucks. You're stuck in that weird in-between where you're not Asian enough to be considered Asian and not American enough to be considered American.

    I'll be curious to see what you end up doing in Hong Kong. Maybe you can offer private English lessons?

  15. @Stephanie (swdcfan) That's EXACTLY what my "Banana Split" blog series is about! That crazy, messy in-between spot I find myself in where I'm not Asian enough or quite American enough.

    I'm curious what I'll end up doing too. I've thought about going into something completely different and challenge myself again but I just really like working with kids! Who knows? Only time will tell.

  16. On the other hand, you'd likely have the upper hand were you to come back to the US to teach Chinese to American kids....now there's a challenge! I wish you luck and success in your endeavor, stay true to who you are :)

  17. @Kymri My Chinese isn't at a teaching level, unfortunately. Though it is an interesting challenge you've posed before me. I could master my Cantonese here in Hong Kong and then come back to the States with that new skill and I'm sure I would have the upper hand. Thanks for the idea!

  18. Hi Connie. What a shame that racism and snobbery are rampant in Hong Kong (or anywhere). I can't get my head around it: why would your ethnicity be more important than your skills and credentials?
    I hope you can prove them wrong one day. Good luck.


  19. Hey Connie

    It's the same kind of situation here in Korea. I've had several friends who have been told by their employers that they'd have never been hired if they'd seen how "dark" they are in "real life".

    Although, I have a lot of ethnically Asian friends who work here in Korea. The main issue in this country seems to be that black teachers can't possibly be competent English speakers.....sigh.

    When my boss saw I had blue eyes, she was over the moon. She's since told me she'd love a "blonde haired, blue eyed, American woman" to teach at the school.

  20. Wow! I'd never have guessed you'd experience racism like that. I don't understand it either. Thanks for bringing this to the forefront.

  21. @Ana O'Reilly Thanks, I intend to prove them all wrong! =)

    @Tom I can't believe your boss' audacity in saying that to your face. I know she didn't mean to sound insulting but it kind of is!

    @acceleratedstall It's my goal to bring issues like this to the forefront. Travel is a great and fun experience, but it's not all beer buckets and Full Moon parties. I think more cultural aspects of travel should be discussed in wider forums. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  22. What a frustrating situation! I do hope you find someone sensible and open-minded to review your next application. May you find a fabulous job very soon. :-)

  23. @RamblingTart I hope I find a fabulous job soon too! Thank you!

  24. This is pretty ridiculous, instead of looking at your physical appearance can they not look at your credentials?
    Although I have to say, I've never understood the criteria of choosing a language teacher. In London I've never been accepted to teach Italian. Although I might look more Arab than Italian, I have a passport that proves my nationality :P
    I also have an Italian friend in London, with all required studies and certificates to be an Italian language teacher and they have always preferred foreign teachers to teach Italian, rather than mother tongue...

  25. white people are like royalty around here, even if they're not the brightest english teachers. in the eyes of asians, white skin = good english. i volunteered at a school in cambodia a few months ago, and was appalled at the workbooks and quality of "paid" teachers. most of my time was spent biting my tongue because all i wanted to do was correct the teachers! it's a shame, really. good luck to you connie.

  26. @AngelaCorrias You've made a good point. In fact, a friend of mine emailed me a thought-provoking response that I'm going to post as a guest blog. I'm interested to see what your opinion is on it, as well as my other readers'!

    @traveling thy Sorry to hear you had a less than awesome volunteer experience. For what it's worth, I've come to understand that non-profit organizations are in such need for help that when it comes to teachers, they can't be too picky with who they get, which is unfortunate for the students they are trying to educate. =(

  27. okay, i hope this doesn't sound direspectful because i certainly am not trying to be - but i think the only people that will be surprised/shocked by what you've shared here are white people who haven't had to experience this and therefore probably don't know this issue exists. as Traveling Thy above commented white skin automatically equals good english (it's assumed). it sucks and is unfair. and i totally (though i'm not asian) get what you're saying. when i was briefly considering getting my TEFL to teach english abroad I quickly found out that as a black person (never mind i'd meet all the other qualifications) i may have to settle for less pay and it may be harder to find work. the thought was so frustrating to me. i think if it were to volunteer or something that'd be different but looking for actual paid work - well, it's tough.

    with that said i'm still sorry that you have to experience this. it really is unfair. and i'm happy that you're sharing these very real experiences on your blog - makes for a great discussion and sheds light on things some may not know about.

    hang in there. i wish i could suggest something......i'll put my thinking cap on!

    (on and i'm almost certain that Dan comment above was spam....they're getting harder to detect lol!)

  28. @kay*(from india.with love) Kay, you're very right and I take no offense in what you say. And I hope white people don't take offense when I say that they don't and probably won't ever understand it. Unfortunately, it's a part of life that some people are just treated better than others. In fact, a good friend of mine who is Japanese mentioned that so many white people love Japan but it's because they get better treatment than other foreigners would.

    Thank you for supporting me in writing about these issues. It's my hope that by bringing it to light and creating dialogue, more people can become better aware of what goes on in the world around them.

    And yeah, I figured that this Dan was spam but I didn't want to come off sounding like a b*tch. =)

  29. Oh darling, I'm so sorry to read about this. It totally breaks my heart! I think the best thing you can do is to blog about it and keep applying to positions in hope that by spreading the word and by being persistent you can help change things for the future. I LOVE YOUR FACE!

  30. @Andi of My Beautiful Adventures Thanks Andi, I will! I love your face too!

    @ Everyone: A follow-up post has been published. It's thought-provoking and perhaps even a bit controversial. Take a look at http://connvoyage.blogspot.com/2011/02/response-to-this-darn-face-of-mine.html and tell me what you think!

  31. Wow, that's racist all right. Sometimes getting a job is about who you know, not what you know. Any chance you could start networking with teachers to get a foot in the door somewhere?

  32. @Gray I've been networking my butt off! But I think you should take a look at my following post on a friend's response to this particular topic. It's quite interesting!

  33. Stupid racists!

    I should stop writing more than that... but I won't! ;-)

    I would hire you as a teacher right away and hope to cheer you up a bit. Or send a photo of me... I've got blond hair! ;-)

    Would be a surprise when they first see you then.

    Don't give up!

  34. Connie, It's true, all of it, and you've taken the time to write about it and call on it. It's not just in teaching, here in Thailand and other parts of Asia, the response to services even makes a difference - if that makes sense. It's disheartening to say the least. And those who don't look like us cannot truly understand with this because they have no idea what it is like. We've observed it from a far and been treated differently so only we can tell the difference. It's a load of crap but it's true. Soo true~~

  35. @Traveldudes Thanks Melvin! It's gotten to the point where I attach a photo of myself with every sing application. Not so many interviews anymore I'm afraid.

    @GotPassport It certainly is disheartening. I wasn't sure if I should "rock the boat" by bringing this up but I think it's important for everyone to take notice and learn from these types of experiences. That's my goal with the "Banana Split" series anyway.

  36. You should check out my other posts to get to know me a little better...


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