Irish teacher turned down for job for 'Irish alcoholism'

Emma Woollacott
Katie Mulrennan
Katie Mulrennan

An Irish woman was turned down for a job in South Korea on the grounds that the Irish are supposedly heavy drinkers.

Teetotal Katie Mulrennan, from County Kerry, had applied for a teaching job in Seoul that was advertised on listings website Craiglist in September.

The 26-year-old had over three years' experience teaching English in Barcelona, Oxford and Abu Dhabi as well as in South Korea. However, the agency rejected her without an interview, writing only: "I am sorry to inform you that my client does not hire Irish people due to the alcoholism nature of your kind."

Miss Mulrennan says she can't make a formal complaint as the name of the agency wasn't given, but that she has reported the ad to Craigslist.

"It was disappointing because these employers did not even get to see me," she tells the BBC. "They never spoke to me and didn't get a chance to hear what I sounded like."

Miss Mulrennan was resigned to a ertain level of prejudice because of her Irish accent. "Usually when you apply for a job and they don't want you, they don't send a reply," she says.

"Or they tell you they would prefer someone from North America, because some schools prefer the accent."

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North Korea Warns Foreigners in South Korea to Evacuate
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Ironically, the Irish drink vastly less than South Koreans, who have the highest rates of alcoholism in the world. According to the World Health Organisation, indeed, 13.5% can be considered alcoholics, compared to 6% of the Irish.

But racist attitudes can be surprisingly prevalent in language schools around the world. Advertisements - particularly in China - frequently specify that applicants must be white. Others demand a photograph, which may be used to weed out black or Asian applicants.

One black English teacher working in Korea says that on his first day, children were astonished.

"Some were running and screaming in Korean, I later learned, 'Gorilla, gorilla, monkey, monkey!' and one brave student came up to me to rub my skin to see if the blackness rubs off as if it was paint. But that was not the end of it," he writes.

"I sat down with another teacher from Canada who had been at the school for about eight months before I arrived. As we ate our sandwiches at Dunkin Donuts, this is what he told me: "The director told me he only hired you because he couldn't find a white teacher."

Miss Mulrennan has since found another job teaching English, and tells the BBC: "I still love the country and being in Seoul."

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