Working holiday travelers encounter troubling circumstances

December 30, 2013
Working holiday travelers encounter troubling circumstance (yonhap)

Certain Korean workers often aim to both learn English and earn money while traveling and working abroad. (Yonhap)

By Kim Jae-won, Chung Hyun-chae

Koreans going on working holidays seek to kill two birds with one stone ㅡ learning English and making money ㅡ with the program, but they often end up landing dirty and insecure jobs due to lack of language skills, experts and former working holiday travelers said Sunday.

According to the Australian government, “Australia’s Working Holiday program encourages cultural exchange and close ties between arrangement countries by allowing young people to have an extended holiday supplemented by short-term employmentㅡwith special focus on regional Australia.”

However, most Koreans misunderstand this program, viewing it as a rapid and easy way to learn English in a foreign country. More than 35 percent of respondents said that they participated in Working Holiday programs to learn English and get a job, according to a 2009 survey, conducted by Working Holiday Supporting Center, a Sydney-based non-government organization, on 305 Korean working holiday travelers.

Only one fifth of the respondents said that they applied for the program for travel, indicating that young people choose the program for learning English whilst making money, or saving money.

But the reality is that participants can hardly land decent jobs which require a good command of English. Their choices are therefore limited to manual jobs in rural farms, menial jobs or working for Korean immigrants which rarely offers an opportunity to improve their English skills.

“I worked at a farm which only hires Koreans. Almost all the colleagues whom I talked with were Koreans so it was hard to improve my English. In fact, we spent most of time working without any conversation,” said a 28-year-old office worker who had been to Australia on a working holiday visa in 2009.

Ironically, a lot of the working holiday participants fell victim to exploitation by some of their Korean immigrant employers.

“The problem was working at a Korean restaurant. They were mean toward me, treating me like an outsider. It was much more stressful for me to work with Koreans,” said a 22-year-old college student, who went to Canada under the Working Holiday program in 2012.

Critics say that the most worrying part is that working holiday travelers are vulnerable to crime because of having insufficient information about the foreign countries they travel to.

“I remember a student who didn’t even look out for lodgings only with small capital for early settlement. He could not help but sleep on a street for a week. That is terribly dangerous,” said Bong Jang-jong, a manager at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Working Holiday Info Center.

“Because all the majority of working holiday participants care about is how to save living expense, they can hardly recognize that they are easy to be exposed to a lot of crimes and accidents,” said Bong.

Two Koreans on working holidays ㅡ Ban Eun-ji, 22, and Kim Min-tae, 28 ㅡ were killed about a month ago in Brisbane, Australia.

Ban had only been in the country for six weeks when she was attacked in the early hours of Nov. 24 while walking from her apartment to her cleaning job at a hotel. A 19-year-old Australian Alex Reuben McEwan was arrested for killing Ban in a park.

Kim’s corpse was found in a shallow grave on Dakar Road, Algester in Brisbane on Dec. 19. Australian police charged a 28-year-old Korean man surnamed Hwang with his murder.