Korean ESL Survey Results – Part 1: Dating

Korea ESL Survey – Dating & Downloadables

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“Thanks for going to the effort. What is the purpose of your research?” – this is a question I was asked by someone who took my recent survey.  ”What survey?” you ask, well let me tell you about it.  The survey was for the NEST (Native English-Speaking Teachers) community in Korea.  I had over 50 questions in the survey and I had it posted to four places:

After a week I closed the survey and I got far more responses than I expected.  It took a lot of time to write the survey and even longer to collate the results.  Even still I wish I had taken more time to design it better.  If you’re one of the people who took part then I’d like to say a big “Thank You!” for contributing.  I found the open comment responses to be the most fascinating.  As I went through the responses it became clear to me that there are a lot of people who have thought long and hard about their lives in Korea and the role they play in its society.  There’s a clear and visible passion out there to change things for the better and I found that very heartening.

Why did I run the survey?

The ESL Korea Survey is Something I Did Because I'm as Curious (But Not as Cute) as This PuppyThe purpose of the survey was to test several assumptions I held about the NEST community in Korea.  I also felt that running a survey like this would garner useful data that people could use to draw insights about the state of this community.  Those insights can in turn lead to people creating sustainable solutions that make life better for the people in the NEST community.  I’d like to create some of those solutions but I also don’t want to stand in the way of other people using these data to identify opportunities or needs and to create things that can help others.

That’s why I’m making these data freely available.  A quick note though, in the survey I asked for email addresses if people wanted to get an email about the results – for obvious reasons I’ve taken this list of email addresses out of the results I’m providing here.  I have also removed location (from the raw data, still visible in the summary) and year of birth information – this is also to protect the anonymity of respondents.

I also used to be a NEST in Korea myself between 2007 and 2008.  I taught in a public middle school in Bundang and I was the first foreign teacher they’d had at that school and I was the only one there during my time.  I found my work very stressful and difficult due to a lack of experience on my part, a lack of resources and understanding on the school’s part and a lack of empathy on my co-teacher’s part to name just a few factors.  I want to know if my experience is as typical as anecdotes and forum rants would lead me to believe or if I was only a part of a small but vocal minority.

This will be the first in a series of posts detailing some of the interesting results I discovered.  It’ll still take a long time to digest and sort through the results to find all the hidden gems but it’s nice to finally have some data to work with rather than opinions, anecdotes and forum comments.

Today’s Post

To avoid doing a total data dump I figured I’ll focus on a different part of the survey in each post.  To kick this off in a fun way I figured I’d focus on the “Bonus Overtime” questions that came at the end of the survey.  I wish I had added more of these as I could have asked about what degrees people have and whether they have kids.  I would have been curious to know those answers.  At the end of the day though the survey was long enough.  These questions came right at the end and the benefit of that is that people are more likely to answer quickly and with the first answer that comes to mind (which is usually best as their ego doesn’t have time to interfere).

Dating and Relationships

Overall 52.9% have “dated” a Korean national but there is a massive split in this figure when we compare men to women. Check it out:

A Breakdown of NEST Men & Women Who Have Dated Korean Nationals

The term “dating” amongst Westerners can mean anything from having slept with someone more than once to being in a serious long-term relationship.  Now keep in mind that these stats don’t take into account sexual orientation but for the sake of simplicity I’m going to assume that most responses were from heterosexuals.

One of the unexpected results I saw was in the “Single and loving it” category (side-note: it was my error that I didn’t create a “Single and Neutral About It” category).  This response was chosen by 24.5% of women as opposed to 16.2% of the men.  The stereotype I’ve heard a lot is that amongst NESTs Korea is a single man’s paradise and that single women don’t enjoy the Korean dating scene as much but clearly the above statistic don’t support that idea.

A Breakdown of the Relationship Status of NEST Teachers for Men vs. Women

On the flip side only 12.4% of men reported not enjoying the single life as opposed to 16.7% of women.  From these results NEST women are much more likely to be single in Korea than men (see the two results on far left vs. skyscraper on the far right).  Despite this there are more NEST women in relationships with non-Koreans than NEST men (more on this in a bit).

At the other end of the spectrum only 11.7% of NEST women report being in a serious relationship or married to a Korean national whereas 42.9% of NEST men fit into those categories.  In fact, just shy of a quarter of the survey respondents who were male reported being married to a Korean national (24.8%).

For NEST women with non-Korean nationals the number was 36.2% whereas for men the same number was exactly half, 18.1%.  That means that these women are in relationships with non-Korean nationals who also aren’t in the NEST community.  Some food for thought.  I wonder if there’s a major group of non-Korean nationals that these women are dating (perhaps US military personnel) or is it spread amongst different non-NEST groups?  Either that or these women are in relationships with NEST men who didn’t answer this question on the survey.

So what does this all mean?  Women are more likely to be single in Korea (and enjoying it) but if they are in a relationship then it’s mostly with non-Koreans.  Men are less likely to be single overall and if they’re not single then they’re much more likely to be in a serious relationship with a Korean national than a non-Korean national.

The next post will be on smoking, drinking, pets and just how many of you listen to K-Pop (you know who you are!).

Question of the Day: Why do you think NEST women are more likely to be loving the single life in Korea than NEST men?  Let me know in the comments below.


Here’s a screenshot of the results taken from my Survey Monkey Page (png image, 3.2MB).  Here’s the spreadsheet of the results.

(Puppy) Photo credit: Sebastián-Dario via photopin cc

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  1. Annabelle - January 12, 2013, 9:28 am

    I think more NEST women are likely to be single because Korean men typically do not make the first move. Korean men typically meet their potential mates via group meetings or blind dates. They typically would not approach someone they saw in public places (street, bars, etc).

    I also think Korean men typically prefer slimmer/petite physiques in their potential mate. Please note that this is not a dig at NEST women’s physique but more of a cultural observation.

    Overall, this is an interesting survey. Good job! I look forward to reading more.

    • Christian Thurston - January 12, 2013, 12:52 pm

      Thanks for the reply! There’ll be another survey related post in a couple of days. To be honest, what you said of Korean men’s preferences is probably more about what they’re used to. And yes, it’s probably very hard for them to figure out how to approach a western woman they’re attracted to. I think most guys find that intimidating enough within their own culture let alone with the cultural and linguistic challenges as well. With alcohol they can often find the courage but then their chances of ‘success’ are significantly reduced.

  2. Mandy - January 12, 2013, 9:49 am

    I am trying to start a relationship with a Korean man. He is nervous about some things because he is worried about his family’s reaction to him dating a Westerner. He is the eldest and only son, so he is expected to find a good woman, settle down, have children, then have his folks move in with his new family as is the tradition in Korea. He has told me that he knows his family will disapprove of a relationship with anyone besides a Korean woman. It is more accepted for a Korean woman to be with a Westerner man. It has caused some arguments between us and is very frustrating for me. I am frustrated because I really like this guy and feel like I am being kept in secret. But, this might be a key reason for Korean men to be reluctant to start relationships with Westerner women.

    • Christian Thurston - January 12, 2013, 1:03 pm

      Thanks for the comment and sharing your story Mandy. I’d never considered that it would be harder for Korean guys than Korean girls when it comes to how their families feel. I think the fact that he’s the eldest son plays a huge part as well. From my own experience and anecdotally what I’ve heard from guys dating Korean girls is that generally they won’t tell their parents about you unless you’re engaged. Often that will apply between Korean couples as well (from what Korean girls have told me, but they may have had their reasons for saying that, so take it with a grain of salt). I guess there might be some comfort in the fact that he doesn’t want it secret because of embarrassment but wants to keep it secret because his parents will flip out. Still sucks and I’ve ended a relationship in the past over this exact issue – and that was with a Korean girl who was raised in the west from the age of 7.

  3. Korea ESL Dating Survey and Sexual Market Value | Via Korea - January 16, 2013, 11:30 pm

    [...] pigeons aided along by Popular Gusts have informed me of Christian Thurston’s dating survey of Native English-Speaking Teachers in Korea.  The two most interesting findings from the survey [...]

  4. Korea ESL Dating Survey: Who Dates Whom? | Via Korea - January 16, 2013, 11:33 pm

    [...] pigeons aided along by Popular Gusts have informed me of Christian Thurston’s dating survey of Native English-Speaking Teachers in Korea.  The two most interesting findings from the survey [...]

  5. Jeremy - February 12, 2013, 1:02 pm Report user

    “Why do you think NEST women are more likely to be loving the single life in Korea than NEST men?”

    They’re not.

    The appropriate comparison to judge that isn’t 24.5 vs 16.2, but rather 24.5 / (24.5+16.7) vs 16.2 / (16.2+12.4). This comes out to about 59% vs 57%, which is surely not statistically significant.

    The difference in “In a serious relationship with a non-Korean national” is striking. It would surprise me if that many boyfriends weren’t also English teachers themselves. But it could also reflect a difference in what males and females count as a “serious relationship”! :-D

    • Christian Thurston - February 12, 2013, 7:27 pm

      Ah, I see what you’re saying, the numbers you’re looking at are a proportion of single people who are happy. If I’d had the third option of ‘single and neutral’ then that would have yielded more accurate results.

      I agree about the “serious relationships” as both generations X and Y (predominantly the ones who took this survey) can have wildly different definitions of “serious”, “relationships” and “dating” on a person to person basis. I think those labels are more agreed upon by Koreans within their dating ecosystem.

      I would also be surprised if female ESL teachers in relationships weren’t with male ESL teachers more often than not.

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