Rumblings around ATEK – and a new group forming UPDATED


UPDATED 5 April 2010 12:36 PM – I stated in the comments that I would update this post if / when I received a statement / reply from Greg Dolezal, ATEK’s current president. Since I failed to do that when I first wrote this post, I sent my sincere apologies to him and asked for his statement. It was not done intentionally or to make anybody look bad. In the interest of timing and continuity, his statement will be at the bottom.


So there’s been some noise from around the ATEK camp again – not something that’ll make the mainstream media – and word of a new group that may show some promise. In the interest of trying to document things dispassionately, I’ll be offering more blockquotes from e-mails or public statements than opinions.

UPDATED 5 April 2010 12:36 PM – I stated in the comments that I would update this post if / when I received a statement / reply from Greg Dolezal, ATEK’s current president. Since I failed to do that when I first wrote this post, I sent my sincere apologies to him and asked for his statement. It was not done intentionally or to make anybody look bad. In the interest of timing and continuity, his statement will be at the bottom.


So there’s been some noise from around the ATEK camp again – not something that’ll make the mainstream media – and word of a new group that may show some promise. In the interest of trying to document things dispassionately, I’ll be offering more blockquotes from e-mails or public statements than opinions.

March 31 – ATEK’s president Greg Dolezal sent out a fairly long letter to ATEK’s mailing list that began with the following two paragraphs:

A week or so ago, Barbara Waldern (former chair of the Busan PMA), Stephanie White (my competitor from Daegu in the first presidential election), and John Wurth (former chair of the Gyeonggi PMA) have formed their own human rights association that is intended to serve expat English teachers in Korea. They are focused specifically on advocacy. [emphasis mine] At this time ATEK is primarily devoted to creating improved services for members, building infrastructure, and recruiting officers across the country.

These changes can be difficult at first and thus we have to say good-bye to these officers who have served for nearly a year. As they move on to work with their new organization, they take with them not only my gratitude, but also my hopes and best wishes for their future success. I’m sure all members will join with me in recognizing that there is no shortage of problems to be solved nor challenges to be faced, and the more groups we have working on them the better.

The rest of Greg’s e-mail talks about him stepping down as ATEK’s president in July, ATEK’s presence at the KOTESOL conference recently, and a vote on changing the organization’s bylaws.

As both a blogger about life in Korea and associations interested in assisting teachers, I e-mailed Stephannie White to learn more. From her e-mailed statement:

While it is true that I have been in contact with former ATEK officers who are now forming another advocacy group, I am not a central part of that process. With less than one year in Korea remaining on my contract, I am not in a position to accept responsibility for a leadership position in an official capacity.

It is also true that I have withdrawn my membership/support from ATEK due to disturbing information I have received concerning the actions of the National Council of ATEK. I communicated my concerns to the new Membership Chair (who was not elected per the by laws) and was told that a response to my concerns would be given. The Membership chair asked that I be objective and I said I would be. Unfortunately, my ESP levels are quite low and I need actual communication in order to facilitate my objectivity. It’s been over two weeks and I have still not received a response to my concerns.
Since I have not yet received a reply from the new Membership Chair of ATEK, I can not say with 100% certainty that my concerns are issues the general membership should be concerned about, yet perhaps even a 50% certainty is worth a personal investigation on the part of individual members.
Specifically: The lack of a National Council meeting since last September/November. The lack of following the bylaws in the selection of Membership Chair, Publicity Chair, and the dubious formation of an Ethics Committee that is being used like McCarthy used comic books, to further personal agenda’s of certain members of the National Council.

I am aware that the current president of ATEK has issued a statement to membership asserting that I am working to found another advocacy group with the officers who have left ATEK. This statement was issued without verification of the facts and I have been promised a retraction and public apology [emphasis mine]. I’m not holding my breath, as the last response I was told I’d have is two weeks late. And unlike the statement issued by the current ATEK president, I’m not naming names among the National Council power mongers; that is the responsibility of the general membership to be aware of what their leaders are doing. And if the lack of transparency doesn’t suit the general membership, it’s their individual responsibility to do something about it. (ask questions, verify information, protest Nat. Council actions or withdraw from membership )

If you’re still reading, the story hasn’t fully unfolded yet. Beyond the seemingly petty spat about an incorrect statement and lack of a promised retraction, there’s another whole story here.

April 1: An e-mail is received from Barbara Walden regarding this new group:

It has become very evident that an alternate teachers’ organization is needed in order for teachers, especially those from abroad on contract in Korea, to organize and support each other. A collaboration began to establish FREED Busan, the First Response for English Educators, and the result so far is FREED in Busan and Gyeongnam-do. The purpose is to keep focused on the issues of teachers from abroad and build and maintain a service especially to address such issues because discrimination and other abuses against foreign teachers continue. It intends to be a first response system for newcomers especially. It will not be afraid to discuss the situation of foreign teachers.

What is proposed in this initial phase is a loose regional support network to act as a first response in assisting migrant teachers, connected electronically and holding casual meetings where and when possible. That is, it is largely a support network carrying information and friendship of particular concern to teachers, and particularly teachers on work visas and contracts. Aspects of developing this support network farther are being researched.

Below is the draft of the founding charter of FREED Busan-Gyeongnam. Please consider being a part of FREED Busan-Gyeongnam, or creating a branch in your region. Please submit feedback about the concept of FREED Busan and the draft Charter.

Disregard the statement made by Greg Dolezal as President of ATEK. His statement about the establishment of FREED and the people involved are erroneous as it is based on hearsay and guesses. ATEK had no business speaking for FREED. There has been no collaboration and will not be collaboration with ATEK about FREED. For further clarification, national ATEK leaders (through members [AT] stole my email account and Facebook group page, which is criminal, and complaints are being made to authorities.
Yours most truly,
Barbara Waldern

The e-mail included a draft of their founding charter – something written in plain English, albeit still a draft, and a bit long to quote for the sake of this post. While FREED is still a very new group, one still without a website (to my knowledge), there seems to be plenty of possibilities to get involved. E-mailing [email protected] will get you involved faster than you can say ‘advocacy’.

So once you get over the erroneous statements and other silly spats, what’s really going on? At it’s heart, you have a difference in direction. Since its inception, ATEK has been more about making change legally, legitimately, and aboveboard. After a tumultuous year-plus, it’s hard to say what ATEK has actually accomplished that’s helped the average English teacher. I’m not making any more money than I was before ATEK was around. I’m not in a more stable position because ATEK is around. ATEK has not done anything that makes a modicum of difference in the world of Korea – sure, it’s a great-sounding idea among the world of expat teachers, but what power does the organization actually HAVE? Between a lack of committed officers, a difficult-to-impossible agenda, and a population of mostly passive recipients, the organization is at best a good-intentioned group who’s bark is far worse than its bite.

While I don’t yet know enough about this new organization, I suspect advocacy – or a more direct / active approach – is needed to confront employers that won’t follow the contracts they drew up, Koreans that think we’re below them and can thus be insulted whenever it pleases them, and any number of other things.


April 5: Greg Dolezal’s response (copied and pasted in its entirety):

Thanks for emailing me about this. It goes a long way to restore my trust in your dedication to dispassionate objective commentary and news values. Unlike other stories which are often directed at faceless subjects like “the government” or “English teachers,” this piece was directed at me personally and at the organization for which I volunteer directly. The words you (as a purveyor of alternative media and a respected opinion leader) choose, the way you frame the story as it develops, and the amount of investigative reporting you provide has a tangible impact on the way your readers understand any future information about ATEK. This cause is too precious to risk over some disgruntled former officers with their own agenda who have gone public with their complaints. It would be far better if this time and energy were spent discussing and acting on practical solutions to the challenges English teachers face every day.

Although ATEK is over one year old it is quite young as an organization. It’s not unusual for a non-profit to take 5-10 years to establish itself and gain the respect that is necessary to affect change that can be seen by even the most uninformed person. At this critical stage of growth and maturity it is imperative that not only ATEK members, but the English teaching community generally, have the proper context for understanding the obstacles and accomplishments of the association. I’m not saying that everyone need agree with present or past actions, but it would be a huge step back to go back an entire year to the debates over whether ATEK should exist. It does exist and it will continue to be more effective with time. The real question that requires attention is what should be the short term and long term goals and perhaps more importantly, how can one get involved in attaining them. [emphasis mine]

As much as I would like to copy the “he said – she said” emails that circulated (and especially those that did not) I will not submit them, because although they would certainly speak for themselves and provide ample support for my position, I would be engaging in just the sort of behavior that led to this unfortunate public conflict in the first place. I sincerely believe that internal politics should remain – internal. The public does not have the context and familiarity with the facts to fully appreciate either side in such a drama and it only damages the association and distracts from ATEK’s mission. Nor should they. Personal grievances aired in a public forum damage the reputation of everyone who participates regardless of who is right or wrong. Moreover, I believe that emails sent in confidence should not be circulated to parties who were not involved; which is exactly what happened to me.

The letter that I sent to members and a similar letter that was sent to the members of the Busan PMA convey the sincere sentiment of ATEK’s volunteers and members. There are precious few voices for English teachers and even fewer that are respected by the Korean public. It is extremely counter-productive to in any way hinder the efforts of any association that works for this cause. The specific aims and missions might differ, so too might the way the groups are organized and led, but a spirit of mutual collaboration is the way to truly serve the members of any group seeking to improve the lives of English teachers in Korea.

For this reason, despite any criticisms the founders of FREED may have, ATEK will always welcome the opportunity to work together on shared goals. That’s why ATEK is meeting with leaders of groups like KOTESOL, AFEK, MTU, Amnesty International, Hagwon owners, recruiters, KTU, government officers etc. Even though these groups have a different focus, and even represent different people, they all have some part of their agenda that is shared by the members of ATEK. Perhaps there aren’t many areas of intersection or perhaps there could be conflicting areas of interest, but where there is common cause there is no denying the power of multiple voices joined in a common cause. That’s when real change takes place.

In regards to Ms. White’s complaint about being associated too closely or inaccurately with FREED I offer my deepest apologies. It was my understanding that she was a founding member. I have now learned that she is merely a consultant and is not a founding member. That was a distinction that I was not aware of at the time I wrote my email to members. I stand corrected. I never meant any ill will by associating Ms. White with Mr. Wurth or Ms. Waldern. I hope that the founders of FREED and Ms. White will accept my mistake as an honest misunderstanding. I thought that informing the membership about what was going on was important.

This isn’t the first time some of our members have gone on to form their own groups to pursue their personal causes with greater vigor and focus. We appreciate their contributions and look forward to having a productive dialog in the future. There will always be disagreement in any association involving humans. Volunteers invest so much of themselves into their work and so it is natural that they should feel a sense of ownership of what results from it. It’s important that it is rewarding and provides satisfaction. That’s why I remain committed to ATEK and what it is doing for teachers everyday and what it will do.

Some of the commentators on this and other blogs have expressed concern over what ATEK has done to advance their cause or improve their life. A suggestion I would like to follow up on is providing regular reports on what kind of assistance has been given. It’s important to mention that very few if any teachers want to be the subject of a press release or an honorable mention on someone’s website – including ATEK’s. That is uncomfortable for a teacher who wishes to find more jobs in Korea after addressing some issue. I can say with authority that ATEK helps at least one teacher every single day with problems like wrongful dismissal, non-payment of benefits or wages, deportation, loss of housing, and human rights violations. [emphasis mine] This doesn’t take into account the teachers who get anecdotal advice from the forums, the guidebook, or members at large about everyday things that just make life easier.

I have seen so many success stories. It’s a lot like having life insurance or car insurance – when you don’t need it you wonder why you need it and when you do need it you are damn glad you have it.

In case this blogpost comes off any other way, I’m certainly on the side of organizing, building relationships, and working together. Yes, I recognize that building goodwill and positive feelings can take some time, especially in a still-somewhat-xenophobic country such as Korea. It doesn’t help that there are so many factors working against coming together – or that foreigners have little leverage to affect change in almost every country of the world.

Anyway – I’m done with the ‘he said, she said’ drama. It doesn’t make anyone look good. When ATEK has some news or progress to report, I’ll do my best to bring it to you. If FREED or any other group makes progress on making life in Korea easier for foreigners living in Korea, I’ll be bringing that out as well.

In the meantime, I would still like to see some indications of ATEK’s progress. One possible model to follow is Shannon Heit over at the Seoul City Blog. She occasionally posts about getting labor disputes resolved – one recent example is here. She keeps the disputees anonymous, but it shows that the Seoul Global Center offers free legal consultations that help in a concrete way.

Moving forward – time to get back to the kind of writing I prefer – traveling posts. Look for one coming up soon.

Comments are open – play nice. Personal attacks will be deleted – please stick to the issues / criticism at hand here.

Creative Commons License © Chris Backe – 2010

This post was originally published on my blog, Chris in South Korea. If you are reading this on another website and there is no linkback or credit given, you are reading an UNAUTHORIZED FEED.

4 thoughts on “Rumblings around ATEK – and a new group forming UPDATED”

  1. If you are not even a part of

    If you are not even a part of the group, why do you think you can sit at home and make judgements about them?


    Why don’t you join and find out the real story.

    • I would avoid joining any

      I would avoid joining any such group that advocates some sort of united front. Memebership to such a thing could bring an automatic dismissal, if one was even dumb enough to inform their employer. Korean teachers are not even allowed to unionize and the most vocal of their leaders were fired by the powers that be.

      People need to worry and look after themselves in Korea. If you want more stability than an e-class visa, get married to a national. That’s the only advice and the only option I have/see that or remain at your job for 5-6-7years and hope you can qualify for an F5.  


  2. admirable but..

     well the whole idea of atek is admirable, the foreign community doesn’t need a group to serve as an advocate.  Man by nature is a political animal and politics will prevail no matter how small the group is.  People will get upset, and say terrible things.  The point is in the end, the objective of the group is lost.  Someone take initiative and keep foreigners up to date on issues, if thats what you want but making a group after group for the same issues is only going to make the foreign community lose more respect by the Koreans and the Korean government.  We hardly have any as it is.

  3. disappointed

    Mr. Backe,

    I am extremely disappoint that despite my repeated comment posts here yesterday that I am not affiliated with or a member of FREED you saw fit to update your article with Ms. Waldern’s comments yet still exclude mine. This is not good journalism. This does not serve your responsibility to your readers. And flat out this omission is just not appreciated.

    John Wurth


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