International Bullying Epidemic

Photo Credit: By Kim Seong-tae[1]

피해자 = Victim

동조자 = Sympathizers

가해자 = Perpetrators

By: Garrett Redfield

Everyone is guilty of it. Everyone has experienced it in some sort of fashion. At times, everyone believes their situations are only unique to themselves. Whether you were the one who has done it, been on the receiving end of it, witnessed it, or heard about it, it is not a new phenomenon nor is it unique to one individual, but instead is a universal occurrence. Bullying is this very plaque that has been allowed to fester and promulgate throughout various societies.

In America, bullying has become a forefront issue. The most recent high-profile incident involved the suicide of a Rutgers University student. The culprit in this case, Dharun Ravi was charged with and later convicted of “spying on and intimidating his gay roommate, who then killed himself by jumping off New York’s George Washington Bridge.”[2]What is especially unique about this incident, is that it highlights a new form of bullying. Thanks in part to the internet, cyberbullying has made it so this discriminatory practice no longer stops at ‘the school doors.’ When children go home, the intimidation and harassment practices can continue through means of social media.

However, this issue is not only unique to American youths. This past June, while riding a school bus, a 68 year old bus monitor, Karen Klein was recorded in a ten minute cell phone video of being assaulted verbally and physically by a group of New York City middle school students.[3]Although in this case charges were not pressed by Ms. Klein, she did feel the boys deserved to be punished. Her suggestion was to have the boys banned “from the bus and athletic activities or [do] community service” with the goal of ending their bullying ways.[4]

Half-way around the world, bullying has been a long standing issue in the Republic of Korea (R.O.K. also known as South Korea). On average, one young person per day commits suicide, which is mainly attributed to having been bullied.[5]This past December, Lim Seung-Min, a 13 year old boy, committed suicide by jumping out of the 7th floor window of his apartment. In his suicide note, “he describes being beaten and robbed by boys in his class, burned with lighters and having electrical wire tied around his neck as a leash.”[6]However, the bullying did not stop there. The perpetrators even went into his house before his parents got home. There, they beat him, took food from the refrigerator and forced “him to eat biscuits off the ground.”[7]Since then, the two boys accused of bullying have been sentenced to at least three years in prison.

The R.O.K.’s bullying epidemic is based in part, on a culture that breeds a very stringent competitive spirit that has led many South Korean students to experience increased stress levels and jealousy. This all relates back to the emphasis the R.O.K. places on education. Clinical psychologist, Joo Mi Bae stresses that, “Students who are good in their studies can immerse themselves in that, those who are not might try to bully or control someone else.”[8]According to a study conducted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, it found that families spend an average of 16% of their income on private education, or approximately $522 per month, or over $6000 per year.[9]In a nation where primary education is not seen as sufficient in order to gain a competitive advantage, students need to attend additional educational classes at hahgwons, which are institutions that specialize in various academics such as math, science, computers, English and Tae Kwon Do.

Furthermore, the pressure Korean students feel externally and internally, culminates in them believing they have to achieve the highest levels of success. As Shin Ji Hae, a 16 year old describes it, “Schools are driving us to endless competition, teaching us to step on our friends to succeed.”[10] To give an example of an average day for a Korean elementary student, they wake up at around 6am, go to class by 7, get out by about 2pm, go to at least three hahgwons, get home by about 10pm, do homework until about 12am, then wake up and repeat the process again. What makes matters worse, is that by the time they become high school students, the college entrance exam called Suneung (수능) “ranks the students in each class” which furthers the “rivalry between classmates.”[11]

Nevertheless, the R.O.K. is being proactive in combating the bullying issue. One way that they have sought to rectify it is by implementing the “Stop” program. How the program works is “students are repeatedly taught to shout out ‘Stop’ once they witness any bullying actions. [As illustrated in the photo above] Once the bullying incident is reported, a class assembly is held to share the pain of the victim by re-enacting a role-play.”[12]Kim Mi-Ja, a teacher at Dong-Ju Elementary School says that the program has been met with relative success. She states that “the Korean program elicits active participation from students in class because the students are involved in making rules and resolving the bullying problems by themselves.”[13]

With that said, is this something the U.S. should try and implement? Will it have the same results? What are some more effective methods to combat bullying that should be explored? Even though bullying is a complex issue, it is not going away for the foreseeable future, and thus needs to be taken seriously. Therefore, when one nation develops a successful method at resolving the problem, it should be considered as one possible solution.


Garrett Redfield is a Master of International Affairs Candidate at the School of International Affairs at The Pennsylvania State University. As an adopted Korean American, he has a strong interest in Korean Peninsula affairs, and focuses on Korean Reunification. Garrett has lived in Korea for an extensive amount of time, mainly as a former ESL instructor. He is proficient in Korean.


[2] Ashley Hayes, Prosecutors to appeal 30-day sentence in Rutgers gay bullying case, (May 2012).

[3] Faith Karimi, Middle schoolers bully bus monitor, 68, with stream of profanity, jeers, (June 2012).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Paula Hancocks, South Korea teenagers bullied to death, (July 2012).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Paula Hancocks, 2 teens sent to prison for S. Korean bullying suicide, (February 2012).

[8] Paula Hancocks (July 2012).

[9] Aiden Foster-Carter, Classroom Wars in South Korea, Part 1: An Education Paradox, (August 2010).

[10] Choe Sang-Hun, In South Korea, students push back, (May 2005).

[11] Ibid.

[12] Shin Jin-Ho and Lee Han-Gil, System flips bullying on its head,|home|newslist2 (May 2012).

[13] Ibid.

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