Oh, those unethical Koreans

Ever since I’ve begun working as a graduate teaching assistant, I have been privy to some scandalous stories of students taking part in all sorts of academic dishonesty.  Some of it just blows my mind; the infractions are types that I would never have thought of!

The reason for the seemingly-racist title is that…well, a large proportion of the really bad infractions are committed by Korean students.  Darn, I really hate when things like that happen.  I’m certain that non-Koreans will read this and think that we’re all a bunch of lying, cheating, law-breaking scum bags.  We really, really aren’t…well, I’m not, and none of my friends are.

Here are a list of some major bad cheating infractions committed by Korean students at U of T that I’ve seen so far.

Major bad cheating event  #1

You know how when you write an exam, or submit an assignment, the profs sometimes say that they’ll photocopy your work before they give it back?  That’s their way of letting you use pencil on an exam and still allowing legitimate appeals on inconsistent marking.  I always thought they were just spooking us out, figured there was no way in hell they actually photocopied every 10-page exam in a 500-student course.

Well, here’s the fact: They DO photocopy every 10-page exam in a 500-student course.

One student in a course I was TA-ing re-submitted his exam for an appeal.  I looked at the question under concern.  I thought to myself that this situation was impossible…there was no way that he would have gotten that mark, given that he answered the way that he did.  I verified with the photocopied exam, and I was befuddled, because his exam didn’t look anything like his photocopied exam.  But he had answered in pen, and there was no sign of white out.  I marked with a pink pen, and my handwriting was all over the exam, so it was definitely the exam that had originally been marked…so…what could possibly have happened?

Another TA contributed the best solution: the student had written the exam in pencil very lightly, and when he was dissatisfied with the mark, he erased the entire exam and rewrote the entire exam in pen.

Psycho!  Who would even come up with an idea like that?  Clearly he had intended to commit this dishonesty from the very beginning when he wrote the exam very lightly in pencil.  That’s…very little self-assurance, and quite a lot of foresight.

Major bad cheating event  #2

U of T uses something called “turnitin,” which is an online plagiarism detecting tool.  I personally dislike the use of such tools, because it bases the student-institution relationship on distrust.  Also, the information that is submitted to turnitin becomes turnitin’s property, which means that if you want to publish something in an academic journal, you can’t, because you don’t own the work anymore.

Well, here’s an occurrence of when turnitin actually did its job.

A student who was in a remedial class submitted an assignment that was flagged by turnitin as being a 60% copy of someone else’s assignment.  He copied a friend’s old assignment from a previous term.

This is my non-stellar example, but it adds to my enumerated list.

Major bad cheating event #3

A student missed his midterm with a doctor’s note.  From the looks of it, he was legitimately sick.

When the prof verified the doctor’s note, the doctor’s office said that nobody under that name visited that doctor.  However, another person with a similar name had visited that doctor.  The possibilities were that he had borrowed somebody else’s OHIP card, or he had somebody else visit the doctor on his behalf, or he stole someone’s doctor’s note.

Either way, this clearly extends beyond academic dishonesty.  However, I’m not quite sure why this would have to happen at all, because I believe all students are required to have medical insurance, so there would be no need to borrow someone’s OHIP card.  In any case, this is where it’s at, and this student is in big shit.

A small defense for my people

Now, I would be a horrible Korean if I were to just leave it as this.  Firstly, we really aren’t all like these students.  Please don’t connect these students with the Virginia Tech incident in 2007.  That was entirely a different situation, I’m sure you can see that.

There is actually some historical and cultural explanation for the tendency to behave this way.

Korean culture values relationships much more highly than the institution.  It’s probably because the institution has had a history of corruption.  As a result, you’re much more likely to see nepotism and turning a blind eye for a friend than you would in North American culture.  Another reason Koreans tend to trust civilians more than officials is because they were an occupied nation for 35 years, where they couldn’t really trust the legal authority.  The annexation only ended in 1945, so a lot of people who experienced this abusive government are still alive today, and have children who are young adults like me.

In fact, there was a study done (I actually have no background for this, my teacher in grade 11 told me this story) where they asked several (I have no idea how many) different people from different countries a hypothetical question: Suppose your friend was driving, and you were in the passenger seat, and you got in a single vehicle collision.  Say your friend was speeding.  When the policeperson comes and asks you if your friend was speeding, would you tell the truth or protect your friend?

Canadians ranked highest as most likely to rat out the friend (whoa, see my rhetoric?), and Koreans ranked highest to stand by their friend’s side.  Of course I could rephrase this as saying most likely to tell the truth and most likely to tell a lie.

The point is, there are reasons that appalling behaviour seems to pervade a culture, and what is “appalling behaviour” is not quite as black and white as we like to think.  I only wish these small petty infractions didn’t continue to erode our name.


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