The Korean and the foreigner

Posted: July 20, 2010 in Crime and politics
Tags: , , , , , ,

Living in a foreign country as an expat there are certain customs that one is expected to adhere to. However the same society that invites them to help better their country and community must offer a certain level of hospitality.

Korea is no different, being an English teacher means you being involved in a trillion Won industry (billion US dollars). Private English hagwons (institutions) are constantly popping up inviting freshly graduated people to teach the next generation of Koreans.

Korea is a reserved and respectable culture with status and age playing a big part in the social hierarchy. Depending on your role in society also plays a pivotal role in social interactions, having a business card showing your job title can influence how one is expected to act with another.

Working as an English teacher was seen as a high status job. Today the teaching role has been somewhat darkened by private academies competing with each other at the cost of the teacher and also the students. Many hagwons base the hiring on looks rather than ability, an attribute that does not bode well with the western counterparts. They require for all teachers to have a degree, although the field does not always matter. An oddity with some advertisements is that they ask for ‘no experience is necessary’, which is strange as employers are potentially entrusting the shaping of future generations to a 21 year old Physical Education graduate. What this creates is a large influx in recently graduated expats being paid a fair amount of money with little responsibility.

Different motivations bring people to Korea; money, experience, travel, whatever the reason being an expat, comes with the capacity of being an ambassador for your country and showing some respect for your host country.

Of course there are always people who do not follow these unwritten rules.

Time and money can breed a destructive force and when mixed with alcohol can cause problems if you are unable to control or fully understand the surroundings. Witnessing a drunk abusive expat is embarrassing for them and for others. While some people strive for individuality through the judgemental eyes of some Koreans, expats are one and the same.

Hate groups have been made and the LA times recently wrote an article of a group wanting to purify Korea by removing expats.

As with every nation there is a small group of nationalists, some more dominant than others. It is when the general public have reason to agree with their ideals, through curiosity or fear that problems begin to happen. The majority of expats come from a more richly diverse and cosmopolitan culture and now they are thrown into an ethnic minority.

Some Koreans are unaware of some ‘social bloopers’ which an expat would find offensive. Queuing in a western country, is seen as a way to promote organisation, order and a form of democracy. However you will find that some Koreans are not aware that people around them are waiting and eager to get what they want will immediately go to the front of the queue and order. Being the first to wait for the next bus does not automatically mean you will be the first in the queue, you have to fight for the right to get onto the bus and this means being competitive. Holding the door open for people with a smile brings very little acknowledgement and at times nothing more than a murmur. Being talked about in front of you and being stared at are also common occurrences for the expat.

As the minority we are constantly under the microscope and will always be stereotyped. For some, living in Korea you have to be thick skinned to get through the day.

There is a change taking place though, with this generation of Koreans, native English speakers are educating them on both a conscious and sub-conscious level on the understanding of a western culture. While we are not talking about taking away Korea’s individuality as a nation, a greater understanding of life outside of it’s borders is needed.

© John Brownlie 2010

  1. mbt shoes says:

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  2. Came across your site via google the other day and absolutely adore it. Carry on the truly amazing work.

  3. Damien says:

    The first thing that you should realize when going to a foreign country is that you should try to understand their culture and go by their “way”, or you’ll risk getting hated on.
    If you went into a jungle culture, and they offered you an alcoholic drink that was made from chewing some vegetables and spitting out the fluids then most people will probably drink it or fear getting arrowed to death.
    With experience traveling all over the world, I can say Koreans are more understanding of Western culture then other places that I have been to.

    • elbear1 says:

      Thank you for your reply. I’m aware of when traveling to a new country different customs and etiquettes are expected. As a traveler myself I have done my best to be aware of them by researching about a country’s culture before visiting, so as not to offend anybody and integrate better. I read several books before choosing to live and work in Korea.

      This blog was a mere observation of Korea during my first year there (I stayed for a further two). Upon arrival to Korea the newly ’employed’ is required to have a medical check. Their understanding of Western culture has them believing that we (the Westerner) have AIDS, so we are required to be tested by law before employment. This discrimination is now being investigated by the United Nations. (see link below)

      I took the test and passed, I joined them in eating Kimchi, bowing out of respect (to young and old), taking things with both hands, I also poured people’s drinks, smiled at people and held doors open for others. I treated everyone how I would want to be treated.

      If I went with your mantra to “go by their way” then I’d be waking up next to my own sick in bus shelters and on pavements, standing and applauding in a crowd whilst a mother beats a screaming child in the street, shoving the elderly out of the way to get a seat on the subway, spitting rivers on the street, aspiring to work for Samsung, watching pervertedly as pre-pubescent children dance seductively to K-Pop in inappropriate attire, having an inability to forget the past, get plastic surgery to make my face symmetrical and think that most expats were out to rape and sodomise the natives.

      Out of the 30 countries I’ve traveled to (31 tomorrow) Korea is one of the most technologically advanced. However their patriarchal and Confucian traditions and beliefs have bred a xenophobic, child abusing and discriminative society which a 1950s progressive America can relate to.

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