Sunday, July 19, 2009

Stop Your Damn Worrying

Dear Korean,

I'm curious to know how Hispanics are viewed in Korea. I am Dominican, but was raised and live in the US, and I look like I'm Indian/Arabic/Middle Eastern. Just thought I'd get an idea of what the Korean people's reaction to me, and people like me (tan, almond eyed, dark wavy/curly haired) would be like, and how to go about interacting with them.


Dear Korean,

I just wanted to have your opinion about how Muslims are "perceived" by Korean people. Would you be kind enough to give me your insight on this subject ?


Dear Grace and Vera,

Here is a pop quiz: what do Hispanics and Muslims have in common?

Answer: Korean people don't know anything about them.

The Korean also gets a lot of questions of this ilk: "I am planning to travel Korea for a few weeks. I am a member of [XX ethnicity group]. How will I be treated in Korea? How will Korean people see me?"

Truth is, Koreans won't really care about you. They are busy with their own lives. Koreans will know you won't be impacting their lives in any meaningful way. They also realize you are humans, and the way you are treated won't make any meaningful difference in your life either. You might get stared at on the streets a little, only because you look different. But really, what do you expect? To be stoned on the road or something?

This is even more the case if you belong to a group that Koreans do not usually see, like Hispanics or Muslim. Koreans may have some pre-conceived notions about Americans, Europeans and other Asians. But other than that, Koreans generally only have the most fleeting images of what the rest of the world is like. (Just like 95% of the rest of the world, really.)

So just stop with your goddamn worries. Just go and have fun.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. Hey, to be fair there are stereotypes that exist about Hispanics and about Muslims. While most Koreans may dismiss these stereotypes or not have them at the front of their minds, it is conceivable that some interactions with local Koreans may be affected by these preconceived notions.

    WORD VERIFICATION: "incit," one letter short of "incite."

  2. Hey this blog is pretty cool, but when I read your profile about me thing I giggled when I saw the "makes him (kinda)" because it made me think that you were kinda a guy ... yes I read the rest of it but it was funny at the time.

  3. A Korean,
    Let's be fair now - especially to those whose first trip outside their home country might be to Korea. I've already read your great post about how African-American / black people fare in Korea - certainly a legitimate fear. While there may be fewer worries about Hispanics and Muslims (both will likely feel at home in Itaewon, for example), worrying isn't just something they can stop doing. If I happen to be either and coming to a knowingly xenophobic country, I might be more than a little worried and seeking some reassurance... No overcoddling of the newbies, but no jumping on the worries of other cultures, k? :)

  4. Chris in South Korea, you make it sound as if a Muslim or Hispanic headed to South Korea would be entering a xenophobic country for the first time.

    While there may be some media-infused prejudice a Hispanic might face in Korea that is different from how a Caucasian might fare, a Hispanic in South Korea is not likely to be assumed to be an illegal alien or the descendant of an illegal alien solely on the basis of ethnicity, and Koreans will probably not be asking if they can take another bus or plane simply because a Muslim-looking person is on it.

    Oh, and the cops won't be stopping a Hispanic for Driving While Mexican, either.

  5. The question is whether Koreans are racist or not. And the answer is yes and no. I'm a Brazilian who has been living here in Korea for about a year and I can tell Koreans are treating me much better than I expected. As someone mentioned, they don't seem to judge my character because of my nationality.
    However, if I date a Korean girl... oh God. Then I see how racist they are. They'll treat me fine as long as I don't try to mix my "dirty blood" around. My Korean friend's dad asked me if I had a "pure Brazilian blood"! I laughed so much! All I know is I'm a mix of Portuguese, Arabs, Amerindians and so on.
    But I understand this. Korea has been opened to the world just recently, and Western immigration (other than Americans or Russians) is something quite new here. It will take time for Koreans to get used to it.

  6. LOL..

    I love Kushibo's always nearly apologetic tone. I mean, I love Kushibo, but .. really..

    Blacks have, in the last 5-10 years, been recognized as English speakers, but Hispanics (I can't speak for Muslims) are still in some kind of unknown and therefore suspicious area.

    My fiancee is Native American and Mexican. She teaches here (teaches way harder than I do at my Uni) but it took three hagwons before she found one where the parents would accept her.

    Many hysterical stories about how she 'couldn't be a native speaker' how she was 'obviously from the Phillipines.'

    That was ALL "preconceived notions." To be honest, I think it is still Korea learning that there are many different kinds of Hispanics. Nothing wrong with that, it's just part of the hyper-speed process which Korea has been in since the 70s.

    Once Koreans get to know you, they are the most rock-solid friends you will have. But pretending that Hispanics aren't a greater "other" in Korea than in the US (I guess I only speak for Cali) is a lapse in critical thinking.

    BTW.. I got "pings"

    so either there is an extra "n" or it's some kind of Intarwebs testing thingie.

  7. Of all the things foreigners waste their time on, this is the most egregious: Why do they care so much that Koreans "accept" them? And why are most foreigners shocked when they are NOT accepted or treated indifferently.

    This is not fucking Lawerence of Arabia, where the foreigner strolls in, is loved by the natives immediately just for showing up, and is handed a hanbok.

  8. Lawrence of Arabia was handed a hanbok?


  9. Charles, it appears that you're talking about acceptance in Korea of Hispanics as English teachers, whereas it was the original question seemed to be about social reaction in general.

    Yeah, if you're talking the English-teaching game, anyone other than a White person is suspect, including native English-speaking ethnic Koreans.

    But that's a different matter from the one at hand. A Hispanic living in Korea is not going to have to go through the cultural baggage that Americans have about Hispanics (assuming the Hispanic in question is coming from the United States). To deny that, Charles, is the real apologism, yet the K-blogs seem to be full of White people who think that America is some wonderfully tolerant entity where non-Whites are in true paradise.

    Yeah, who's the apoloigst here, aßßhat?

  10. Language, kush. Name-calling is not conducive to civil dialogue.

  11. I'm a Canadian Muslim living in Korea. The perception of Muslims (and subsequent discrimination against) in the US is a far bigger issue than the perception of Muslims in Korea (non-existent). It's a hassle being Muslim and going into the US. It's not an issue at all going to Korea.

    I'm the first Muslim pretty much everyone I know has ever met. Other than disappointment that I don't drink soju or eat samgyeopsal, there are really no issues, questions or comments. A religious co-worker asked me what Islam was like, but that's about the only time I've ever discussed being Muslim with a Korean.

    Korea is, I think, exceptionally tolerant when it comes to the interactions between its three major religious identities (Buddhist, Christian, atheist). Families can have members that identify with all three groups, with virtually no conflict.

  12. The Korean wrote:
    Language, kush.

    I'll take this cryptic comment to mean that Kushibo wins on language.

    Name-calling is not conducive to civil dialogue.

    Oh, so that's not what that means.

    Okay, the next time an apologist for American racism calls me an apologist I'll call him the head covering of a donkey. Is that better?

  13. Adeel, your experience jives with that of other Muslims I've known (though none of them very well) in Korea. The ones I've known in Hawaii (which is a lot, and many of them very well) have typically had a better experience in Hawaii than those I've known on the US Mainland.

  14. LOL - I guess mentioning an "apologetic tone" in someone's post now qualifies as calling them an apologist and justifies real name-calling.


    I do see the distinction between the teacher and the tourist, but I think there is still a powerful lack of understanding of all the shades of brown here in Korea.

    As to racism in the US of course it exists - it's convenient to bring up when you want to ignore the question that was actually asked. Which was about Korea.

    Then bringing up the imaginary "White people who think that America is some wonderfully tolerant entity where non-Whites are in true paradise?"

    How are they relevant to the question, even if you can find a few idiots like this on the web?

    Just saying..

  15. I went to Korea on a tour of the coast with my wife and several friends. We had three Koreans, two Caucasian Europeans, one Lebanese, and one Colombian. While touring a coastal city we came across an elementary school field trip. One of the kids looked at the Colombian and remarked in Korean, "Oh my gosh! An African!" Other than that, we got some groups of kids take pictures with us at airports. Korean adults largely ignored all of us.

  16. I'm sorry, but I don't understand the whole point the debate here.

    If you are a foreigner living in Korea, then you are — and always will be — a foreigner living in Korea for the duration of your stay. That's why the word 외국인 exists in the Korean dictionary to remind you that you are not in Kansas anymore.

    Last time I checked, there wasn't a Korean word for "venerable foreigners that we must worship and take great care not to offend, for they descend from the high heavens to offer us knowledge and sociopolitical enlightenment."

    As a foreigner, you often are subjected to rude stares, prejudice, and sometimes outright racism. If you lived in Italy, Honduras, Finland, or anywhere the heck else, you will experience similar prejudice and racism. Not to say that this is right, but that's how things roll in our world as of July 2009.

    I've lived most of my life in the U.S. as its "citizen," speak better English than most "natives" with whom I interact everyday, and pay the same back-breaking taxes as everyone else. Yet I live with daily reminders that I am not, and can never be, a "real American" as far as the mainstream society is concerned. But I deal with it, and I can't help but laugh at those living in Korea for but one year and decry the horrors of being made to feel like a foreigner.

    Sorry, but no sympathy from me.

  17. BTW, my apologies for some of the grammatical and punctuational errors in my comment. Had to type very fast to sneak it in while at work.

  18. I take it, "I am, therefore I think," that you do not actually look like a young Al Pacino then. Nor do you look like any other White person.

    Either that or you do look White, but you live in Hawaii. ;)

  19. I could also have responded (completely ironically, of course) that if you don't like living in the most racially enlightened country in the world, if it's giving you so many problems, why don't you just leave?!

  20. Kushibo,

    If I did look like Pacino and/or had his acting talents, I'd be in a completely different profession... and tax bracket. : )

    As for why I don't go back to where I come from, I love this country to death, even with its many shortcomings. I guess my tendency to focus on the positive rather than the negative enables me to stay here and be happy.



  21. I agree with "I am therefor... I have lived in the US all my life, Cali, NJ, Hawaii, and in most cases, I'm still reminded everyday that I do not belong in this country because I do not look like young Al Pacino, whether the discrimination is coming from a white, black or any other colorful humans living in this country. And I agree again with "I am therefor... that I try to accentuate on all the greatness this country has to offer and look on the positive side of life

  22. It would be fun to remind everyone now that once upon a time in America, people who looked like Al Pacino were thought to not belong. ;)

  23. Yes it is true they were thought not to belong in this country once upon a time, but the difference is that now they are welcomed because they look like young Al

  24. i have a friend who is small in height. how will korean people treat her when we move there next year?

  25. This comment has been removed by the author.

  26. It would be interesting to know what all of you think about this subject now that five years has passed. I would like to add another condition to the topic. How about being FEMALE and a foreigner?


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