Friday, January 02, 2009

From Their Mouth: The Foreign Menace

It’s pretty safe to say that most Koreans think the only reason native English teachers are here is because they couldn't hack it in their own country. In fact, I've even heard one older Korean man say that “90% of English teachers here are shit”. And honestly that might not be too far from the truth. I’ll admit that many English teachers in Korea are not good at all and choose to stay because of the extended college-like lifestyle, but not because they can't succeed in their home nation. However, that doesn't matter on the streets of Seoul. What matters is that you are non-Korean, probably a teacher (or American GI which is worse) and due to some lack of ability; the destitute circumstances in your life led you to become a teacher. In other words, you had to flee to Korea.

Since this mindset is relatively widespread -especially among the old and Korean men- it becomes even more troubling and directly affects all them when a young Korean woman, obviously aware of their deficiencies, decides to get romantically involved with such foreign failures. There's nothing that jolts the status quo like an interracial relationship, yet so many of these gals decide to do so. Using the same “can't hack it” logic to explain foreigner behavior, the immediate reaction that a Korean might have is to assume that the foreigner couldn't get a girlfriend at home, so they have to prey on the naive or unsuspecting Korean girl. Why else would they try such a thing?

There are tons of reasons why a person decides to date another person and, contrary to what a Korean man might believe, even “their” Korean women can have genuine reasons to become involved with a foreign man. And still, many Koreans chalk it up to curiosity, naïveté, sexual deviancy desire or other motives in an attempt to reduce the relationship to a youthful moment from which the Korean girl will grow up, come to her senses and marry a Korean man. The other path is that the Korean girl will wise up after discovering that a foreigner is obviously incapable of carrying on a meaningful relationship that goes beyond casual sex and then she will come to her senses and marry a Korean man. Both roads lead to their apparent savior or indicator of sanity: a relationship with a Korean man.

Lee Yun-ha, 29, had been in a relationship with her American boyfriend for the past several years. Six months ago, a minor dispute escalated, just as they can do in any relationship regardless of race, which led to the end of the relationship -nothing nasty, just a parting of ways. From what I gathered, neither one harbored any resentment towards the other. Recently, she has been trying to date again.

From Their Mouth:

So, you've been dating again. Are you dating foreigners or Korean men?” I started.
“I don’t really care, but I'm worried about dating a Korean man.”
“Worried? What about?”
I was not expecting that response.
그, I'm worried about explaining what I've been doing for the past three years.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don't want to tell him that I dated a foreigner.”
“Why not?”
“He would think I was sleazy (I provided that word) or have diseases.”
“Like STD's?”
“Yeah, or that I’m untrustworthy or crazy.”

The word ‘crazy’ in Korea is not something that is used playfully. It has a very serious and literal connotation. Because of absurd presumptions made by many Koreans, this young woman is ashamed simply because she had a totally legitimate relationship with a foreign man. She fears getting involved with a Korean man because she might have to reveal her horrible secret.

Certainly not all Korean men would react negatively and some might think it's interesting, but I can guarantee you that none of those Korean men would tell their mothers that their girlfriend or even wife used to date a foreigner. There are thousands of Korean girls dating foreign guys out there as well and not all of those relationships end in marriage. How do you think they explain that gap in their relationship resume? They don't. They lie. They lie because they fear the repercussion and the shame that their Korean boyfriend or husband will lay on them.

I started writing this last night and this morning in class, I had another great exchange on the topic. Kang Seok-ho looks like he’s about 35. He's a very bright, friendly guy who speaks English quite well. My class of eight was discussing a recent article in the Korea Times detailing the educational impact of English teachers choosing to leave Korea after only one year.

From their mouth:

Often times, male teachers will stay in Korea for more than one year, while females very rarely do so. Why is that? I asked the entire class.
Men stay here because it is easy for them to get Korean women.” Seok-ho blurted out.
Easy? Why is it easy? I know several people who can't seem to nab one.”
“Korean women want to study and speak English, so they get a foreign boyfriend.”
“So, English is the only reason for all these relationships? My wife must really love English.”
“No (laughing), it's not the only reason, but it's the main one.”

There you go. This fellow seemed to think that we are free and portable language classes to these Korean women. Somehow, all of these women are tricking their foreign boyfriend into thinking that they're actually interested in him.

I'm not sure what the obsession is with explaining such behavior, but why does there have to be an excuse or an ulterior motive for these women? So what is it? Is it because it’s perceived that foreign men who come here have it easier than their Korean counterpart and that leads to this apparent derision? Is it because all Korean women are naïve or curious? No! It's probably because many of us have less inhibitions and more confidence with women, so we actually approach beautiful women when we see them rather than whining over reasons why foreigners are ill-equipped to teach, prosper and have meaningful relationships with a woman, regardless of passport color.

Nonetheless, most stereotypes contain elements of truth. Some teachers do come to Korea to escape their own country. A few Korean women are just plain old slutty and want to feel like their being “naughty” by sleeping with foreigners and others may even do it for the English, but I assure you though, these people are an extreme minority and their intentions are usually never made public to anyone. Thus, they are left for the Korean population to decipher and that is where things tend to get a little dicey.


Harriet said...

This was a very interesting entry. You seem to break the mold presented here...and so does Go woon.

So glad to have you back on topics and experiences again.

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