Are you planning a trip to Korea and feeling nervous about how you will be received? Have you heard negative things about how Korean people will act towards you, even from Korean Americans? Do you fear being a victim of hatred and prejudice while in Korea? If so, you are not alone. Many people have gone through this anxiety before flying into Incheon. I felt the same way myself before going to Korea. But the question is what are people really like in Korea?
For this article, I will examine my personal experience in Korea by examining 3 things Korean Americans told me about Korea. Did Korean people hate me because I’m not Korean? Did people point at me and make fun of me? Was I treated rudely by Korean people? Please keep in mind that this takes in a trip where I was in 강남 (Gangnam), 도봉 (Dobong) and 광양 (Kwangyang) South Korea. For those who don’t know, 강남 has the reputation of being the Beverly Hills of Korea, 도봉 is an area of north Seoul that has almost no #외국인 (waygookin) and 광양 is on the southern coast of Korea, and is about a 4 hour bus ride away from 서울 (Seoul).
Did Korean People Hate Me Because I’m Not Korean?
No. I did not feel any hate while I was in Korea. Usually, I am followed around stores by people who think I’m going to steal, even when I’m dressed in a suit. So you can imagine who shocked I was to be walking around a rich area of an expensive city, and I was treated like a normal human being. No one followed me around. No one gave me any dirty looks. For the first time in my life, I felt human, I felt like I was normal. It was the least amount of prejudice that I have ever had in my life. Everyone was very loving and caring towards me. The kindness I felt was, at times overwhelming.
Did People Point at Me and Make Fun of Me?
No. No one made fun of me at all. And this is even though I do not speak fluent Korean and am 193 cm tall. If anything, people treated me better than they did other Korean people. On the subway, the seating right by the doors are reserved for the elderly, sick and for women who are pregnant or with small children. It is an unwritten rule that everyone in the country follows. But an older gentleman insisted that I sit in that section on a long ride. He kept telling me it was okay, even though I insisted I was fine. Despite my less than stellar Korean, I was easily understood by everyone I talked to. I had no troubles expressing myself and no trouble ordering food in restaurants. I was quickly treated like family by many people.
Was I Treated Rudely By Korean People?
No. I was treated with more dignity and respect in Korea than I ever have been in the United States or in the Korean American community. Most people I met wanted to practice their English, wanted to help me with my Korean, or was curious as to why I was able to speak Korean. After being in Korea, I have many new family members that I am close to. Korean culture is one based on love. And love is what I felt in Korea. This love came from elderly people all the way down to small children. The Korean people I met were anything but rude. It was a glimpse into what life should be like.
Why Do These Stereotypes of Koreans Exist?
I am not the first person who has heard these statements and felt they were false. But why do people think so negatively about Korea people? Sadly, a major reason for this is because of the comments made by Korean Americans. Many Korean Americans spread a negative view of Korea, even if they have not been back there in decades. Some had negative experiences while in Korea, and feel that everyone else will be treated the same way. Others are just negative people who feel that they are somehow superior to people who live in Korea. But just as two people will have different experience in America, the same will be true of two people in Korea.
I’m not saying that South Korea is a paradise. There are many problems that exist there, and there are many people who are prejudice there as well. It’s just like any other country, just with the main language being Korean. But one should understand that there are big differences between Korean culture and Korean American culture. Just because a Korean American tells you something, it does not mean that it will always be true.
The point of this blog is to help shed some of the fears you may have because of talking to Korean Americans, or others, about Korea. While you should not expect life in Korea to be the same as it is on Korean Dramas, you should not fear people hating you or wanting to harm you because you were born somewhere else or don’t speak fluent Korean. If I judged Korea by what people told me, I would have never taken the chance to learn about the language and culture. I would be the one missing out on a wonderful culture and wonderful people. The best way to learn about a people is to take a chance and get to know them. The best way to learn about a culture is to take a chance to get to know it. I don’t regret taking a chance on Korean language, culture and people. And I feel that if you take a chance, you won’t regret it also. And by all means, if you have any questions, #askthewaygookin.