**Update 2: "Adventures in the 4077th" offers a bit of advice to Chris in their post "Un-Koreanness and White Whine"**
Update 3: Scroozle adds his two bits.
So Chris in South Korea put a piece on his blog called "Embracing My Un-Korean-ness"
And I disagree with it. I wish nothing but the best to Chris himself... but I disagree with him from time to time. Like now.
His article starts off saying that he's not Korean... and follows that statement with the assertion that "Not after...even a lifetime of living in Korea will this country fully accept me." He shares examples of ways that various Koreans have given him "the foreigner treatment:" shouting "hello" out of car windows or using him as a walking dictionary. From there, here are a few of the juiciest tidbits:
Even if you’ve spent 40 years in Korea, married to a local, speak perfect Korean, don’t be too surprised when some ajosshi goes out of his way to shoulder-bump you as you come up the subway steps. It DOES NOT MATTER....In the minds of many native Koreans, even a gyopo isn’t a full-fledged Korean....As a source of relief we find our fellow foreigner. We meet up at [expat] bars... and read [expat] magazines... both of which separate us from the natives....Now, the main problem I have with this article is very simple: It seems like Chris wants to have his cake and eat it too. He seems to want to be welcomed to Korea with open arms (or wants us to feel his pain and disappointment that he is not) while wanting to "do Korea" on his own terms... without learning the language ("why bother,") and without even letting go of the numerous stereotypes of Koreans he trots out in the course of the article (ajumma elbows, rude ajosshis, kids shouting hello, people asking inane questions, vomit-stained doorways). Do those stereotypes exist for a reason? Sure. That's always the first line of defens(iveness spoken). Are my chances of finding a real connection with a member of ANY group going to improve, if I hold onto the stereotypes of that group? Nope. And if I'm not even willing to meet them somewhere in the middle -- if it has to be on my terms? Strong nope.
If there is one fair indictment of foreigners, it’s that learning-Korean part. A few noble exceptions notwithstanding, not too many waygooks pick up any more Korean than necessary. Why bother? ...At best, we’re patronized; at worst, we’re excluded from the rest of the story.
....It is quite possible, however, to live in Korea on your terms, learn about the culture, and embrace a new lifestyle. Just don’t expect the ‘open-arms’ treatment from the locals.
Perhaps if Chris tried to meet Korea somewhere in the middle, and offered up more of the benefit of the doubt, he'd discover, as I'd venture some of us have, that Korea contains all types, including bigoted jerks who shove people on the stairs because they're foreigners, run-of-the-mill jerks who shove people on the stairs because they're in the way, people who say excuse me, people who don't want a non-Korean for an in-law, and people who would become a loyal friend (and buddy, Koreans are loyal to their friends until death), and even people who would happily become an in-law, to the right non-Korean. Perhaps Chris has discovered that (let's hope so!), but it didn't fit to say so in this article.
And finally... when he says "Not after...even a lifetime of living in Korea will this country fully accept me," I think Chris's attitude is a little defeatist - deciding not to meet Korea in the middle, or on its own terms, and then feeling alienated because Koreans don't accept one, therefore hunkering down and leaning into the expat enclave, is kind of a chicken-egg vicious cycle. I also think his expectations are a little unreasonable... especially in a country whose leaders used a one-blood myth to get the nation on board during the economic growth of the 60s and 70s, that didn't see a significant incursion of non-Koreans (other than GIs) until the English teaching boom of the 1990s and 2000s... and a country that's made tons of effort (not always in the right direction, but...) to accomodate the expats living here, since I came in 2003.
I don't know exactly what Chris means when he asks Korea to welcome him with open arms... though many Koreans might think that approaching him and asking him if he can eat spicy food, where he's from, and if he likes Korea (sorry, "rikes Korea" - because Koreans talk like Scooby Doo) does qualify as welcoming him -- contrast an approach, a smile, and some inane and utterly expected questions with refusing him service, abusing him on the bus, and ushering him out of the dance club if he approaches a Korean woman... which sometimes happens to expats in Korea, if they're brown.
In my opinion, Chris doesn't fully account for how much learning Korean improves the Korea experience, and it appears his experience here has suffered because of it. My Korean's no great shakes, but the responses I get for trying to speak Korean are way better than when I tried to "waygook" my way through situations, and I'm having more fun, too. My friend who's fluent in Korean? She gets so much love from the Koreans around her it's not even funny. Every Korean in her neighborhood seems to know her name sometimes. You wanna bet she's enjoying living there more than Chris is enjoying living in his neighborhood?
I don't ask Korea, as a nation in its entirety, to accept me. I don't know what that would look like, anyway, and my house isn't big enough for 50 million Christmas cards, and I don't need every Korean to shake my hand... I don't want every Korean to shake my hand. I'd settle for an open-arms welcome from my wife and her family, from enough friends to busy my Friday nights and give me quality company, from my boss and colleagues, and then for a continuation of efforts by policy makers and businesses to become more accommodating to expats and multicultural families, and their needs and their funny ID numbers and non-conventional documentation, and then for the rest of Korea to be OK enough with expats living in Korea that they leave me alone, and don't have a problem with their kids playing with my kid, don't have a problem with me living my own life in Korea. I'm not sure how much more would be fair to ask of a country.
So... that's my beef with Chris's post. I also agree with much of what Bobster says in his comment.
Hope he doesn't mind my response.
Some other issues were raised - particularly in the comments of Chris's post - about otherness, and about the way "other" often gathers into enclaves... but I'll deal with that in another post.