Thursday, January 31, 2008

Got in the paper again.

There's a new section in the Korea Herald (the paper my school receives) called "Expat Living". I sent a letter in about something I care about, and they published it today.

You can see it at, if you click on the box that says, "ExPat Living", or just trust me that it's there, and read it here.

I'm posting it as it was published in the Herald -- the version I originally submitted had been edited for length, with the first paragraph deleted and some the crucial information from Paragraph 1 adapted into other parts of the letter.

Of course, it's fun seeing my name in print; more gratifying, though, was when one of my students looked at me after reading the article in a conversation class and said, "I never thought of that before, but you changed the way I think." This was the same student I mentioned earlier, in another post. She's great, always ready to talk about stuff head-on, but it was really satisfying to hear her say, "You've convinced me."

I'm still all shiny from that.

here's my article, then:



[Letter to the editor] The word foreigner as an agent of exclusion

As Korea aims to become a true global hub, it is time to think how the word waygukin, or "foreigner" is used. The word seems harmless: We are foreigners, aren`t we? But looking closer, just as the word "businessman" hinted that women didn`t really belong in the office, the word waygukin, literally "outside-country person," draws a circle called "Korea," and sets expatriates on the outside, looking in.

It is a small step from saying: "You`re not from here" outright, to implying "and you don`t belong here, either." The words waygukin and foreigner don`t mean to marginalize people, but neither did the word businessman, before it became politically correct to say businessperson, instead. Intentionally or not, it did -- and they do.

These words are so common that we foreigners even use them when talking about ourselves. Rather than just being marginalized by someone else, we are even excluding ourselves from Korean society. If I call myself an outsider, I will also think like one. I may hesitate to invest my full energy and passion in Korea, since even the word used to describe me implies: "You don`t really belong here."

The word waygukin says what we are not, but it`s time for a word that describes what we are, instead. "International," and "expatriate" have positive meanings. This small name change recognizes that we are more than outsiders; we are a growing part of Korea`s new, globalizing society.

Some of us have lived here for a long time, and we can contribute a lot if we, and our efforts, are welcomed and appreciated. It may just be fussing about language, and it`s only one step in the long journey of globalization, but a little change in word-choice still opens doors for women in business, and another little change might encourage expatriates to invest more in Korean society.

It might also help Koreans to see us not as outsiders, but as capable, energetic people ready and willing to participate.

Koreans and internationals alike: Let`s find inclusive words that remind us we`re working together to help Korea grow, and let`s leave old, exclusive words like "foreigner" and "waygukin" in the "hermit kingdom" past, where they belong.

Robert Ouwehand, Seoul



melissa v. said...

congrats, friend! way to get your voice out there...or was it just your name you wanted to see in print? [smirk]

Roboseyo said...

You got me. It's just my narcissism expressing itself.

No, I actually DO care about this, and I actually DO get frustrated by this exclusionary language.

And I STRONGLY believe that the way we use language influences the way we think.