Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Wanna Chat with Foreign Beauties? How to Make Friends with a Foreigner Part 5

This post is part of a series providing tips for expats in Korea who are interested in becoming friends with Koreans, and tips for Koreans who are interested in becoming friends with Westerners. Read. Yes, I know these are sweeping generalizations. Deal with it.

Tip 13: Be realistic. I’m one person, not a representative of a whole group. Please don’t ask me questions like “what do foreigners think of Korea?” because there are more than a million foreigners in Korea, with different ages, educations, origins, and experiences of Korea. If you think foreigners are one huge group that are basically all the same, you'll miss the chance to experience the huge variety of foreigners in Korea.

Yes, I am aware of the irony of myself, speaking on behalf of all foreigners, imploring Koreans not to ask us to speak on behalf of all foreigners.

Tip 13.1 Don't expect me to know everything about my home country. Especially if I’ve been in Korea for a long time, my knowledge about my home country becomes outdated, and rusty. Canada was a different place in 2003, when I left. Seven years later, the internet is a more reliable source than I am about a lot of things.

Tip 13.2 Especially, do not ask me to defend my country's political actions, foreign policy, etc., or hold me responsible for decisions made by my home country's business or political leaders... and if you’re going to bring up social problems in my home country, make sure you have your facts straight, and it doesn’t sound like you’re just bringing them up to show that you think Korea’s better. A former student used to come into class saying "I read that Canada has a higher divorce rate than Korea. What do you have to say about that?"... I didn't have much to say, but when he invited me to hang out outside of class, I politely declined.

Tip 14 Be yourself: In the same way, don't try to represent all Koreans, or speak as if all Koreans are basically the same. Korea is a diverse, sometimes extremely divided country - North and South, Jeolla and Gyungsan, Left Wing and Right Wing, rich and poor, city and country, and so forth. When my friends start saying "Koreans are..." "Koreans think..." a lot, I begin to wonder where they got their facts.

Tip 14.1 Also, don't start talking like a promotional flyer. It makes it seem like you care about my opinion of your country more than you care about me, personally. If I want to know about something, I'll ask, and unless you know a lot more about a topic than most Koreans, I've probably already heard it (especially once a foreigner has been in Korea longer than six months).

Tip 14.2 These last two rules go double for talking about politics, hot topics and controversial issues. You don't have to defend Korea in areas where everybody knows it needs improvement, just because this time, the critic is a foreigner instead of another Korean. You're allowed to say "Yeah. We Koreans hate ___, too. It's pretty fucked up." In fact, we'd love it if you were that honest with us: it would show that you're sincere about having an honest conversation.

1 comment:

Brian said...

With Korea's divorce rate climbing toward 50%, I don't think Koreans can brag about that anymore.

Your 13.1 is interesting. While I was in Korea I paid a lot of attention to Korean news, especially that going on in Jeollanam-do, but admittedly didn't follow stuff back home too much. That's something expats will need to be careful of, because as teachers you're sort of expected to be a window into your culture (though I understand there's resistance to too much English-language culture in Korea's English-language classes).

Nice job here, as with your whole series.