So, as someone from South Africa, the topic of racism is never far from the conversation. For those who don’t know, Google “South Africa Apartheid” and you’ll realize why I made the above statement. Coming from a country where racism is front and centre on a lot of issues, I’m very aware of it in other countries I visit.
The foreign population in South Korea is sitting at around 3.4% – and that includes other nationalities from Asia itself. So if you’re looking at the white or POC (people of colour) population in Korea – the number is tiny. This does not bother me in the slightest. From being in South Africa where the white population is sitting at 8.85% (stat was taken from the 2011 SA National Census) I’ve always been the minority and being ‘outnumbered’ is something that I don’t see as being a negative thing.
Language barrier? Does it make the situation better or worse?
In South Africa, we have 11 official languages and there is a language barrier to an extent – but nothing like South East Asia. Through the many horrific years of apartheid, English became widely used in South Africa and most speak it. Please note I am not speaking on behalf of all of South Africa – just my experience living there.
I personally feel that humans don’t need language to divide us necessarily; we can co-exist without speaking the same language. I think we’re divided by hate and ignorance alone.
My experience with Racism in Korea
In all honesty, I’ve had a relatively good experience here in South Korea. I have read reports online and heard stories from my friends that do make me a little anxious to mission around on my own.
The Older Generation
The older generation (not all – but a large chunk) don’t want us here and there have been several assumed reasons why. For one, they don’t believe Koreans should be learning English and they take their “pure-blooded racial community” very seriously. Since the Korean War there has been a huge influx of foreigners and with that comes… Mixed race unions and mixed-race offspring.
I’ve gotten a few dirty looks on the subway and that’s about it. I do know that they sometimes get a bit verbally abusive towards foreigners but I have never heard of a report where it led to physical abuse.
The Younger Generation
I have had babies cry and dogs bark at the sight of me. It’s the strangest thing but I try not to take it personally. The dogs barking kinda sorta breaks my heart. It’s just because they don’t see foreigners like… ever. It’s like looking at a new species for the first time and it can be frightening. Also, I probably looked a hot mess so they’re forgiven.
The Jealousy Factor
It’s pretty common in South Korea for males to want to ‘ride the white horse.’ This basically means that they want to hook up with white foreigners. As you may have guessed, this does not make female Koreans very happy and for good reason, in my opinion. All this attention goes straight to foreigners – not because they’re good people or even attractive for that matter – it’s simply because of the colour of their skin. It’s something that I hope dissipates in the future.
We can also teach here without the correct qualifications. A degree and a TEFL course are all you need to teach in Korea and that’s more than other countries – so yeah… Standards of foreign teachers can be dismal! Koreans need proper teaching qualifications and I’ve heard their salaries are LESS than foreign teachers. So… I get the beef.
My final thoughts on Racism in Korea
When I was living in Thailand as a foreigner I felt more annoyed than living in South Korea. In Thailand, I was constantly ripped off and it just made my experience that little more frustrating. I can deal with the funny looks and crying babies, just please dogs – start to love me or I’ll have to move! I think when you understand the reason behind actions you can rest easier and not take things so personally! It’s all to do with the process of understanding one another and being more accepting. This is a journey I personally love being on!