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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

For our Korean Readers: Interacting with foreigners

“Are we really that different”?

Interacting with foreigners while demonstrating a friendly atmosphere based on cultural understanding and communication.

Korea is filled with an atmosphere of jovial spirits and good tidings, the language demonstrates a need for respecting elders, strangers (of Korean descent) and impressions of gratitude. “Wagukens” or “foreigners” coming to Korea are entertained and showered with affections in certain situations but the term “Waguken” is a perfect instance of how enclosed and homogenous Korea is as a nation. The term designates anyone not of Korean heritage or direct ancestral link as not only “foreign” but alien in nature, intrinsically different in all matters of life. That which is ultimately “set apart”, yet regardless of race, color, or creed we are all alike as human beings who encompass the globe. We all feel, share, cry, laugh, take importance in family memories. Many Koreans need to take into account that there is a mother or father thousands of Kilometers away that cry and feel anguish because their child is far away from home and in need of support.

Koreans sometimes approach “Waguken’s” as novelty items who can’t relate to Korean life or culture. But this is simply untrue. The mannerism’s are apparent in your children who scoff, laugh, entice ill sentiments and treat foreigners disrespectfully while speaking Korean or English. it is evident in the young children who don’t address us with the proper respectful term “Yoh” or point in a cocky sneer and scream “Waguken”!!!!

Korean’s have difficulty with addressing, commiserating, or sharing feelings, thoughts or idea’s with foreigners. There is a gap that must be addressed, while addressing a foreigner, being over excited, very touchy or loud makes us as uncomfortable as you are while speaking with us. The best scenario is too act calm, speak slowly, and give continuous eye contact. We are not clowns, it is better to attempt to speak English with as much respect as you would show towards a fellow Korean. In Western countries we address strangers as “Sir” (for a male adult) or Ms. (for a female adult). We have honorific term’s in our language as well, we are addressed formerly until we let an individual know that it is okay to address us by our informal names. In the Korean school system it is improper to address a Korean teacher informally but it has been sanctioned perfectly acceptable to address a foreigner teacher informally from the start. Koreans have argued that addressing foreign teacher’s by their first names from the start creates a more comfortable and amicable relationship amongst the teacher and student. I disagree, children have been raised to listen and respect adults because of their status and knowledge, we have earned the same respect. Our lives have been filled with hard earned knowledge that accumulates to wisdom. We are owed the same respect due to our own endeavors and knowledge, Korean school children should be encouraged to bow, pay homage and respect all adults, not just those of Korean descent.

Foreigner’s contribute to the economy and live very similar lives to Koreans, we get ready for work in the morning, we work hard all day, we go to the grocery store, and we do our banking. Many Foreigner’s are very interested in Korean history, Korean culture and the Korean language. A good way to meet a Foreigner and begin a friendship is to approach us respectfully and ask basic questions while making us feel comfortable. Many times I have been approached and grabbed on my legs, arms and chest by full grown adults who snicker and think its “okay” to treat foreigners the same way cattle is handled at a meat market, this is a sure fire way to make us truly uncomfortable and we will not want to associate with you further. Also, while seated a table with fellow Korean friends, I would suggest not laughing at everything a Foreigner says while engaging in a conversation with them. This also makes us uncomfortable and embarrassed, it is better to be respectful and realize that every time you say a word in English would you want us to laugh? Every single time? Every single word? The English language is widely spoken and the more you view it as a “joke” or ” silly thing” the less likely that you or your children will benefit from its use here in Korea. Korea has spent countless amounts of money and time attempting to learn the English language but does not want to incorporate western culture into its foundation. Western culture is not only tied up in the people who come here to teach English but also in the language itself, this lack of insight exacerbates Korea’s inability to grasp the English language as a whole.

Most Foreigner’s I meet desire learning Korean but in Ulsan, there are not many programs geared towards teaching Korean. A great way to form a bond with a foreigner is to teach them some Korean and encourage their learning of the language. Language exchange is a great tool to further your English abilities, strengthen a friendship with someone from a different place and learn from someone in very comfortable one on one setting. Korean has so much to offer, and is a great language to learn. I know many foreigners who attempt to learn Korean but are laughed at every time they say any word in Korean, so these foreigners stop trying to learn and isolate themselves from Koreans daily. If you are Korean and reading this, please stop laughing, set the standards for fostering a comfortable environment for foreigners. There are a broad range of subjects in which language exchange is useful and it is a great and fun tool but there needs to be MUTUAL respect for each others nervousness and comfortability. I write these words not to “put down” Korea but to shine a light on some misunderstandings between “Foreigners” and “Hangukens”.

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