중앙데일리

Can you say ‘expatriate community’?

June 18,2008
Emanuel Yi Pastreich
As a person writing a column on a page called “foreign community,” this may sound like I’m biting the hand that feeds me, but I don’t like being called a “foreigner.”

The term usually isn’t used maliciously, but the fact that it’s so entrenched in the language and culture demonstrates an exclusionism that’s a major obstacle to Korea’s goal of becoming a global nation.

Of course, for the portion of the expatriate community (yes, the name of this section of the paper is also under debate) who don’t speak Korean, the separation implied by the term is reasonably justified.

But for Emanuel Yi Pastreich, “the issue of being called a foreigner or thought of as a foreigner” is a larger problem.

Pastreich is director of the Asia Institute at Woosong University’s SolBridge School of Business in Daejeon and is an adviser to the governor of South Chungcheong Province. He speaks fluent Korean and has two Korean-American kids, also fluent, who attend local elementary schools. He and his wife each took the other’s last name when they married.

“Often when you are in Korea, people end up being forced to choose between being in an international community or a Korean community,” he said.

He and his family have chosen, so far, to live in the Korean community, but the decision has been difficult for his children.

“[Korean] kids would point at my son and say, ‘There goes a foreigner,’” he said. “It’s hard for him to blend in, even though he just thinks he’s a kid.”

On the positive side, Pastreich said he does see headway being made in his work with the local government.

“Korea has made a lot of progress in this respect. It’s gone from being a hermit kingdom to being relatively open. There’s an effort to imagine a multicultural world. They put on seminars, events and open global centers. I highly commend Koreans on the efforts that they’re trying to make, which is sometimes more substantial than in other countries.”

But much of this activity still needs a lot of work. “Government documents and proposals all say, ‘Foreigner this, foreigner that,’” when they’re talking about programs designed for attracting investment from abroad. “It’s exclusionist and amateurish,” said Pastreich. “The word ‘foreigner,’ if used inappropriately, can give a very negative impression.”

Pastreich says the prevalence of the word and its implications stem from what it means to be “Korean.”

“It starts with the issue of race and nationality. Koreans have traditionally tried to blur or combine them. It’s part of the post-war ideology of trying to establish a national identity after the colonial period.”

This conflation of race with nationality complicates things when people decide to take Korean citizenship.

“Overseas Koreans are Koreans,” said Pastreich, “even though their citizenship is not. But a naturalized Thai is still Thai, even if he’s Korean.”

Pastreich has some ideas about how this society can work to overcome this deep-seeded segregation.

“We need to create a space for Vietnamese-Koreans, American-Koreans, and other internationals,” he said.

“Television would be a way to change it. Have a show about a daughter or a son marrying a husband or wife from overseas, and talk about the misunderstandings that emerge.

“Also, change international documents to use the term ‘international community’ instead of ‘foreigners.’ Only identify foreigners when it’s necessary,” Pastreich suggested.

It looks like I’ll have to continue that talk with my desk head about the name of this page.


By Richard Scott-Ashe Deputy Editor [richard@joongang.co.kr]



dictionary dictionary | 프린트 메일로보내기 내블로그에 저장