Mystery of love takes new turn with these guysThey are called gyopos, and there are googols of them looking for that someone they can settle down with. Their mission is to find a woman of Victorian breeding, and that is why Sunoo, a matchmaking service, is opening an office in New York City. If this is a little confusing, Kim Sang-mi can help clear things up, even though she says she is somewhat frustrated.
Ms. Kim, 29, is a college graduate with a couple years of work experience. She holds a public accountant’s certificate valid in the United States. She has lived with her family for most of her life. She has backpacked across Europe and studied English in California. She often describes herself as the typical Korean woman. Her frustration stems from her recent marriage to a gyopo, whose mission is now apparently accomplished.
“Marriage itself is enough of a shock already,” Ms. Kim said, one week after her wedding in Seoul. “And, here, by marrying someone living abroad, I am adding an extra shock.” The shock has nothing to do with this species of men, if we may call them that, and everything to do with expectations.
“I have traveled abroad and lived in the United States briefly while I was studying English, but relocating abroad because of marriage is completely different,” Ms. Kim says. “Although it was a long-distance relationship, I was confident about it. But marriage is different from dating. I can feel it is going to be tough. All my friends talk about marriage shock, and now I am adding an extra cultural shock on top of it by marrying a gyopo.”
So what exactly is a gyopo? The term refers to an ethnic Korean living in a foreign country. Because interracial marriage is still taboo among many Koreans, gyopo parents prefer a Korean spouse for their daughters and sons ― especially sons. And what about the Victorian angle?
“All these gyopo parents who are looking for brides for their gyopo sons have this stereotypical image of obedient and submissive Korean women in their mind,” says Choi Yun-hyeong, a matchmaker at Sunoo. “But, it is hard to find a Korean woman of Victorian upbringing in the United States.”
In his poem “Princess,” Alfred Tennyson, the Victorian poet, offers an apt description of what these parents apparently expect:
Man for the field and woman for the hearth/Man with the head and woman with the heart/Man to command and woman to obey.
Yes, no doubt, these guys are having trouble finding a mate.
“Gyopo men believe gyopo girls are more aggressive and outgoing than women raised in Korea,” says Ms. Choi. “They often have difficulty meeting Korean girls because their community is so small and their lives are limited within the boundaries of school, work and church.”
Ms. Choi notes that a second-generation Korean man living in the United States, despite his exposure to a multicultural society, often prefers a conservative spouse. “Parents of gyopo sons are particularly old-fashioned,” Ms. Choi says. “They have immigrated to the United States in the 1970s and 1980s and now have a son old enough to marry. Such parents, working all hours to make ends meet, rarely had time to visit Korea, and they do not know about the changes in Korean society.”
Out of fear that their son may show up one day with a non-Korean bride, Korean parents who immigrated go to the extreme to introduce their sons to women in Korea. To meet this demand professional matchmakers are arranging gatherings between gyopo men and women living here. A month ago, Sunoo held an event called “Love Across the Pacific.” Twelve Korean women flew to New York for three days of marathon dates with gyopo men.
Matchmaking is popular in Korea, where arranged marriages of various forms are common. But the mass matchmaking between bachelors in the United States and bachelorettes in Korea was an unprecedented event.
“Matching up a Korean living in a foreign country is very difficult because of the need to verify factual information, such as age, education, job and even their marriage history, which are essential for an arranged marriage,” says Lim Seon-yeong, a Sunoo counselor. “So many matchmakers lost confidence in such a program that we learned a lesson from them and decided to introduce a very strict screening system before actually arranging the meetings.”
In the past, a gyopo man was not a particularly interesting spouse-to-be for a Korean woman, mostly because of the frustration Ms. Kim referred to. That, however, is slowly changing, which prompted Sunoo to organize the New York event.
“We placed an advertisement in major Korean-language dailies in the United States and many bachelors applied for the 12 spots,” Ms. Lim says. “About four persons applied for each spot.” The matchmaker, to insure the quality of the bachelors, set strict conditions. The man must be a gyopo with more than a college education and a stable job in the United States. He must have relatives in Korea. According to Ms. Lim, most of the 12 selected bachelors were professionals in their late 30s. Most of the women who signed up were in their mid-20s and early 30s with advanced degrees.
“We particularly looked for women with more than one year experience living overseas,” Ms. Choi says. She says the women interested in such an event should qualify for a U.S. visa and have relatives or friends in America.
Sunoo reports that “Love Across the Pacific” was such a success that it plans to open an office in New York.
Matchmaking is on the surface very simple; just introduce two willing people. Theories abound on how to find love. Providing help for people in the hunt is a lucrative industry. It would be so much simpler if expectations could be accurately fathomed. Gyopo men are looking for a Korean woman of conservative upbringing to be a wife and mother and take care of the home. But what is the motivation of the women here who seek out these potential mates?
“I wanted to attend graduate school abroad,” says Shin Ji-yeon (not her real name), one of the 12 women who participated in the matchmaking event. “But it is difficult to just leave and go to school, because I was getting older. I thought it would be nice to marry someone living abroad and go to school in America after the marriage.”
Over the years, while Korean parents abroad have been plotting their sons’ paths to matrimony, Korean women have evolved, one might say, harboring new expectations for married life, a change brought on by increasing travel and study overseas. So while these women are indeed more attuned to moving overseas if that is required for marriage, they may not be compliant spouses.
Apparently hearth does not figure much in many of these women’s calculations. “It is not like I have to marry a gyopo,” says Ms. Shin, a 28-year-old fashion designer. “It was more like, it would be nice to marry one to achieve the two goals ― marriage and graduate school abroad ― at the same time.”
Ms. Shin says it was her idea to apply for the matchmaking event and her parents did not object. “I have traveled a lot, and I had one year of English study in New York,” she says. “I know the country and I am accustomed to the culture. I feel no problem living in a foreign country.” Ms. Shin says she still wants to live in Korea eventually after graduate school and several years of marriage. Marrying a gyopo, therefore, seemed to create every possible condition for her dream.
After the speedy courtships, meeting all 12 bachelors, she ended up exchanging e-mail with one of them. “That still does not mean anything definite,” she says. “I attended the meeting with a casual mind. It was like having fun and meeting good people during travel. I was surprised that many men there were older than I expected and more serious than the women.”
Ms. Shin says the matchmaking event in New York was fun and exciting, but it was difficult to find Mr. Perfect. “It is hard to get to know someone through such an instant meeting,” she says. “But what is important is that you had an opportunity to meet someone you would hardly run across in Seoul. It all depends on how you approach and develop a relationship.”
According to the National Statistical Office, the number of interracial marriages in Korea has grown steadily in recent years. In 2001, 10,006 Korean men married foreign women, whereas 5,228 Korean women married foreign men. In 1991, 5,012 Koreans married foreigners. Of the 5,228 women who married foreigners in 2001, 1,132 married U.S. citizens. There were no statistics available about how many of the foreigners were Korean-Americans. In 2002, 4,896 Korean women married foreigners, and even more Korean women and foreign men are tying the knot this year.
Among the newlyweds is Lee So-ra (not her real name), who married a gyopo she met through Sunoo. Ms. Lee found her future husband through the service when he visited Korea to find a spouse. “I have traveled through Europe and studied English in Canada,” Ms. Lee says. “After eight months in Vancouver, I was aware that I kind of envy the comfortable and free lifestyle there. It was not an envy over economic prosperity, but it was more about the way of living.”
Ms. Lee met her future mate after six meetings arranged by Sunoo. “My husband immigrated to the United States when he was 11, and his parents strongly pressured him to sign up for the service,” Ms. Lee says. “It was his second matchmaking trip here.”
The couple met for the first time in June, and they registered their marriage on June 12. “From time to time, I thought it would be nice to live abroad,” Ms. Lee says. “It will open up more opportunities than are available to a married woman in Korea.” She admitted that marriage often brings a lot of unwanted social and family pressure to play the model role of a mother and a wife, as well as a daughter-in-law. “A married woman in Korea has to do a lot of things just because others are doing them, but foreigners don’t do all those things,” Ms. Lee says. “I envied that.”
It is apparent that Ms. Lee is not afraid of cultural shock, in fact she is looking forward to her cross-cultural marriage.
“I never dreamed that the person I would marry would be living in the United States” she says. “But, I would like to tell Korean women that they should open their eyes wide and try to find that special one by looking throughout the world, not just in Korea.”
by Ser Myo-ja