[Letters] An uneasy relationship: Korea and the West

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[Letters] An uneasy relationship: Korea and the West

The controversial news story “The Shocking Reality of Relationships with Foreigners” has angered the expatriate community, and rightfully so. MBC has broadcast sensationalism at the expense of journalistic integrity and the dignity of entire segments of the population by depicting male Western foreigners as immoral and cruel and female Koreans as helpless victims.

The initial expat backlash was rapid and vehement on May 30, generating thousands of comments on both Facebook and English-speaking blogs within a matter of hours of the translated video’s YouTube posting. Some foreigners’ reactions were that the story ran afoul of basic multicultural understanding and sensibilities, and that it underscored how inept Koreans still are to the increasingly globalized world in which they are inextricably linked.

Many others highlighted social ills in Korea as rebuttals, stating that the relationships between Korean men and women leave much to be desired because of high incidences of physical abuse, philandering and alcoholism.

As a resident of this country for the past 16 months, I cannot deny that I have either seen or heard about degrading and abusive acts by Korean people. But I also cannot deny that I have either seen or heard about degrading and abusive acts by fellow foreigners. This begs the question as to whether making the comparison of who is more immoral and backward - foreigners or Koreans - is worthy of our time, effort and self-respect. These judgements pull us away from the more important discussion about the foreigner experience.

While discrimination against foreigners in Korea is real, the foreigner, namely Western, sense of entitlement in Korea is not valid. Korea may hurt our feelings, hurt our children’s feelings or give us one too many bad days. Yet Korea owes us nothing. Most of us have some of the best jobs and benefits in Korea. Some of us travel the world on Korea’s dime. We expect Korea to communicate to us in our language, and Korea complies. Yes, we do make sacrifices in order to live abroad, but this is a choice. Historically, Koreans have rarely had a choice but to make far greater sacrifices for our very privilege to be here.

Furthermore, if you work in a classroom, school, university, office, store or restaurant that is routinely swept, polished and shined by a cleaning staff, chances are these people are irregular workers who are denied the very job security and benefits to which you are entitled by contract.

Foreigners needn’t find themselves at the whim of other people’s prejudices or their own.

*An ESL teacher in Gangwon and a member of the International Strategy Center’s media team
By Kellyn Gross
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