Stop slapping the label “foreigner” on expats

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Stop slapping the label “foreigner” on expats

As an American who has been living in South Korea for the past seven years, I found my eye drawn to a story in the July 3rd edition of the Korea JoongAng Daily about the growing number of foreigners living here. The article reported that 1.44 million expats are living in Korea today, adding that this figure includes “naturalized Korean citizens.” Later on, the article explains that “325,032 foreigners have Korean citizenship.”

The error in these statements should be immediately obvious. By definition, if one is a citizen of Korea - regardless of whether that citizenship was conferred at the time of birth or later through naturalization - one cannot be a foreigner. A foreigner, after all, is defined as someone who is not a citizen of a given country.

Of course, Koreans have traditionally placed importance on danilminjok - racial homogeneity. Perhaps for this reason, the word “foreigner” is often used more loosely here to mean anyone who is not ethnically Korean. This mindset can have serious consequences, as when an ethnic Uzbek woman who is a naturalized Korean citizen was barred from entering a sauna in Busan in 2011 because she looked like a foreigner.

Perhaps the actual object of these statistics is to track the growing ethnic diversity of residents of Korea. This is important, since Koreans must accept and adapt to the rapid changes in the ethnic composition of the country.

And one good way to do that is to stop slapping the label “foreigner” on those who care about Korea deeply enough - and have worked hard enough - to become naturalized Korean citizens.

* David Carruth Reporter for 10 Magazine in Seoul
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