Shadowed by the label of ‘native’

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Shadowed by the label of ‘native’

I’ve learned English only in Korea but worked for an English-language paper for eight years. So chef Leo Kang’s controversial remark touched a nerve.

In an interview, he said, “Learning western cuisine in Korea is like learning Korean cuisine in London.”

According to his reasoning, English is a Western language and should be learned in the West. Despite my 990 TOEIC score, my passport had no stamps until I was 24. Perhaps I should apologize for never learning English abroad.

I remember my first day working for an English newspaper. I was eager to write articles that would change the world. But the editor, who had an English name and was not fluent in Korean, gave me a television programing schedule to translate. My day went by while I debated between “infinite” and “endless” to translate the title of a popular variety show. But I eventually learned about journalism. I may not have American schools on my resume, but when writing, it’s more important to know the order and significance of the April 19 Revolution and May 16 Coup.

Now, I’ve been reporting in Korea for eight years, but the shadow of “native” stays on.

In 2011, a minister nonchalantly said, “It’s strange that you worked for an English paper with no overseas experience.”

He made it look like the most unnatural thing.

When a publisher specializing in foreign policy and security asked me for a translation, the editor said, “You know your credibility is undermined because you only studied in Korea.”

Seven years ago, I interviewed Kang and remembered the scars and burns on his arm, which he proudly called battle scars proving his time in the kitchen. A few years later, he took classes from royal cuisine researcher Han Bok-ryeo to “learn Korean cuisine as a Korean.” Kang was a serious man, and I don’t think he maliciously criticized Choi Hyeon-seok, a high school graduate with no overseas experience. His words must have been misunderstood as he expressed regrets on the food industry.

Do your birthplace and upbringing determine competency? I called KBS producer Lee Uk-jeong, who went to cooking school abroad.

“Talent blooms depending not on the location but on the individual.”

His answer was reasonable and simple. In fact, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times Seoul correspondent Choi Sang-hoon and star English instructor Lee Bo-young were educated in Korea. I don’t want to feel sorry anymore. Instead, I will keep working to improve my skills. Regardless of where you come from and where you are trained, chefs need to cook and reporters should write news stories.

The author is a political and international news writer for the JoongAng Ilbo

JoongAng Ilbo, July 4, Page 27


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