Who Do You Love?: Korean Ethnocentrism, International Couples and the Dating Dilemma

EXPAT LIFE, Korean Life, Student Writing Add comments

By Bo-Kyung Byun

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the episode “Shocking Report on Relationships with Foreigners,” aired by Korea’s MBC TV network in late May, caused a great deal of controversy among the expat community as well as some head-scratching with its portrayal of foreign men who date Korean women as opportunistic, lewd and diseased criminals.  The producers buttressed the bogus segment with ambiguous situations, uncited phone-interviews with female “victims,” and provocative language.  But putting the ridiculousness of the “report” aside for a moment, the segment made me think of something that happened a few weeks ago at my prep school in Seoul which may provide a glimpse of what Korea’s youth thinks about dating and mating.

One afternoon during the last precious minutes of breaktime before the class bell, a friend and I launched into a heated debate over our ideal type. According to her, brown-haired guys were the best and my own preference for sandy blondes was written off as the sad result of having watched one too many chick flicks. Just when I was about to retaliate, I could hear the guy next to me chuckling, obviously having overheard our not-so-private conversation. In defense, I asked whether he really liked plain black hair, expecting him to concede a weakness for wide blue eyes or blonde curls.  Yet quickly and casually he responded, “She has to be Korean.” This was coming from a guy who had spent 11 years of his life in the U.S.

Baffled and curious, I bombarded him with a bunch of whispered follow-up questions throughout class to find out his reasoning. His opinion seemed more innate than contemplated, though, because he couldn’t seem to articulate a clear response: “Non-Koreans just can’t understand us,” and “Society seems to discourage international relationships” was the best I could get out of him.

Still bemused, and only half-believing him, I spent the next few days trying to gather whether my other male classmates had ever considered having a relationship with a non-Korean woman. But it didn’t matter how many I asked—not one of them was completely comfortable with the idea of marrying, or, in some cases, even dating a foreigner. I was shocked given that my Global Leadership Program (GLP) class is one specialized for students planning to study abroad, especially at high-ranking American universities. Many of us do volunteer work abroad, participate in international conferences, and take GLP classes—which are basically intensive English composition and literature courses. On top of that, most of my classmates have already spent more years abroad than the average Korean (many parents are professors, diplomats and businesspeople who’ve studied and worked overseas).

By R.M. Adamson

Apparently, their past and planned future exposure to foreign culture has little influence on their conservative beliefs regarding international relationships. Taking this into account, I could begin to imagine what a person who had spent his entire life in conservative Korean society with zero foreign exposure would think about foreign men dating Korean women—especially if he or she happened to be a scoop-hungry yellow journalist.

So perhaps this conservative guy mentality contributed to the making of the MBC “report.” But there are definitely other influences that led to such biased—even xenophobic—reporting, namely historical and Confucian factors. To begin with, it is important to recognize that it has only been about 60 years since Korea gained independence from Japanese colonial rule. From 1910 to 1945, Japanese imperialists tried to assimilate Koreans as “imperial subjects” by stripping Koreans of their national identity: they required Koreans to take on Japanese names, banned the use of Korean at school, and forced Shinto worship. Such oppressive policies were justified through a theory which claimed that Japanese and Koreans shared essentially the same roots, but that Koreans were comparatively inferior. Thus Japan urged Koreans to forsake their inferior culture and traditions to become respectable “imperial subjects.”

In retaliation against such propaganda, leaders of the Korean independence movement strived to preserve national unity by rallying around the idea that Koreans were part of a single, pure bloodline. This idea seeped deep into Korean mentality, and people gradually came to consider their supposedly unified, homogeneous ancestry and culture a source of great pride. As a result, Koreans became inclined to bond amongst themselves while driving out foreign forces; to behave in a way that challenged the concept of Korean unity was regarded as treachery toward one’s country as well as one’s people. This idea was further reinforced throughout the late half of the 20th century, as dictators such as Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-hee used the ideology of a unified nation to justify individual sacrifice for national unity. And now, as the MBC report testifies, distorted interpretations of national unity and pride are manifesting themselves in the form of xenophobia.

By R.M. Adamson

Furthermore, Confucian values heavily shape the minds of Koreans (and in patriarchal Confucian society, chastity was considered the number-one virtue in women). Naturally, men were enraged when some Korean women started working as prostitutes for American soldiers stationed in Korea after the Korean War. Relationships of any kind with foreign soldiers were considered shamefully shocking, a disgrace to the family name. Though much time has passed since then, the idea still remains and colors the perception of international couples even to this day.

Thus, historical and ideological factors predisposed Koreans to lean toward ethnic nationalism, and to condemn those who act in an un-“Korean” way as unpatriotic, disloyal, and even morally corrupt—as was obviously the MBC show’s view toward Korean women dating foreign men. But the thing is, though ethnic pride might have been the key to uniting against turmoil in the past, it is somewhat of an anachronism in today’s globalized world. Radical forms of ethnic nationalism actually serve to cripple diversity and open-mindedness—even now, problems concerning the abuse of immigrant workers, multicultural families, and injustices caused by jus sanguinis policies have become leading social issues in Korean society. As Koreans increasingly live and interact with foreigners, they will have to learn to understand cultural differences and ethnic diversity to assimilate with people of other countries.

Pride in one’s heritage is commendable, but not when it leads to bias or false accusations (or morphs into nationalism). Koreans seem to love looking “global”— many students, me included, enter “international” essay contests, participate in English debates and seek to study abroad; the country strives to hold international events like the World Cup, the G20 and the Olympics; the government and media flaunt any favorable global rankings.  It’s now time they really became as “global” as they claim to be. In a world where people of different races intermingle on a daily basis, open-mindedness is a virtue. I guess the boys in my class—and too many Koreans—have yet to fully internalize this fact.

As for the girls in my class, they seem to be much more liberal. Perhaps it’s because they want to avoid the traditional duties expected of Korean women—whatever the reason, almost all of them chirped an enthusiastic yes when asked whether they were willing to have a relationship with a non-Korean. Some even remarked that they preferred foreigners over Korean men.

As for me, I’m all for their side. From what I’ve seen, being the wife of a man who is “Korean” to the bone is taxing, to say the least. All housework and parenting duties fall under the exclusive charge of the wife, regardless of whether or not she has a career (my mom’s a pharmacist). It is also taken for granted that she help prepare for ancestral rites of her in-laws, held at least twice a year. On such occasions, the men gather around in the living room, chat, and watch TV while the women knead, chop, mix, and fry in a frenzy to prepare traditional dishes for the ancestral rites table. My mom always emerges from such ordeals with menthol pain-relief patches on her shoulders, vowing not to take part in such “madness” next year—and yet she joins her sister-in-laws in the kitchen every ancestral rite season. Social expectations and pressure from family members—recruiting phone calls from sister-in-laws, for instance—are not easy to ignore; having observed this since childhood, I hardly want to submit to such ordeals myself. And because there are “plenty more fish in the sea,” many Korean women (me and my friends included) feel no need to restrict ourselves to conservative, traditional (and often chauvinistic) Korean men merely because of the fact that they happen to have the same nationality.

Of course, this is only speaking in general terms: liberal-minded Korean men exist, as do conservative foreign men. Also, my viewpoint may not necessarily represent that of the majority.  I can still remember the incredulous look in my classmate’s eyes when I told him I preferred foreigners (or perhaps Koreans with foreign experience) to completely “Korean”-Koreans (those called “tojung,” or truly native, having never left the peninsula) when it comes to having a relationship. So MBC, make of it what you will; surely there’s a scandalous scoop here.  Meanwhile, I’ll defer to my friend who once said, “The world is large, and men are plenty.” I think I’ll take my chances with non-Korean guys, be they the incarnation of pure evil or not.


Bo-Kyung is a senior at Daewon Foreign Language High School in Seoul.


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89 Responses to “Who Do You Love?: Korean Ethnocentrism, International Couples and the Dating Dilemma”

  1. Dynamicallysparkling Says:

    That was an extremely good opinion piece for a high schooler. Well done Bo-Kyung

  2. Kyrei Says:

    An excellently written article that shows some critical thinking, open-mindedness, and the willingness to point out social failings. The youth of this country really will make the changes needed. Keep it up!

  3. PDKL45 Says:

    Really, really impressively written article.

  4. 박종명 Says:

    A very well done and insightful op piece! Not just for a 고등생, but overall! Let Korea have more people like yourself, people who will question assumptions, be willing to go against the grain here. God knows we need more people like you in Korea.

  5. Bart Says:

    Great post (said as a sandy blonde ㅋㅋ)! In your article, you go into Korea’s history and confucian values into some depth. It seems to me that this line of reasoning is used far too often to explain modern Korean society. That’s not to say that it isn’t relevant – it absolutely is! – but I think there’s more to it than that.

    To point: I think a lot can be learned by examining the differences in opinion between Korean men and women on this matter. You kind of gloss over it towards the end, but I think this is the more interesting side of this issue.

  6. 니랄리 Says:

    First off, your article is extremely well written. I was surprised to see that you are in high school (even though you mentioned it). I was expecting a college-aged woman. I know some people who were raised in English-speaking countries who can’t write like this. Kudos.

    That being said, as a foreign woman, I see that my guy friends have a much easier time dating Koreans than I do. You’ve shed more light on the possible reasons why than my conversations for the past 10 months. Thank you.

    Keep writing! I would love to read more of your posts.

  7. Pól Ó Cionnaith Says:

    Simply blown away by the quality, talent and depth of insight on display here. I’d work hard to match it at this stage, and can’t even begin to imagine my 18-year-old self producing something this good. Well done!

  8. Pól Ó Cionnaith Says:

    …and I’d definitely encourage you to consider Bart’s angle for a follow-up piece. Delving more deeply into your male and female contemporaries’ attitudes on the matter would make for a fascinating read.

  9. Josh Says:

    I’ve seen a few people who have said this is a really good piece for a high school student, and even though I don’t think they meant any slight whatsoever, I want to take it a step further and say that is simply a brilliant piece. Great job, and I cannot praise this any higher!

  10. Andrew Says:

    Take note all you “reporters” at Korea Times. This is how one writes in English.

  11. Brian Says:

    The article was very well written. Considering it was written by a High School student, it’s almost incredible. She writes better than many native English speakers I know who are twice her age. Very well done Bo-Kyung. Your parents should be proud.

  12. John Bacon Says:

    I’m stunned that you’re a high school senior in Korea. I thought this was written by a TEACHER! Very impressive to say the least. If Korea is to positively progress in the 21st century, it will be because of Koreans like you!

  13. Rose Says:

    As a foreign woman who lived in Korea there are definitely Korean men willing to date foreign women.
    I wonder if the reluctance of many Korean men is because families place higher expectations on the boys in the family to carry on the family heritage.
    Reading your piece I couldn’t help wondering as well if Korean guys are less willing to marry foreign women because foreign women are less likely to be willing doormats who will do all the cooking, cleaning and looking after of children…

  14. Jess Says:

    A really well- and intelligently-written piece. I think it’s really about time that opinions like your were voiced. Well done!

  15. Jonny Says:

    Wow. Thanks Bo-Kyung. This is really well-written and entertaining. I love the insight into the cultural mind of the Korean high school student!

    Unlike Bart, I don’t think that Korea’s history or its confucian roots are too often used in explaining modern Korean behavior. The Korean collective is forward-looking in many ways, but always with a hesitant fear that is deeply rooted in its turbulent, insecure past. But like BK also ended up saying, it has a lot to do with modern gender roles (and surprise! there’s the history and confucian influence again…).

  16. Lyndsey Says:

    Fantastic. I’m glad we have her in our (feminist) corner.

  17. Steve Says:

    Great work and nice read! You have great insights and a very unique perspective. Would like to see more of your work!

  18. DC Says:

    Are you STILL going on about this MBC thing?

    When are you going to protest the treatment and portrayal of Asian or Asian Americans in American media?

    …Yeah, didn’t think so.

  19. ADM Says:

    Just keep in mind that you’re comparing all of Korean men/ Korean cultural norms against a pretty select group of western men – those willing and able to travel/work abroad. So yeah, based on the selected demographics, western men can come off looking pretty good.

  20. Thiago Says:

    You’re going to be a role model not only among your peers, but also the next generation. Integrity, you have it. Nothing grows or evolves without looking critically at itself, and this tendency towards xenophobia will eventually fall away….with enough people like you ^^

  21. Michele Says:

    Very well thought out. I have two male Korean friends who have married western wives. It does happen, occasionally.

  22. Nico Says:

    That was, and is, an extremely good opinion piece for anybody. Way to improve my latin.

  23. SL12 Says:

    Her departing words sum it up. She wrote a whole article trying trying to put a spotlight on MBC’s “documentary” of white men dating Korean women which I thought was terrific and courageous. This was of a comparison and contrast on why she thinks the West and western men are superior to Asian and Asian men.

    Comments such as “I don’t date Asian men because….” is nothing new coming from a certain percentage of Asian women. It’s the badge of honor in she has to wear to tell whites that she is with them. Whatever the reasons I really don’t think it has too much to do with Asian men or culture but more that it’s their preference for white culture and men.

    High bridge nose, double eyelids, pale skin are things that Asian culture values. My own mother says with pride when she talks she says “Your sister was able to get a white husband.” My sister says with pride that she has no Asian male friends.

    As for the West being more progressive and liberal, I say for them it is. But for others not so much. Harvard, Princeton, and some California schools are under investigation for discrimination in their admission’s policy limiting the number of Asian freshmen enrollment. This was something I and other Asians have known about since the 90′s.

    Asian actors in America have a hard time getting a staring role in Hollywood. Hollywood brushes it off implying that there demographics is white.

    Yet they sell the idea of meritocracy to the public, including Asia. As usual Asians eat it up.

    Though the writer here uses the word “foreign” in her writings, lets go ahead and clear that up. She meant white,not foreign. Though there are foreigners of all colors, “foreign” in Asia usually refers to whites. It is tied whites for historical reasons and in most context refers to whites.

  24. SL12 Says:

    ..and please stop using the word expat. You still have your passport from your birth country.

  25. Rick Dubois Says:

    Great piece of writing and very insightful!I have been married to a lovely Korean woman for 4 years and we dated for about 6 years of the 11 years I’ve spent in Korea. It’s great to see the younger generation making strides in openness and acceptance.

  26. James Says:

    Thank you for your sharp and objective mind. You’ll do well abroad and you should consider journalism as a major.

    This is excellent writing.

  27. Erin Says:

    I am an American women living in Korea, and I really have noticed that there is a lot of hostility towards foreigners. I have been living here for a year, and it almost seems like it’s getting worse (or maybe I’m now more sensitive to the issue). Last weekend in Hongdae, my group of friends wasn’t allowed inside a bar because there was a strict “no foreigners” law. This is a bar that we had been to in the past, so we were very shocked. That is only one small example of the many times that I have not felt welcome in this country. There are many great things about Korea, and many wonderful people who have gone out of their way to get to know me. But I cannot disagree that there is an air of xenophobia surrounding me constantly as I grocery shop, buy clothes, and go about my daily life. Thank you for writing this article. It gives me some understanding and empathy for the causes and history of this cultural phenomenon.

  28. Mr. Snurb Says:

    As a white man, I can not blame most Korean men for not showing a great deal of interest in *most* white women.

  29. DK420 Says:

    Good written article but a bit naive, dating based on race is pretty shallow itself.

  30. clayrobins Says:

    @SL 12
    As a black american living in Korea, I understand full well that there is a racial hierarchy in Korea. I live it everyday. There is a problem when people begin to degrade ones own ethnicity as to why they prefer other ethnic groups. I don’t think she is doing that though. Can you enlighten me on your school of thought?

  31. Angela Says:

    Beautifully written! As an American woman living in Korea, I can absolutely attest to the challenges of trying to have a serious relationship with a Korean man. The thing is, I infinitely prefer dating Korean men to other foreigners. Though this essay unfortunately describes the attitudes of too many men I’ve known, I’m still hoping to meet that rare creature who is open minded enough to accept me as a good woman and not just as a “foreign woman.”

  32. Wait Says:

    That was extremely extremely well written! You have a very bright future ahead of you, I wish you the best in everything!

  33. Angie Kim Says:

    Wow this is such a good writing coming from a High Schooler girl. I feel extremely happy reading that girls are more open minded than boys. In your case, I feel good reading that you prefer a foreigner or a Korean with foreign experience and I can tell you are very aware of the racism towards us, foreign people.
    I feel bad because to me Korea is such a great country, a country in which I put my eye and honestly I would like to live there but honestly, Korea still lacks of understanding and many things that makes the country be not so perfect.
    At least it feels good to know that there exist people like you, very open minded and aware of the situation. Thank you for this amazing piece of writing :D
    You’ll do great once you major!!!!

  34. TMK Says:

    So Bokyung, you fight racism with…more racism. Makes sense. I’m sure you’ll find a rapt audience when you trash Korean guys among foreign women who happen to be married to Korean men.

    And lol at the white guys, particularly “SL12″ (you may not be white, but you’re either a self-hater or racist against your own ethnicity), patting themselves on the back here or complimenting her because she massaged your ego – not that’s already not huge to begin with or anything. I wonder what would have happened if a Korean girl had written something opposite of this – insulting foreign men. Then you’d cry out again about how racist Koreans are. But I guess if this wasn’t complimenting the foreigner it wouldn’t be on an expat site such as this.

    Anyways, those points aside, Bokyung, your English is excellent and your writing skills are very good for someone of your age. I wish you all the best in finding your white knight – there are plenty of them out there willing to come “rescue” you.

  35. Sylvevl Says:

    Fantastic article. Not only is it well written, but you are so open-minded. Well done, young lady!

  36. SL12 Says:

    It seems to me that from reading her article especially her last words that her preference for whites really has nothing to do with Korean men nor with Korean culture. It’s just her preference. I see Asian women who do so explain it away with things like this article which is like bad media coverage for Asian men. As an Asian male living in the Anglosphere, we understand how those outside looking in will use this to validate their what they already believe about us. “She said so, so it must be.”

    From a personal perspective, I’ve noticed that Asia/Asians seem to have an inferiority complex around whites. I’m not saying that to degrade Asians but there are little things that hint at it. The high nose, big eyes, light skin, compliments, the changing of ones name to that of English names. You see it with the faux architecture themes and names like Paris Baguette and the Paris jour tours(I keep forgetting name of this one). I have relatives in Asia who now name their kids with English names. I have been to Thailand and people ask why don’t I have an English name even though I live in the states. After high school I changed my name to an English name thinking that would fix my situation, but I was wrong thinking it could fix my insecurity of being Asian in a white world. As an adult I go by my real name now, and do so without a care as people at Starbucks can pronounce it or spell it. I have a good chuckle when then have to ask twice what is my name. I could go on with other examples but you get the idea. I am not looking to degrades Asians on this matter but would hope that Asians take a bit more pride in theirselves.

    As for her male class mate who has been in the US for eleven years who wouldn’t date “foreigners”, I can’t couch for him, but I could probably maybe understand. Asian men in a white world is treated slightly differently than Asian women. Asian women have been accepted by mainstream culture. You can see it in daily TV where there will be an Asian women on screen or some other ethnic women but the male part will be a white male. During the 90′s clubs in the states weren’t letting asian males in because were getting into fights because some group of guys were talking smack about us. Wasn’t any better in 2008 when I was going to a bar/lounge with a friend and waited outside while white men went pass us. Asian women were let in also but that’s just policy to get as many dudes in as possible. It’s the reason why I am apprehensive around white people, particularly white men.

    No I am not white. I am Asian of the SE Asian persuasion. My post wasn’t meant to get Asians fired. I was merely reacting to Bo-kyung’s last parting shot at Asian males. If you are an Asian male (if you are), then you know how high on the cringe scale that is and how demoralizing it is, especially when she is on the podium like this declaring it to the world that she doesn’t date Asians. The “I don’t Asians” declaration comes up a lot among Asian women, but not so much with other women of other races.
    I personally am tired of it and in the past I wondered and thought that there was something inherently wrong with me and have avoided Asian women so I didn’t have to hear the dreaded “I don’t date Asians.”
    I feel your frustration but I wanted to do it without bashing the writer. She is young and her peers and have only known white culture mainly through popular culture.

    Though article wasn’t as structured as the writers, you guys get the conclusion. Yes her craft is excellent and she will have a bright future. Good luck Bo-kyung!

  37. soju Says:

    Your writing is excellent.

    I just want to say I traveled quite a bit the past several years. In my experience, in every country I’ve visited, the people always “preferred to keep within their race”. This was in Europe and Asia.

    I’m a Korean-American, born and raised in the US. Didn’t know how to speak any Korean before moving here. All my friends from back home are “foreigners”. Most of my friends in Korea are also foreigners, and I was always in shock to see how easy it was for them to get Korean girls to sleep with them. Whether it was at a bar or a club, these white guys would always take home a different Korean girl every weekend. Some of these dudes were not very good looking, and to be honest, were probably big dorks back at home. When I asked my foreign friends why they chose to live in Korea, a good percentage of them said it’s because they love Asian/Korean women. I thought this was pretty funny. So the part of the MBC special where the guys are saying, “I’ll get a girl later tonight”, is pretty accurate and it happens all the time. But I don’t think this is a problem because both sides are getting what they want.

  38. Joseph Kokkinos Says:

    @TMK You assume that all white people that like this woman’s post are complimenting her because of their big egos? How hypocritical! You are generalizing about how a whole group of people feels about a subject. You are assuming how a whole group would feel if a differing opinion piece came out from a young Korean. Generalizing and assuming makes you look pretty foolish. When you speak so sarcastically it becomes clear that you have the biggest ego of all.

    Great opinion piece, Miss Byun. Very thoughtful. I would love to read more opinions from the Korean youth, WHETHER THEY BE INSULTING OR NOT. That is the point of opinion pieces: that we can hear the unadulterated opinions of people like Miss Byun or others.

  39. Josh Says:

    Excellent job! I hope many others get a chance to read this!

  40. onetaoman Says:


    I spent two years teaching English in South Korea and I must say that this is the most lucid and spot on analysis of the “why” as it pertains to ethnocentrism that i observed during my time there. I often found myself confused and frustrated with my situation and how i was treated and viewed by Koreans. I went to Korea with an open mind and had some wonderful experiences, but during the times where i raised the most questions about Korean culture and society, where weren’t many that could explain with this degree of accuity some of the most intricate parts of the culture itself.
    With your permission i would like to use this article or a excerpt of it in a book that i am writing about my experience in Korea …

    Great Great job!!! I couldnt have explained it any better myself. Good luck

  41. DK420 Says:

    @SL12 I feel you bro .. she does come a little bougie and naive .. but she’s a high school kid, I doubt she really has dated any foreigners and is just curious. Relationships aren’t that simple and the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

  42. Lawton Hogan Says:

    Excellent piece! You should look into a career in journalism. The writing quality really is exceptional.

  43. Elexus Says:

    I applaud you, Bo-Kyung Byun, you wrote an eloquent essay in response to MBC’s deluded views on foreign and Korean relationships. I hope that in the future, Korea will honestly work toward being as global as they claim to be. As well, I hope you find happiness with you future partner, whether they are Korean or a foreigner.

  44. Aaron P Says:

    @ SL12

    It seems that the writer of this piece does not want to choose Korean men due to their outdated views on gender. Most modern women do not agree with the idea of being forced to cook and clean while their husbands do not help around the house. She explains very clearly that she would date a Korean man if he did not expect these things from her. It’s not the white man’s fault but the Korean society sticking to ancient beliefs.

  45. Chris Says:

    A really fantastically well written piece, not many of my fellow countrymen and women could ever write so well in their own language (myself included). As a foreigner I find much to agree with you upon, but also Western foreign visitors to Korea and other parts of Asia do leave themselves open to attacks on their morals sometimes, especially when drunk. This does not help with general public opinion with us, and shows that we do need to get our house in order too.

  46. DK420 Says:

    @ Aaron P have you been to Thanksgiving dinners in America? Um, from what I’ve seen mostly it’s the wives cooking the turkey and all the guys watching football on tv.

  47. Hari Says:

    Did you see the Wall Street Journal article?

    I found this part most interesting: “He said the piece intended to portray ‘Korean women who are out of their sense and get involved in these kinds of affairs.’”

    Who was the video aimed at? Whose behavior and thinking did it want to change? The behavior and thinking of foreign men? Or that of Korean women? Making one group of people look bad in an attempt to control another group of people is pretty disgusting in my opinion.

  48. SL12 Says:

    @Aaron P:

    Read her parting words. It’s not white people’s fault nor do I think “outdated beliefs” of household chores is her main factor, but she is simply looking for a convenient valid justification.

    Asian women who specifically don’t date Asian men in the states use the same use the similar lines as the writer here as to why she won’t date Korean men. I would have agreed with her about certain beliefs may seem outdated. Her last sentence was what threw a red flag because I have heard many times, even in the states where Asian men don’t have the view of a traditional nuclear family. I put her article together with here last statement and it’s just the same song.

    I think it has more to due with internal issues and insecurities of being Asian. Changing our names to English names, making our eyes bigger in pictures, or just avoiding anyone too “asian”. I went through it in high school but going through college I found my identity.

    I don’t think Bo-kyung meant any harm. My alarm bells went off and I had to rant a little about the issue.

  49. SL12 Says:

    “We called because we heard you were a victim of a foreigner.”

    LOL!! Pure comedy. I almost spewed my drink on to my laptop.

  50. Jeff Mcdonald Says:

    Please keep up your open mind. Also, in a few years, many of those boys very well might change their minds. This is often the case in any country. I gather more people, both boys and girls will think like you in the future.

  51. merz Says:

    the thing is, the MBC “report” didn’t even touch on the relationships between foreign women and Korean men. is it deemed so uncommon that they felt there was no reason to address it? i am a foreigner living in Korea and my foreign friends and I are all interested in dating Korean men and some of us have had relationships that lasted for many months. the reason that these relationships usually ended was because of communication difficulties becasue of language. i have met so many Korean guys who are interested in foreign girls and I have met plenty who certainly don’t hold these ol-fashioned beliefs when it comes to marriage or relationships.

  52. Bill Says:

    You will have a hard time convincing Koreans that they should think and act like Americans. Throwing around words like nationalism and xenophobia helps foreigners vent but it shows how little those people use those words understand the locals.

    No one defends the video. But the real worthwhile question is “Is there a problem?” There is no problem for those Koreans who know how foreigners think and act and can read the situation. There are Koreans who have the experience.

    But the problem is when the men with predatory behaviors zero in on unsuspecting Korean girls who are not experienced in distinguishing someone out for their next prey and someone genuinely interested in them. Foreigners immediately get access to the girls becuase they get the hollywood star looking / guest of Korea / teacher respect treatment automatically. This is why it is so “easy” for foreigner men to get Korean girls. How prevalent is that? It is quite prevalent according to foreigners who practice such predatory acts. Not in the Hongdae night club circles but outside of those areas and especially outside of Seoul.

  53. Tinas Says:

    I just wanted to say, Bo-Kyung Ssi, that you have written an excellent and very lucid article on the issue of international dating within Korea! So thank you. :) But in response to some of the detractors of this article, I just want to ask: Where in the world do you see Miss Bo-Kyung disparaging her own race simply by saying that she wouldn’t want to date/marry a Korean man?? Where on earth do you get the idea that this is because she has an “inferiority-complex” towards White Westerners?? She CLEARLY implied that it is due to many Korean men’s continuous traditional and inflexible attitudes that she is considering dating more foreign Western men than traditional Korean men. For a young girl who hopes to live a full and rewarding life, free of undue familial obligations, where she can travel and do what she likes as she sees fit, marrying a Korean man would be a bad idea, not because the Korean man himself is necessarily bad or unwilling to let her be free, but because his FAMILY (which is really “who” she will be marrying into) will most likely not give her that freedom that she wishes for. That’s all! I really wish people would look more carefully at people’s arguments, especially excellently-written ones such as this one. (I still can’t believe she’s only in high school… mind-boggling talent~!)

  54. Aaron P Says:

    Bill, would you say that Korean men could just as easily be predatory? If they flaunt the right amount of style, cash, or connections, they can have their one night stands and often do. You will find men who do that sort of thing all over the world.

    And really, to be honest, I’ve seen foreign guys fail to pick up Korean girls more than I’ve seen them be successful. That’s nto to say that there are no success stories but it’s not like we can walk down the street, flash out passports, and have women hop in bed with us.

  55. RabbitRabbi Says:

    “scoop-hungry yellow journalist” lol

  56. John Says:

    Oh Bill, is someone lonely? Big, bad, whitey, ‘steal’ your girlfriend?

    Never understood the obsession in Korean society with what other people do in their private lives. If some Korean women want (or even prefer) to date foreigners, who cares? It’s their business, no one is forcing them to date foreigners, and they’re fully entitled to make that decision or have those preferences.

    If you are lonely and women don’t want to date you then it’s time to take a good hard look in the mirror and see what you are doing wrong or need to change. Blaming whitey for your shortcomings or criticizing women that make the decision to date foreigners as race traitors or some such anachronistic nonsense just makes you look like a whiny loser with a village mentality.

    Please, man up, for god’s sake.

  57. David English Says:


    A very well written article. There are a few Korean newspapers that need someone like you as a reporter.

    I know from watching my wife (who is Korean) and mother-in-law work every holiday making food how much time and energy it takes. Now that all three daughters are married, the family has stopped doing the large celebration on Chuseok and Lunar New Year because it is so time consuming. Both of my sister-in-laws still have to participate in the making of food with their spouses family members.

    The pressure from family members to do traditional celebrations is normal in most cultures. It is too bad that Korean women end up getting stuck with all the work. Maybe sometime in the future families will start to be more flexible about helping each other out.

  58. Noname Says:

    Very well written. While you mention that you would prefer to take your chances with a foreigner, and you describe blonde hair and blues as the characteristics of your ideal male, I’m interested in whether the foreigner you are referring to includes Southeast Asians, Africans, South Americans, Chinese, Muslims etc?

    Any Westerner in Korea who complains about being about having a hard time is like a spoilt kid who only gets two toys for Christmas instead of three. I think that the problem has taken the attention from a more serious one, that is that non-western foreigners in Korea are the actual victims of far more serious racial stereotypes and mistreatment.

  59. Rik Sanders Says:

    Really solid essay Bo-Kyoung, I’m sure you’ve made your teacher proud with this. I think what has been missing among the widespread foreigner backlash to the news story has been a thoughtful response from the group I feel was misrepresented the most– Korean women. I think relationships between individuals from different cultures, whether it’s class or ethnicity, will always be faux pas in a large portion of the world. I think you did a good job of explaining why these apprehensions exist in Korean society in particular.

    I have only been in Korea for 4 months and have been seeing a really wonderful Korean university student for one of them. I have seen (as I’m sure many have before me) the reaction this can get from those around us and I’m less worried about how I’m perceived as I am about how she is. She asked me not long ago why she frequently saw Korean girls with foreign men but rarely saw the opposite. I didn’t have an answer for her then, but I think we may now have something of substance to discuss. Thanks for that and keep up the good work!

  60. Ratikka Says:

    Did I miss something or do people have trouble reading? Didn’t the author write, “…when I told him I preferred foreigners (or perhaps Koreans with foreign experience) to completely “Korean”-Koreans.” She didn’t declare that all Korean men are off her list; hell, it would seem to me that she’s saying she’d prefer someone who has traveled, lived in another country, seen part of the world, faced new challenges… But that’s just me. Does seem that there’s a touch too much fawning over this whole article though I did enjoy the read. I’d like to hear from Bo-kyung in 10 years after she’s had some more experience with romance regardless of nationality/ethnicity. Yes, men are plenty–just carry on carefully.

  61. Bill Says:

    @ Arron P and John

    Korean men are predatory as all men are in all societies. But Korean women can read Korean men because they know the thought process and style of Korean men.

    But foreigners (white particularly) have unique advantage because of the three factors I clearly outlined and you probably agree.

    What I did forget to mention is that a lot of Korean women do hate to interact with foreign men. Mostly because they dont want to look dumb by saying words like a child and also they are sick and tired of being told they have to know English to get ahead.

    But that still leaves a huge number of Korean girls who are interested in the English language.

    So the gal wanting to know more of the English language somehow is same as the foreigner wanting to get into her pants? You wish it was.

    Its like saying I can shoot you because you lied to me. Both are wrong but one does not justify the other.

  62. Luiz Says:

    This is the finest article I’ve ever read on the subject of Korean cultural views regarding intercultural dating.

  63. It's your life Says:

    “Its like saying I can shoot you because you lied to me. Both are wrong but one does not justify the other.”

    Expect there is nothing *wrong* with wanting to get into someone’s pants, so long as you go about it the right way. I find this narrative about naive Korean women and predatory foreign men hilarious and, frankly, evidence of resentment and cluelessness about women in the 21st century. Why is it so hard to believe that some Korean women, you know, want to date/sleep with/marry foreign men? And explain this nonsense about wanting to learn English. So what, a girl *just* wants to learn English and then magically ends up in bed? Wouldn’t a Korean woman sleeping with a foreign man suggest that, oh I don’t know, she wants to sleep with him? And why are men to blame here? It is hilarious. I thought we were equal now and that it took two to tango. If *some* Korean girls want to date foreigners — if some even have an outright fetish — and some men feel the same way, who cares? Two people are involved and it doesn’t affect anyone else. No one should be so self-righteous as to decide what a legitimate reason for being with someone is.

  64. It's your life Says:

    We are talking about grown women! Do you really think Korean women are so stupid as to not know when a man might want to be, em, more than friends? BS.

  65. SL12 Says:


    I doubt here intentions were to slander Korean men. I just doubt her justification for preference of “foreign” men at the expense of Korean men which ends up reflecting on them badly. No I am not Korean but am Asian and feel that it also reflects on me because I see that it is a phenomenon not just isolated to South Korea but throughout Asia and also manifest itself into Asian women in western nations. Asian men here are not any more chuavinist than our male counterparts but the same excuses come up.

    I get the feeling that Bo-kyung is contrasting the daily grind of a Korean “Domestic Engineer” with the romantic notions of “foreigners”. She compares “foreign” men with an extreme example of Korean men; Korean to the bone. When someone uses the logic of comparing the best/normal of something the worst of something, you don’t have to guess as to what the choice would be. Yes she states “or perhaps Koreans with foreign experience.” That is merely a hypothetical scenario (not likely to happen).

    Assuming that her male classmate/s are “conservative” based on there preference for Korean women even though they have lived abroad is really stretching it. That’s his preference. She only asked what his preference was, but never asked what his perspective is on marriage or spousal obligations were but inferred that it would be same with a Korean since this is the way it is with the previous generation. I have lived in South Korea teaching at an all boys school and talked to some of them who have lived abroad for an extended time. Their views of domestic duties are “liberal” and are open to “foreign” women, they just don’t declare it as assertively or publicly as Korean women do.

    The inferiority issue with Asia/Asians is not directed at Bo-kyung but an analysis of myself, what I went through, and what some are going through now. I took a hard look in the mirror. Big head, small eyes, stinky food, “weird” names are symptoms of it. It is usually in presence of and comparison to white culture. It tells me someone is not comfortable with who they are. I’m not bagging on Asians but you can’t fix something if you are in denial.

    I agree with Bill that most of it has to do with Korean/Asian women’s infatuation with white culture. You see it when Asians ask to take a picture with you and them it. The main reason for native English teachers was originally to bring whites over. There were some incidents recently in China where whites were paid to attend meetings, endorse products. Asians their name to Susan, David, Grace, Michael. Having double eyelid surgery, dudes perming their hair to give a curl. Asians have thick hair for those who don’t know. Nose jobs to get a narrow high bridge This all references white culture. I have a feeling most whites know that whites have a higher social value in Asia.

    “I think I’ll take my chances with non-Korean guys, be they the incarnation of pure evil or not.” Her last statement sums it up. My conclusion is that her preference has nothing to do with Korean men per say, but just a convenient excuse as to seem not too superficial which ends up reflecting negatively on Korean men.

  66. From Canada Says:

    First, it is hard to believe that English is not your mother tongue. Technically, you write with more skill than many native English speaking people that I know. Then, there is your mature insight and judgment which is mature beyond your age. You are a remarkable young women.

    On your essay topic, I would like to offer the following comment:

    I believe there is an anthropological root to xenophobia – it is in our DNA. When we were living in caves, it was life saving to fear that which was different, unknown or strange.

    Today, xenophobia has many shades and shapes. It can appear as racism, nationalism, or ethnocentricity. Also, the “fight or flight” response is still very much part of our biological makeup.

    Learning to be civil and to overcome these primitive responses takes awareness, education, open mindedness and a desire to create a diverse and global planet. We must also learn to trust.

    My daughter, who is a scholar of world religions, has been living and working in South Korea for the past ten months. Before arriving, she researched as much as she could about Korean culture and customs. Since arriving in Korea, she takes weekly language lessons, studies Taekwondo three times a week, and made a weekend temple retreat on Buddha’s birthday. She has learnt to eat with chopsticks very well and has adjusted to the local diet. On weekends, she travels with friends to cultural festivals and events. She even goes to the jimjilbang! Occasionally, she finds some cultural norms difficult, but always maintains respect for the Korean way.

    A few months ago, I visited her and met many other foreign workers, men and women. I think that my daughter is representative of the majority of foreign workers in Korea. I sincerely believe the few young men profiled in the MBC broadcast are the minority.

    This world needs many more people like my daughter (and her friends) who are willing to learn, understand and accept cultures that are different from their own. Then return home and spread their knowledge and experiences. That means Koreans need to do the same.

    We really are one family – the human family.

    Yours truly, Canadian Mom

  67. Colin Says:


    I teach lessons to college undergraduates in the United States and part of my job involves reading their essays. I must say, you write better than many of my students. Good for you and your teachers.

    I like your thesis. Personally, I think a complex etiology explains the phenomenon that you are interested in. I don’t know about your school, but when we study circuits in America, our instructors will tell us: “electrons choose the path of lease resistance”. Well, are not people much the same? It would probably be easier for a Korean woman to date and feel comfortable with a foreigner than it would be for a Korean man to date and feel comfortable with a foreigner, for various reasons. Hence a Korean man’s path of least resistance is marriage to a Korean woman, and most Korean men will follow that path.

    Yours sincerely,


  68. Nat Adelle Says:

    What on earth does Japanese colonial rule have to do with Korea’s ideas on relationships? I find it ridiculous that all problems relate back to the Japanese colonial rule. The Japanese colonial rule was not responsible for the SIXTY YEARS in which Korea has NOT looked at these issues. I think that a more pertinent point is that Korea is a very homogeneous society and humans, as a rule, tend to fear the unknown. “Foreigners” in Korea are the “unknown” and are therefore feared (read: despised/misunderstood/not trusted/idolized).

  69. M Says:

    so you applaud this korean girl because she says she prefers foreigners, and won’t really date koreans? now THAT’S abnormal.

  70. John Says:

    @Nat – What on earth does Japanese colonial rule have to do with it? Did you read the article? You obviously need to learn a few things about history and their long-lasting effects.

  71. Foreigner in Seoul Says:

    I can tell for experience that as foreigner man (24) in Korea I get so much attention from korean girls I can easily get at least a date per week even’t dont looking for it! cuz girls ask me to go out. I like to respect the girls if I don’t want to commit myself to be their boyfriend but any other guy with some ‘bad’ intention could easily ‘break’ soooo many hearts here in Korea. So it’s a fact that foreign man have it easy with korean girls so it depends on the guy what to do with this attention from girls.
    I could say that a similar think happen to Korean girls when they go abroad, in the US (I’m not American) I wanted to out with a korean girl which later I found out she had lunch and dinner with different guys almost everyday haha so after knowing that I don’t wanted to be booked anymore LOL Foreigners will always be something special…

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  75. Khan Says:

    Nat at comment 68 has a point and I think the piece written by Ms. Byun is a bit of over reaction and over simplification of the facts but it is understanble keeping in view her age and the little experience with the real world.

    Racism and Discrimination is a global issue and a lot of countries while developing economically and socially in the last century have tried to address this problem of the human’s “basic instincts” and atleast have reduced its incidence in daily life and have established legal structure and laws to deal with the offenders. However in a few countries it is still a problem to be dealt with. No nation on earth has completely eliminated it.

    Korean economic development has been marvelous but with small steps and a giant leap it can atleast recognise the biases faced by foreigners (not only whites but other ethnicities as well)as an issue to be confronted. Its success in handling this problem will supplement its achievements in other fields. If they like it when the world buy and appreciate Korean products then it should also try to understand and open up to those nations…

    However the changes in behaviours of individuals and socities takes time but may be the Koreans can do it Phali Phali….Best of luck… smiles

  76. 미국 사는 국제결혼한 애기엄마 Says:

    미국인하고 결혼해서 미국에서 살고 있는
    아기 둘 엄마인데요
    고등학생인데 글을 정말 잘쓰네요.
    생각도 정말 성숙하고요.
    역사에 대해서도 잘 알고 이 엠비씨 동영상에
    문제가 많다는 걸 인식하는 걸 보니 확실히 굉장히
    깨어있는 학생 같습니다.
    글쓴님의 글에 동의 하는데 특히나 밑에 부분에
    동의해요. 한국에서는 여자들이 직업이 있든 없든
    평소때나 명절 때나 집안일을 다 도맡아 하고 요리도
    다 하는데 남자는 누워서 티비 보고 고스톱이나
    치죠 ㅡㅡ
    시댁문제랑 명절문제 때문에 한국 남자와 연애는 하더라도
    결혼은 하고 싶지 않았어요.
    저희는 시댁문제나 집안일 문제 없고 집안일 육아
    제가 전업엄마임에도 불구하고 남편이 거의 다 하고
    저는 아이 남편 일할 동안 도맡아 보고 설겆이 하는 정도고
    나머지는 남편이 다 하거든요. 그건 참 좋은데
    미국으로 홀홀단신 남편 하나만 보고 이민와서
    바로 아이를 갖고 키우면서 고충이 좀 있네요.
    한국에서 살면 해결될 문제 같고요. 한쪽이 다 포기하고
    배우자 나라로 이민 가서 모든걸 새로 시작해야 하는 점과
    가족들 친구들과 멀리 떨어져 살아야되는게 단점이에요.
    아무튼 글 잘 읽었고 정말 기자 하면 잘할 것 같아요.
    혹시나 연락 하고 싶으시면 네이버 블로그 놀러오세요.

    @Your writing is really well and I sure agree with your thoughts.
    You are so mature for your age. I think you could be a good journalist.
    I am a mother of 2 (second baby is still in my belly)
    Who married to an american guy and moved to USA 2 years ago
    After giving up everything just to be with husband
    I never wanted to get married to a korean man because as you mentioned
    Their family has issues that they usually dont treat their daughter in law or sister in law
    And women usually always do housework alone and in holidays men just watching tv
    While women do everything. I am very sick of it.
    I know even western culture also think women do housework and cook
    And men make money when they get married but korean culture is more serious and worse.
    Anways thankfully my husband does most houseworks and he knows thats his work
    Not to “help” help means its not his work. And i know its my work too.

    And she said she will give chances to non-korean guys too
    And she prefers not like she won’t date korean guys
    She just prefers. Her future husband doesnt nee to be a korean,
    But he can be korean too. Just who she loves.

    Great writing girly=)

  77. Papa Georgio Says:

    Well written article. While I can’t assume that a high school girl would have a lot of experience with love and relationships, with both Koreans and non-Koreans, she, by all means understands Korean culture, and its good and bad points. Kudos to being open minded. But, be careful not to jump to conclusions TOO fast.

    To those criticizing the girl for being naive, or too young, perhaps take a look in the mirror and see what it is that you’re protecting, or fighting against. Is it your own pride? Your own ideals? Protecting your own culture? Perhaps, it’s something bigger than this?

    Over the past few years in Korea, I have had several women in their 20′s, 30′s and 40′s complain to me about Korean culture, Korean men, treatment of Korean women by Korean men, and unjust expectations that go beyond reason. I’ve heard worse than just complaints. I’ve heard it all, even some of the most disturbing & sad stories one could listen to. This happened both in private, and in classes, where I taught groups of Korean women. On the contrary, I have never had a Korean guy complain to me about anything related to Korea, other than having to go appease their bosses and go out drinking almost every evening after work.

    But I digress. One doesn’t need to look far to realize that in this day and age, highly educated and competitive women will continue to succumb to the status quo of a society and it’s suppressing culture, and might become bitter and unhappy. And when one becomes unhappy, the grass seems oh SO much greener on the other side (of the pond).

    As a foreigner in this country, I observe, learn, and keep myself well fed, entertained (especially by topics such as this one), yet I usually stay away from such debates. This is not my cup of tea, or my problem, yet perhaps a Korean issue that’s still closeted, and just waiting to become something bigger; a cultural revolution of sorts.

  78. Nanu Says:

    I couldn’t believe this was written by a high school student when I got to the end of the article!
    It goes to show, that the younger generation of Koreans understand the concept of globalisation much more than the dinosaurs who propagate the chauvinistic society that prevails in Korea.
    “Naturally, men were enraged when some Korean women started working as prostitutes for American soldiers stationed in Korea after the Korean War.”- about this sentence, please consider that during this time period, women, that is daughters and wives were seen almost like a property which could be sold. Do you think it was the women in this society looking for some easy money when they turned towards prostitution? Of course not, it was their KOREAN fathers, husbands and brothers who sold them into this life. THIS is a part of contextual history that the patriarchs of society have decided to erase.

  79. TMK Says:

    Again we get to witness how white men are the saviors who liberate woman of color from their oppressive men and uptight culture. Because white men in the western world NEVER abuse, degrade, or otherwise be a chauvinist prick towards women. Right?

    Live in the western world for about a decade, “Bo-kyung”, and come back and talk about this then. For the record, I don’t like Korean women either because they’re self-centered, materialistic, and once they’re done getting what they want from you, they dump you.

  80. Rich Says:

    just another Asian girl who feels overwhelmed by the traditional demands of her culture and longs to escape it through interracial marriage and relationships. This girl is so typical of the younger generation of Korean girls who are brainwashed into being ashamed of the culture that they belong to and end up feeling like a misfit in their own community. They have no sense of pride at all. I have seen many Korean women who thinks exactly like this girl and ends up hooking up with some white guy from supposedly more liberal country. Guess what? Most of those sell outs end up in even more miserable situation than the one they were trying to escape from. How many of us have seen these women longing to go back to their native culture and find acceptance there once their sham of a marriage to a non Korean man ends in divorce? I can guarantee that this girl will end up exactly like those women. You really don’t appreciate what you have until its gone. Globalization is a tidal wave that is far more powerful than anything in the world. I know that Korea will have to make difficult choices in the future regarding immigration, acceptance of non-Koreans, and etc. However, we must not follow in the foot steps of the West and liberalize our values and beliefs.

  81. pete Says:

    I just stumbled upon this article and I must say I was very impressed with the standard of the young lady’s writing. Very impressive indeed from someone who is only in high school and writing in a second language. This bright young lady obviously has a great future ahead of her whether she has a relationship with a Korean guy or a foreigner, or even just chooses to stay single.

    I do find many of the points made in the opinion piece interesting, and I’ve heard many young Korean women express similar viewpoints. Many young Korean men I’ve met are very conservative in their views and the young women seem a lot more liberal. You can’t generalise too much, but it does often seem to be the case.

    Young Korean women seem to generally be more adventurous and young Korean men. Go to a Thai, French, Indian or Spanish restaurant in Seoul and you’ll see a lot of groups of Korean women trying the food. Groups of young Korean men will usually just go to eat Korean food. It seems that young Korean women are often far more adventurous than the young men are. This isn’t true in all cases, but I do see a pattern.

    If I was a young Korean women I wouldn’t want to be seen as merely a baby maker and domestic slave for the mother in law either. I’d want a different life. I honestly can’t blame some young Korean women preferring to date or marry non Korean men. I must point out that not all Korean males are male chauvinist pigs and not all western males are paragons of virtue. Conservative males in all cultures are usually sexist, and often racist or xenophobic too.

    All relationships are unique. I know some international couples who have fantastic relationships and others who have dreadful ones. I’ve seen foreign women who hate their marriage or relationship with Korean man, and western men who have been sorely mistreated by a Korean partner, I’ve also thankfully seen a lot more cases where both parties are working together in a loving, successful union. Relationships are far more complicated than race issues, and race plays very little part in the success or failure of a relationship. Positive relationships are based on both love and respect.

    I found the MBC article ludicrous. I was actually more offended by the implication that all Korean women involved with a non Korean are stupid, naive and ‘victims’ rather than by the baseless accusation that all western males are diseased sexual predators.

    Quite a few Korean males have expressed jealousy in various ways to the fact that I (a western male) am married to a beautiful, intelligent, thoughtful and sexy Korean female. I do my best as a man to be a good husband, and she does her best to look after me. We have a great relationship and a lovely life together.

    I do feel qualified to write on this issue as a westerner in a very happy marriage with a Korean woman and a resident of Korea for over a decade.

    We are all one race, the human race. Let’s not forget that.

  82. Tim Says:

    Whao! Still surprised this was written by a Korean not to say she’s a high school Korean student….very candid and impressive from such a young person. More grease to your elbow!

  83. Courtley Says:

    As a Western female living in Korea, I find this article very, very interesting, especially since it is written by a high school student.

    For someone who has spent much time abroad, Bo-Kyung Byun still seems to misunderstand certain Western ideals and ways of thinking and may not realize how potentially offensive this article would be to many, many Westerners. Predicating relationship choices on race in any real way is often seen as inherently bigoted in the West, though people will often make exceptions for minorities who say they want to marry someone from their own cultural background. Still, I found this sentence very, very telling about the strange love-hate, inferiority-superiority complex Koreans seem to have towards white westerners:

    “I asked whether he [young Korean man] really liked plain black hair, expecting him to concede a weakness for wide blue eyes or blonde curls. Yet quickly and casually he responded, “She has to be Korean.” This was coming from a guy who had spent 11 years of his life in the U.S.”

    In the rest of the article, her preference for sandy blonds is written about as a sort of neutral preference which she justifies by expanding upon the undesirability of Korean men. His preference for Korean women, on the other hand, is apparently not equal to her preference for white men; there’s some disturbing cultural value judgments going on here. That she assumes he must be hiding some kind of weakness for typical Western features like blue eyes and that she found it ridiculous he could actually have a preference for “plain black hair” speaks volumes to the way whiteness has come to be a de facto beauty standard in Korea, to the point where most young Koreans simply accept that white features are more beautiful, and know that their peers believe this as well. As a white person myself, I can’t really put myselves in their shoes on this, but it seems like a highly demoralizing way to look at sexual preference and the world with one race being squarely on top, and everyone else falling into place after that.

    I agree with other posters who say that the word “foreign” in this article implicitly refers to white people. I would love to know what Bo-Kyung Byun would think of a friend who preferred black or Filippino or Chinese or Indian men, for example–or if she has really ever entertained the possibility of Koreans holding such preferences. It is one thing in Korea to set up a Korean-White dichotomy and profess a preference for white people–as the author points out, most of her high school female peers have already done this. But this isn’t really progress on race in Korea. It only means that young Korean women have learned to see white males as superior sexual partners in comparison to Koreans, NOT that young Koreans are learning to adopt the ideals of “colorblindness” in their dating lives.

    Westerners in Korea find this general lack of colorblindness, this overemphasis on race, in general, to be disturbing. I am impressed as everyone else with Bo-Kyung Byun’s English writing skills, but she’s not representative of a major shift towards a healthier, more open view of race in Korea, in my opinion. Any observant white person traveling through Asia (not just in Korea, although it applies here too) learns pretty quickly that there’s a strong sexual fetish for white people and fellow Asians with “whiter” features–I’ve experienced this fetishism from Korean men quite often myself, and quite aggressively, in my time in Korea, as have most of my white female friends. This has led me to believe that while many ‘traditional’ Korean may not want to MARRY a non-Korean woman, they still hold to a mindset that white women are more sexually adventurous and available and desirable. In other words, there are massive assumptions within Korean culture about what “whiteness” means. It’s exotification on a grandiose scale, and most Westerners here find it bizarre.

    It seems to me, based on this article and the responses, that it will be a very long time before Koreans–even educated, well-traveled ones who believe themselves to be westernized, like Bo-Kyung Byun–will be able to date non-Korean people without it being a big deal to THEM. For now, race matters a lot in Korea. It may mean Koreans dislike you, or it may mean Koreans fetishize and prefer you over their own race–but it does not seem to me that it can ever be considered irrelevant.

  84. Juan Says:

    Thank you for your insights, it is a well written essay. Some of the comments below your essay are generalizing everything. There is one dude saying all Asians are discriminated, others say Korea is full of racism and is getting worst. I have been living in Korea for two years, I’m not a teacher, I’m a student, I have dated Korean women and non Korean, hanging out with Korean folks and non Korean folks, and the people who talk more about discrimination or racial differences are… Foreigners. Yes, I had some discrimination in the past, but also in the U.S. however I have found really nice people, more good people than bad. Stop whining about it, because not every Korean on the planet is the same. Try to make a change by educating their views towards a truly “global” country.

  85. Denise Morgan Says:

    Very interesting article Bo!! But it is the same if you go anywhere in the world. The new generation has changed, both men and women take equal responsibility in running the household. But yes, when it comes to taking care of in-laws and other family gatherings, even today, most of the hard work is done by the woman of the house. And I am not from Korea!!

  86. Not Nice Guy Says:

    i dont care if she’s a foreigner or korean
    to most men, as long as your pretty, the rest doesn’t matter…… indeed there are a lot of fish in the sea, but the majority of which are….송사리, if you know what i mean :)

  87. Jeff Says:

    The irony of all this is that she cites how racist her men are, when not realising her defaulting to white men as the men to date and enter relationships with (the default is always your race, it’s called nature) – discounting her own men – is racist in itself. We call it self-hatred. If anything it goes to show how the notion of white superiority has wormed its way in east asian cultures – that white is always the default, always the best.

    And the author (and I assume, east asian women around the world) don’t even realise this, so inherent is it in their subconcious.

  88. Jeff Says:

    @Nanu Says:
    July 6th, 2012 at 1:26 pm
    Do you think it was the women in this society looking for some easy money when they turned towards prostitution? Of course not, it was their KOREAN fathers, husbands and brothers who sold them into this life. THIS is a part of contextual history that the patriarchs of society have decided to erase.

    My god, stop with this generalisation and demonisation of east asian men. That is the difference with east asian women and women of other races. They may date or marry other men of other races, but they NEVER denigrate their own people.

    I suppose the French, italian, German and japanese women post WW2 also prostituted themselves because they were forced by their french, italian, german and japanese fathers, husbands and brothers right? No. Chances are, the men were treated as slaves by the American occupiers, and thus couldn’t do anything about it.

    But as usual, we have a self hating asian blaming their own men, never the foreign men. Because they’re white and just, obviously.

  89. Jeff Says:

    I can still remember the incredulous look in my classmate’s eyes when I told him I preferred foreigners (or perhaps Koreans with foreign experience) to completely “Korean”-Koreans (those called “tojung,” or truly native, having never left the peninsula) when it comes to having a relationship.

    What did you expect? Put yourself in his shoes. “Great, our women (because it’s not just you) are categorically NOT going out with us due to our race, but definitely going out with whites..” the Korean race is finished. Why is that important you may ask? For the very reason you think dating whites is the only way… because the world should NOT be a single race consisting of whites and mixed whites. this notion applies to every man of every race, and let’s be honest, there is something wrong with you if at such a young age, and having never slept with let alone be in a serious relationship with your own men, you are completely shunning them for white men. What woman (other than east asian ones) do that?

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