On Being a Foreigner #2

I wrote last week about this and wanted to add another quick post to supplement my thoughts on the matter of how Koreans consistently remind us “outsiders” that we are foreigners.

Downtown Daegu has a very large chain bookstore called Kyobo. On the second floor is a nice selection of English books (novels, classics, etc.). Across the room, along a back wall, is a section of Korean grammar books in (mostly) English, but some written in Russian, Chinese, and Japanese. The sign pointing customers to this section is this:

This supplements the point of my last post. All the sign *needs* to say is: “Books on Korea” or “Korean Grammar books”. Again, saying it’s “for foreigner” [sic] feels like its meant to just keep me in my place and remind me again that I’m not Korean.

The section where there are the English novels doesn’t say “for foreigner” because there are many Koreans too who peruse the bookshelves there for titles. It’s not limited to English native speakers only. Yet, books on Korea and Korean grammar are labeled as “foreigner”. So, strange I think.

Last summer, I read a book by Robert Kohls called Learning to Think Korean. In the book, he details the following:

“Americans can be considered almost unique in this belief of equality. Most of the rest of the world assumes that people are not created equal and values rank, status, and authority instead. Rank, status, and respect for authority give people a sense of security and certainty that Americans are rarely likely to feel. It can be very reassuring to know, from birth, who you are and where you fit into the complex system we call society.”

Later, he states:

“In the United States, where equality is an ideal, we nevertheless would be forced to admit, if we gave it any serious thought, that no two people are ever precisely equal. We have simply agreed to ignore our differences in status and act as though we are equal, since we prize equality so much. Koreans, on the other hand, have agreed to recognize and admit that any two people are always unequal and to develop their relationships on the basis of that inequality.”

So, Koreans push the “foreigner” separation because it isn’t a society that strives for equality among its peoples. My role here is forever determined from the moment I step off the airplane.

This constant labeling of me being a “foreigner” and having it shoved down my throat is certainly a culture difference, but I think a difference that Korea could stand to break free from and will have to as its markets open up to a larger, global community.

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One Response to On Being a Foreigner #2

  1. Willie R. says:

    Interesting quote by Kohls–it helps to explain the ingroup, outgroup mentality…but still doesn’t make us feel any better about being foreigners first and people second!

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