South Korea’s Multiculturalism

Posted by on May 24, 2013 in Asia, Korea, Musings, Social Issues | 3 Comments
Restored Namdaemun crowded with people

Image via Al Jazeera

A few days ago, I wrote a post titled, “‘Because you’re foreign…’ Western, White and English privilege in Korea.” After sharing it on Twitter, a few readers commented and re-tweeted it, and eventually my blog post landed upon the screen of a journalist and TV producer for Al Jazeera English. (And to think that last week I wanted to stop using Twitter…) She liked what I had to say, and coincidentally, it connected to a show that would be airing on “The Stream,” one of Al Jazeera’s daily programs. She asked me if I wanted to participate in the discussion, and I hesitantly agreed, despite my fear of seeing myself on video.

On Wednesday morning, I set my alarm for 3:30 AM–since the show would be airing at 3:30 PM EST–and I set up my laptop, webcam and headphones in the common room of my dormitory while everyone else was fast asleep.

I spoke a few times within the allotted time frame, although I don’t particularly feel like my speech was very eloquent. (I guess it comes with practice.) However, I really enjoyed listening to the speakers’ extensive knowledge on the subject, since it is a growing issue that needs to be addressed more among Koreans and foreigners alike.

The host, Femi Oke, opened with the question, “As South Koreans face an unprecedented number of immigrants, is the country facing an identity crisis?” I’ve lived in Korea for about three years, as an exchange student, English teacher at a public school in Seoul, Korean language student in the countryside, and trip reviewer for a Korean travel company catered to foreigners. Because I’ve worked and studied in this country, I’ve been able to meet foreigners from all around the world, including Southeast and Central Asian scholarship art students, English teachers from the seven native English-speaking countries, U.S. army soldiers, backpackers, and Korean language students from East Asia, Southeast Asia and Europe. I’ve also met a range of ethnic Koreans from various backgrounds, including Koreans who have been born and raised in Korea, Koreans who have grown up overseas (mostly Korean-Americans), as well as Korean adoptees.

I have friends from Southeast Asia with Master’s degrees now working in Korea in the field they studied, making the same amount of money that I, a Westerner without an (English) teaching degree, make as an English teacher. (For the record, I do have a teaching degree in art.) I also have a classmate from Vietnam who recently married a Korean man from the country town where I’m currently living. When she met him a year ago, she didn’t speak Korean at all, and now she is four months pregnant, about to raise a multicultural Korean child.

Korea is still a very homogeneous country, but it’s certainly changing. The question is: How is this rapid multiculturalism changing the face of Korea? And are these changes usually positive or negative?

I won’t go into too much detail, because you can watch the show below, or go directly to the page on Al Jazeera, where you can watch the video and scroll through info-graphics and other videos relating to the issue of multiculturalism in South Korea.


How do you feel about multiculturalism and Korea’s shifting identity? How has it affected your life in Korea? Voice your opinions pertaining to the discussion below.

Another great article: A Multicultural Korea: Inevitable or Impossible?


-Text and photography by Sarah Shaw @ All rights reserved.

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  2. Serenity
    September 6, 2013

    I think South Korea is becoming open-minded on multi-culturalism as compared ten years ago. The policies and several benefits for multi-cultural families are overflowing. Albeit, the ‘old-fashioned’ Koreans haven’t accepted the concept of multi-culturalism yet, someday–if they see the advantages brought by multi-cultural families in the society, they’ll eventually accept. So I guess , the multi-cultural families should endeavor (as the Koreans , especially the government has been working hard for multi-culturalism) for the betterment of South Korea. They should not only expect or look forward to the benefits they get from the government, rather–they should also learn, work hard and adapt the Korean culture.

    PS> I am a member of multi-cultural families here, I am from South East Asia and I met my husband when I was a graduate school exchange student. Our relationship became stable then got married. I’ve been married for four years. Although, I see some multi-cultural families who do not endeavor for a better Korea, I humbly say, I do endeavor myself!
    I know the multi-cultural family is a big factor for increasing the population as baby-producers but would it be too much to ask them to be responsible for the welfare and education of their kids? I mean, I have been into different centers and I saw multicultural kids who have very low level of discipline and academic performances. This was because their foreign mothers got married at an early age and knew nothing about raising children. I think, the government should be strict on the laws for international marriage brokers company. South Korea has the highest number of educated people in the world and it has also high standard of education, so for the foreign wives to adjust easily to the Korean society and to raise multi-cultural kids better, the foreign wives should have at least attained a college degree in their homeland. This is also to lessen the discrimination done by Koreans to foreigners especially to the foreign wives from South East Asian countries. Just my opinion though.

  3. A Multicultural Korea: Inevitable or Impossible? | The Culture Muncher
    September 27, 2013

    […] in an increasingly multicultural country, check out Sarah Shaw’s writing  <a href=”; title=”South Korea’s Multiculturalism” target=”_blank”>here […]


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