small stone (63)

 
The Vietnamese wife, her eyes round under perpetually puzzled eyebrows, watches me, as if now unsure who is the foreigner.

 

The phenomena of South Korean men marrying non-Korean women has received press in the West from time to time. The city I live in is adjacent to many rural communities, and although I don’t often see these “international wives,” I do see the advertisements for international marriage brokers all over the city and highways in our province. The influx of non-Koreans and the growing number of multiracial children in Korea is shifting, ever so slightly, the idea of what constitutes “Korean” and what constitutes “foreigner.” The highly popular K-Pop Star program, a Korean American Idol-esque show featuring young aspiring vocalists, has showcased Michelle Lee. Another popular drama has a young male actor who is clearly not full “Korean,” but who (also obviously) speaks Korean fluently, as a native. Is it language; culture; race; or nationality, meaning holding a passport and citizen’s rights, that determines what is Korean? For a previously fairly homogenous nation, this is a relevant and multi-layered question. I speak Korean quite well, but I’m conspicuously Caucasian and I live here as an expatriate even though I am highly integrated into a Korean community; the wife in the audience of kindergarten mothers I spoke to today is raising her family here, has likely obtained Korean citizenship, and speaks Korean to some degree (I’ve not had a chance to speak with her privately), and unlike me, doesn’t leap out of a crowd at first glance. Who, and what, is foreign?

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