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?