Being a Korean American in Korea

This has been a topic that’s long been on my mind, even before I came to Korea, so here I go…


In America, Korean-Americans are a minority. I never feel that I 100% belong there because of the many micro-aggressions and other acts of racism I experience every now and then. But, what about Korea? Do I belong here? Unfortunately, even here the answer is no. If anything, I feel like a complete foreigner here sometimes.

You’d think that because I look like a “typical” Korean everyone would treat me like another Korean citizen. But, it’s kind of like a double-edged sword. For one, people can tell that I’m from America, that I’m a Korean-American. It’s just like how when I was in America, I could easily pick out who the Korean-Koreans were. Because of that, everyone here expects me to know all the social rules. But I don’t.

What exactly am I supposed to say to my elders? I know I have to bow 90 degrees, but is that every time to everyone? And then when I don’t know, they criticize me for not knowing. Now, if you were a GET who isn’t Korean and didn’t know the rules, they would be kind and understanding since obviously you don’t know. But since I “look like a Korean” they automatically expect me to know everything they do. But I don’t.

Also, I’ll mention this in another post, but because I look “Korean” many think I don’t speak English well. This is even the case sometimes in America. People in America would always ask me, “Where are you from?” When I replied, “Virginia” they would be like, “No, like, where are you really from?” And I would just be completely flabbergasted. Sometimes people are even surprised that I can speak English in America. Even though, you know, I majored in it? I even have a Master’s in Secondary English Education! Just because I’m not white doesn’t mean I can’t speak English, or that I don’t belong in the US.

And then, in Korea, my principal asks my co-teacher, “Where is the foreigner? Why is the native English teacher a Korean person?” And my heart just drops. I mean, in technicality, I am the foreigner. I came to Korea on a US passport for that very reason. I mean, does my English ability just seem like a zero to everyone? Because I look Korean? Even though I have a BA and M.Ed? Just because I can speak both Korean and English does not mean my abilities are any less for it. Just because I look Korean doesn’t mean my qualifications are invalid because of it. Just because I am a Korean-American doesn’t mean I don’t have a place where I belong.

People assume what I can or can’t do because I’m a Korean-American. And this happens both in the US and in Korea. They assume we don’t belong with them. It breaks my heart that many people just can’t seem to understand or accept others like me. But, we Korean-Americans, and even those of other minorities who feel the same way in their respective countries, we all have a place where we belong. It’s wherever we choose to be, whether it’s in America, or in Korea. We can choose to belong in either one or in both, one foot in America, the other foot in another. We can see the best of both worlds no matter what we look like. And no one can take that away from us.


2 thoughts on “Being a Korean American in Korea

  1. chaxmi says:

    I completely agree with you, I feel this way a lot. It’s even worse if you aren’t even that fluent, so you are left with the struggle of trying to communicate, but not having the words to be able to. For me, it is so annoying when people judge me for not knowing, when they can’t expect me to be fully aware because of the way I’ve grown up. For both of us, sure we might have grown up with some of the culture, but how we are raised in our house is different from the culture we are raised in. We don’t have the same societal rules and that makes it difficult, especially if they only want to judge because we don’t know anything, as we’re stuck in the middle. Regardless, it is important to find what makes you happy and to go with it. If they don’t understand why we don’t know, ask them to come to the US and live among people of different cultures and see how they react.


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