Multiculturalism in South Korea

by Youngim Kim

Unlike the U.S, South Korea tends to be a homogenous country and just permitted the overseas tip in 1981. However, since South Korea became a member of OECD, the migration of people from China and Southeast Asia in pursuit of better living has increased. I found the situation described from the US articles is somewhat similar to multicultural issues in Korea. South Korea has intensely developed intellectual and high skilled industry through immersion education system. Koreans consider many undocumented Chinese and Southeast Asian dayworkers as potential criminals. Most of them are rejected by Koreans and also experience discriminative treatment in terms of human right and basic wages. In spite of the multicultural policy by Korean government, immigrants and Koreans are hostile to each other.

Unlike the US-Mexico example, one growing part of immigrants in Korea can be classified as intercultural marriage between Korean men and foreign women from elsewhere in Asia in the country side. Korean men living in a rural community who are the majority of Korean women try to avoid marrying with, cannot help marrying through an arranged match with women from poorer country to carry on a family lineage. Though foreign women who married with Korean men can have Korean visa, the children born through such kind of international marriages usually feel a sense of alienation and have an identity crisis. The government policy also still does not support them even after the settlement. Most of foreign women living in the countryside of Korea have been forced to assimilate to traditional Korean culture, which is supporting husband’s parents and also doing traditional women’s work. The people who try to maintain and teach their culture to their children are still a minority. Moreover, the majority of Korean is against multicultural policy because they think foreigners disturb public peace and order, even though they know nobody of immigrants who committed a crime.

Of course, Chinese and Southeast Asians are not all of immigrants in South Korea. However, the discrimination toward foreigners depends on their race and language. Like Japan, Caucasians speaking English are the most welcomed people. In the global society, I think we cannot change this current flow, what is international mobility. Korean should change their attitude toward foreigners from a dichotomy or prejudice like “the foreigner” and “Korean” to cordial cultural exchange for the development of both countries.


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