"Who Are You?"-changing attitudes toward international marriage
Throughout much of its history, the Korean peninsula has remained isolated and racially homogenous. Following South Korea’s economic development and the modern era of globalisation, this is beginning to change, as more and more foreigners are moving to the country to live and work. Consequently, international marriages between Koreans and foreigners are a growing phenomenon.
A recent survey of Korean men and women asked whether there are any nationalities better to marry than their fellow Koreans. Only 36.1% of men responded that there were ‘Some’ or ‘A Lot’, in strong contrast to 59.3% of women. Following on from this, 48.2% of men would be happy to live the rest of their life abroad with their spouse, compared to a whopping 89.5% of women. When asked for the reasons behind these preferences, men tended to give answers concerning the physical appearance of foreign women, while Korean women were attracted to what they felt were freer, more equal societies in many foreign countries.
This is not to say that prejudice against international marriage is a thing of the past in Korea, however, although it is certainly decreasing. In a new book of essays entitled “Who Are You?” author Hyang-Gyu Lee relates her experiences being married to a British man, and the comments and reactions it often elicits from those around her about how hard the cultural differences must be, or berating them for not thinking of the bullying their future children may face for being mixed race. She also mentions an incident where her husband, an English teacher, was asked by a student, “Why did you marry a Korean women?” to which he replied, “I didn’t marry a ‘Korean’ woman, I married ‘this’ woman.” Such a situation is one many people in international marriages often face, as people focus on the different nationalities of them and their spouse, rather than their characteristics as people.