A SEMESTER IN SEOUL
I'll be continuing my journalism studies in Seoul at Hangyang University between September and December 2019, and ROOTLESS is coming with me.
I can't wait to experience the Korean culture and meet Koreans and expats here. I've no idea what to expect, but I can't wait to delve into intriguing conversations and discover a new continent.
Episode 1 - "Korean diaspora" with Christina | Korean, American or Gyopo?
This episode I talk to Christina, a Korean/American who moved to South Korea in her early twenties to get to know more about the cultural heritage her friends and family had talked about her whole life. Through her job as an English teacher, Christina has gotten to know the Korean youth and an insight into what her life might have been like she had been born here instead.
But coming to Korea to connect with her biological roots, Christina has been partly estranged, from a society that doesn't accept her as an ethnic Korean. The still largely homogenous country, call people like Christina "Gyopo" (교포) which loosely translates to"outsider". The word has some negative connotation, suggesting that foreign influence makes people lose touch with their Korean roots.
But life as a foreigner who appears to be the same as the majority means that Christina is expected to "adhere" to Korean norms and standards
Christina is longing for more individualism to just be "herself" which is what we had a chat about along with the English education system, saving face mentality and testing culture in South Korea.
Episode 2 - Corporate Korea with Reagan
What happens when a country democratises and modernises in half a century? South Korea’s development has an impressive history of exponential growth and hard work, but in the last decade the manufacturing sector has been struggling and the corporate business sector forced to rethink and innovate.
This episode’s guest, Reagan, has made a profession out of exactly that, advising, consulting and teaching Korean businesses and students about corporate strategy and innovation. The official image of Korea is a dynamic, global and high tech society, but making it in the Korean business scene is complex as foreigners are considered "decorations not talents" as Reagan puts it.
In this episode, we talk about the homogeneous Korean society, how diversity leads to collaborations of ideas and Korean laws, bureaucracy & top-down culture
Episode 3 - Inah Kim un-politically connecting people to North Korea
This episode approaches South Korea’s highly politicised and mystified neighbouring country. Inah Kim and her co-founder, Sarah Lee, started ReconnectNZ in 2016 to do humanitarian work in New Zealand but have in the past two years simultaneously turned their attention to North Korea.
We kept our conversation as unpolitical as possible to focus on the humanitarian difference Inah’s wishes to make. The origination aims to help Koreans connect and understand each other despite the four-kilometre-wide demilitarized zone that separates them. Inah went to North Korea in 2018 and 2019 to do research, connect and learn about the culture and its people to be able to bring balance to the stigmatised public perception.
The young founder speaks very fondly about the people she met in North Korea, the country and her personal connection to the nation but doesn’t glorify the regime, although she feels that this it’s often its only identity in the media.
It’s been a challenge to orchestrate this from across the border where advocating for communism is illegal and any positive portrayal of North Korea may be misinterpreted as such.
Seoul 4 - Experience Gangnam with Brian
Imagine growing up in a country, where foreigners only know about your infamous missile neighbour? Then moving away to the US for a decade and seeing your nation’s culture spread throughout the world from a distance.
That’s exactly what this episode's guest, Brian Min, did! Brian is the founder of Itta, means 'to connect' in Korean. With his business, Brian cultivates learning opportunities to connect people across diverse cultures in and out of Korea. He has guided over a thousand K-culture-lovers around Gangnam and shared his knowledge about the area he grew up in! While Brian was abroad, the famous song 'Gangnam Style' came out, and upon his return, his neighbourhood had completely changed. Even the building he grew up in had been torn down and rebuild. Although the district has been modernised in recent years much effort has been put into rebuilding some of the cultural values of the old Korea. K-pop K-beauty and Gangnam style are far from everything Korea has to offer, according to Brian, so have a listen to this episode to find out what makes Gangnam so special!
Brian and I had coffee and a walk through Gangnam while recording the podcast, so don’t be surprised by any bird, car or cafe noises!
Seoul 5 - How to talk about feminism in Korea with Brian
Some of the first words Brian said to me was "as a feminist, I feel like we have a lot we could talk about". So it's no surprise our initial podcast recording lasted over three hours, hence why you're now listening to part 2.
Brian and I discussed feminism in Korea and the stigma, history and movements surrounding "the F word". Brian compares Korea to a start-up with its mere 70 years of developing a modern democratic society that is still trying to shake traditional values and ways.
The Feminist film Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 has been further sparking the debate since it's release in October. The movie follows Kim Ji-young as she grows up in a patriarchal household and into adulthood where she faces deep-rooted gender discrimination. The movie has been celebrated by feminists internationally but also criticised for presenting distorted negative views and sexist generalisations against men.
The young entrepreneur gave me his take on the movie and how to have an open constructive debate on a topic, few Koreans like to discuss over dinner.
Seoul 6 - How to talk about feminism in Korea with Brian
Beth tells her story of how she immersed into Korean society with different social expectation from women, when she was “being too loud” at a dinner party ifht colleagues.
Getting used to being quite and more reserved”
Double standards for foreigners — the foreigner pass, she was held to different standards.
Ethnically Korean start of the #metoo movement in Korea which started with __
Huge disclaimer from Beth, that she only speaks for herself. Teaching is a conservative industry. Enforced gender roles. Confucianism’s influence on gender roles today.
3rd wave feminism - consumption of beauty products
Obsessive beauty norms for women
Free the coset movement, beauty bloggers starting to destroyed their makeup. Internalised beauty norms. Make is common courtesy — plastic surgery
Double eyelid surgery as a bday present
Vanity ?? Certain beauty features enable certain professional levels
Radical feminims measures in Korea — Ilbe , womad - negalia fenism movements — mirroring hateful violet language used by men onto themselves