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15 Funny Things Foreigners Experience in South Korea

In 2010, I left the United States for South Korea for a number of reasons– one being the need to escape the proverbial Western bubble and challenge my self-identity by physically engaging with a foreign culture. It was an inner-quest for universal understanding; I wanted to explore human interconnectedness. And yes, I found many human similarities, but it was the cultural differences that stood out the most. The following quirky differences were among the most talked about between foreigners from many different countries, “waygookins” as Koreans call us.

I captured my experience through my YouTube videos, and Luke Martin, a brilliant comic illustrator active around the time I was there, captured those Korean moments through his popular comic series, ROKetship.

Here are the top 15 funny things most foreigners have experienced in South Korea:

As a heterosexual man, I’ve always been cognizant about making sure that I don’t police the woman’s body. Women, on the other hand, can be quite ruthless to each other; or in this case, be totally unaware of East Asian vs Western cultural differences. I wasn’t complaining either way. Nope!
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Human touch is simply another form of language. It’s necessary for cross-cultural understanding, but each individual has different emotional thresholds, especially when Korean ahjummas speak the language a little too loud and forcibly. Old ladies have always been gangsters who simply don’t give a damn.
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For a lot of the Korean apartments, the shower is/was connected to the sink. Let’s just say I’ve had several surprise pool parties from time to time.
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Whoever breaks the romanized Korean language code on a consistent basis deserves a date with Kim Hyo-Yeon (김효연). Let’s set that up.
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For the average Westerner, practicing the art of squatting takes several shitty attempts. You’ve been warned. Luckily, not every Korean bathroom looks the same. This pleasant surprise is usually found in older public buildings. By the way, squatting is actually healthier. 
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I actually enjoyed butchering my students’ names. It created better rapport–one of those rare moments where I enjoyed being laughed at. I ruled against nicknames because saying my own name, Wilkine Brutus, isn’t an easy task for my own friends.
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You get quite comfortable with being the sudden celebrity–the attention is normalized, but then it gets awkward when another “celebrity” shares the same space.
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The sexualization of the female body is a hot topic in sociological circles–it’s, well… you just wouldn’t expect it to be so blatant at your local grocery store.

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K-Pop is dangerously catchy: In 2010, T-ara’s “Bo Peep” song haunted me for a full year. I still have nightmares. “I’m so sorry…” “Poopy Poopy Popi Popi”…help me, please. Geeez!
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Fifty Shades of… umm, Love? I still can’t get used to couples dressing alike. When did uniformity become sexy? 
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Things are changing now with huge job fairs for foreigners living in Korea, but for the average Westerner, you’re either an English teacher (public or private) or a member of the military. There are definitely exceptions (media related gigs, Samsung, business owner, etc).
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Itaewon is a popular district in Seoul for foreigners and foreign business, tourists, and U.S military personnelle. It’s also known for some amazing international restaurants. I still remember the hilarious Itaewon Freedom song by J.Y Park.
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South Korea’s education system is, by far, one of the harshest school systems in the world. This educational masochism is actually no laughing matter.
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There exist totally different sets of garbage disposal and recycling rules in Korea. There are different bags for different kinds of trash. Adhere to the rules or get backslapped mafia-style by an ahjussi or harabeoji (grandfather).

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Older Koreans take hiking to another level with their, on average, $1,000 worth of high-end hiking gear. Seriously. It’s no joke. I predict a mountaineer fashion show on a major mountain in the near future. Let’s just hope the runway isn’t near a cliff. 
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Bonus: Tom Gates, my fellow friend and YouTuber, talked to me about having a North Korean mother and a White father, and how he navigated South Korean culture as a bi-racial Westerner.

 

 



About

Content Director at OogeeWoogee. I'm a nomad; I like to engage in cross-cultures experiences---I'm a wanderlust, eating pancakes everywhere I go.


'15 Funny Things Foreigners Experience in South Korea' have 15 comments

  1. September 23, 2015 @ 2:17 am Max

    Some of the funny things that happened to me/can’t yet get used to (at least those that come to mind straight away):
    – I just arrived in Korea and everyone spoke with me in Korean….
    – … I have been here 7 years, married, and even got the Korean citizenship, and people speak with me in English… WTF? :/
    – Everyone assuming that I am from the USA, although I am not.
    – Everyone assuming that I teach English.
    – Kids saying “Hello” on the streets and then running away, like it were some kind of courage test: with all the English education I would expect at least a little conversation (but you know better than me that that’s not the reason why they learn English here.)
    – People assuming that my daughter can’t speak Korean just because I’m white.

    Reply

  2. September 23, 2015 @ 3:46 am Jason

    How is this your own article?All you did was take the brilliance of ROKet Ship and make it into your own article.What a fraud you are.Create your own material.

    Reply

    • September 23, 2015 @ 9:34 am Wilkine Brutus

      Dear Jason,

      With all due respect, did you even read the paragraphs leading to the comic strips? Not only is the article a simple curation of Luke Martin’s art, but it’s also a combination of my personal Korean experience, which also features my YouTube videos. It’s an art collaboration, in a sense: Through curation, you re-introduce art to an audience who had never even heard of Luke Martin. Would you ask a museum to create their own art? No! A museum curates art pieces through their own unique presentation.

      Through this presentation, Luke has just attracted new fans. His name is on every single comic strip, and is easily sharable. It’s been several years since he’s been spoken about, and even then, it was mostly among us living in Korea.

      Perhaps you should focus your attention on the hilarity behind living in Korea (which most of the readers throughout social media are doing) and further spread the artwork of Luke Martin, which is exactly what I just did. The entire article is about positivity–there is absolutely no room for negative, illogical insults. Thanks for reading!

      Reply

      • September 23, 2015 @ 7:47 pm Marcos

        That there is a brilliant response. Love the article, and most definitely remember those experiences back in the day. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

        Reply

  3. September 23, 2015 @ 8:31 am Anazette

    This was so funny! I’m still over in Korea and running into that random foreigner can definitely be awkward. It’s like, “Do I give a light wave?” or just a “Hey!” I feel like I don’t want to reveal the obvious. After 3 years, I still have accidental sink showers!

    Reply

  4. September 23, 2015 @ 12:23 pm Erin

    Very true to my experience in Korea as well! I actually LOL’ed at a few of these. :)

    Reply

  5. September 23, 2015 @ 10:59 pm Eric

    I like your taste in music. Bo peep was my first Kpop love as well ^^

    Reply

  6. September 24, 2015 @ 9:39 am Lilla

    BTW. Itaewon Freedom is not by JY Park. It’s by UV, featuring Park Jinyoung and probably produced by him, as it came out of JYP.

    Reply

  7. September 25, 2015 @ 2:55 am aifaiy

    Hahaha! I can totally relate with this! I always get that stare from the older ones downtown. So they keep staring at my braids & some even touch it! I wonder what they say after cos the next thing i hear is saram….lol! This article captures it all!

    Reply

  8. September 30, 2015 @ 8:40 pm OOGEEWOOGEE / Life in Korea: The Expat Experience Ep. 1

    […] videos (A Black Man in Korea: the Will Smith & Obama Effect) or popular comic strips (“15 Funny Things Foreigners Experience in South Korea“) can help shape a great narrative, a perfect gateway to allow your friends and family to […]

    Reply

  9. September 30, 2015 @ 9:34 pm Derek

    Nice article!
    On number 4, are you referring to HyoYeon of Girls’ Generation?

    Reply

  10. October 19, 2015 @ 5:12 pm OOGEEWOOGEE / Part 2: 15 Funny Things Foreigners Experience in South Korea

    […] In part 1, I explained how I needed to “escape the proverbial Western bubble and challenge my self-identity by physically engaging with a foreign culture.” That was one of a number of reasons why I lived in South Korea. And that “inner-quest for universal understanding” inspired me to capture my experience through my videos, but ROKetship, a brilliant comic strip by Luke Martin, captured the true essence of day-to-day life in Korea. The quirky, cross-cultural observations brought Korean idiosyncrasies to the forefront, and almost every foreigner (waygook-in) living in the country could relate. […]

    Reply

  11. October 21, 2015 @ 7:13 pm Krista

    Love this. I had hoped to head to S.K. via TALK, but things didn’t work out. I still hope to get there some day, but as I’m in my 40’s, I think my chances are slimmer than the younger set. Huge fan of Tom Gates (Go RedDragonDiaries!), as he has an “older” (doesn’t that sound insulting?) view of the teaching in Korea experience. Great job, all around, and truly enjoying the content here!

    Reply

  12. November 4, 2015 @ 2:29 pm OOGEEWOOGEE / 15 Questions with Luke Martin, Creator of ROKetship Comic Book (South Korea)

    […] ROKetship! (ROK = Republic of Korea) allowed him to bring to the life the quirky idiosyncrasies in South Korea. Now that he’s back in Chicago, he’s doing the same thing with “What the L?!” […]

    Reply

  13. November 4, 2015 @ 2:33 pm OOGEEWOOGEE / 15 Questions with Luke Martin, Creator of ROKetship Comic in South Korea

    […] ROKetship! (ROK = Republic of Korea) allowed him to bring to the life the quirky idiosyncrasies in South Korea. Now that he’s back in Chicago, he’s doing the same thing with “What the L?!” […]

    Reply


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