My experiences as a foreigner in Korea may not be representative, as we come in many varieties and our experiences may therefore be quite different, but here is a list of 10 things that have happened to me since coming to Korea:
- I get stared at. By children and older generations alike. Most of my experiences are variations of this theme. This included an app. 12 year old Chinese boy in Jeju airport who very obviously told his mum to turn around to look at me too. Note that he was the one wearing a fluffy hair band with a big bow and ears. I’m becoming better at tuning it out, but the first few days were a little overwhelming since I’m definitely not used to being noticed like this. In the case of children I just smile at them – maybe I’m the first non-Asian foreigner they have ever seen.
- An actor in a play in Seoul interrupted himself to point out to the entire audience that a foreigner was present.
- While I was sitting on a bench in a market drinking juice with a friend in Jeju, an old lady stopped and bent down to stroke my shin. I didn’t know how to react and she was obviously harmless, but my friend stepped in immediately and asked her to stop doing that. I just greeted her politely when she was obviously not done looking at me.
- While waiting for a bus in Jeju, my friend noticed how people in cars driving by were looking and she could mouth read the word 외국인, foreigner.
- All of the ladies working in the hanbok rental shop in Jeonju came over to have a proper look at my blue eyes after I had changed back into my regular clothes and was ready to leave.
- When a song by a Danish singer (Mø, “final song” for the curious ones) suddenly started playing in a café in Buyeo and I enthusiastically started lipsyncing and moving to the music in my seat, the barista turned up the music, which was when I found out we were being watched. I was mortified while my friends thought it was hilarious.
- As I was having dinner alone in Gyeongju, I was not entirely sure how to approach some of the food and spying other diners for clues. The staff (especially one ajumma) was incredibly kind and attentive, and showed me which things to combine for the best results although I had not asked. They had just noticed my insecurity even if I tried to be stealthy.
- Two guys (early 30s?) working in a food stall at a town festival/event in Buyeo greeted me loudly “Hiiiiii!!!! God bless youuuuuu!” when I passed by. Both times I passed by…
- Some people will randomly greet me with a “hello” in the street. I just reply 안녕하세요. A man in Jeonju who insisted on shaking my hand came across as creepy, though.
- No matter how blatantly lacking my Korean is in some situations, people will praise me for trying – and only switch to English if I really get out of my depths and they know the English expression corresponding to the Korean one that I don’t understand.
Have you had similar experiences in Korea other other countries? Do share in the comments! 🙂