Ok, so this is a question that was really difficult for us to answer. We were asked this week if foreigners are treated any differently here in Korea, to which we definitely say yes. As for how differently we’re treated, that really depends on the foreigner you’re talking to.

We personally happen to have good experiences in Korea. Everyone is really nice to us. Nobody’s been terribly rude, and we haven’t experienced any outright racism. People greet us with smiling faces, give us great service everywhere we go, and overall give us a fantastic experience of the country, one that we hopefully convey in our videos and website. However, we do make it a point to try and speak Korean as much as we can, to compliment the meal (in Korean) when we visit new restaurants we like, and make an overall effort to be “Korean”.

But the way we’ve been treated isn’t the same as how others have been treated. Some people do have terrible stories of experiences of racism and discrimination. Since we have never experienced this directly, and have only heard it from a friend of a friend, or via a comment on a blog, we can only comment on people’s anecdotes and the patterns that we’ve noticed.

Without meaning to sound arrogant, we believe that our experience in Korea is great not just because of our personalities, but also because of how we look. No, we’re not supermodels, but we fit a very nice archetype of what a “foreigner” should look like according to what Korea has been taught. Martina is a blonde haired and blue eyed girl. Simon is a tall guy. We’re both white. We’re not noticeably overweight. We’re married and smiley. We are, more or less, what Korea wants in English teachers.

A lot of our friends can’t say the same thing. We have good friends, good teachers who are good people, who have been denied teaching jobs because they’re too Asian looking, too overweight, too not-white. We have good friends here who are black who have had some Korean people walk up to them and try to touch their hair or skin. Not all the time, mind you, but occasionally. We’ve have overweight friends who have been told outright by co-workers that they’re fat, too fat, that they should go on a diet (and they intend it to be a matter-of-fact “I’m helping you” kind of way).

But, again, we can’t comment on this accurately, or make a video about it, because it’s not our experience. We’re lucky here, we know, and our experiences here have been fantastic. As foreigners, we aren’t treated poorly here at all.

There is one thing, though, that makes us cringe occasionally, and that’s being pointed out as foreigners. Many, many times, when we’re walking outside, we’ll hear people (especially kids) say in Korea say “Oh! Weigookin!” which you might have seen from our Korean Like a Pro videos. We weren’t making something up there. We’re often pointed at and called foreigners. It’s not insulting, but it’s kindof saddening at times. Yes, we know that we’re not Korean, but being reminded so often that we’re outsiders who are not part of your culture, is quite sad. We think this must be especially upsetting for those “foreigners” that have settled in Korea with a Korean husband or wife and are now, for the most part, Korean. It feels at times like we’ll always just be floating on the surface, no matter how long we stay here, no matter how many videos we make about how much we love this place. We’ll always just be outsiders looking in, and we’ll always be reminded of this fact.

We know that being called a foreigner in public isn’t necessarily malicious. It’s a genuine expression of shock. After all, a lot of Korean people do have dark hair and eyes, and so when they see Martina’s blue eyes and blonde hair, it’s surprising, not something they’re used to. When they see Simon in his giant form (there aren’t many Korean people as tall as Simon) and his big red mohawk, it’s not surprising to us that they’re surprised by us, and naturally they express their surprise. This surprise is amplified in small towns who perhaps have never met someone from another country.

We think it just feels especially weird for us because we’re from Toronto, which is exceptionally multicultural. Never in Toronto did we look at someone and call them a foreigner. The thought never crossed our minds. Everyone in Toronto is just from Toronto. No one’s an outsider even though we all look different and are perhaps from different countries before we came to Canada.

The only sense of outright racism that we sensed was from the senior citizens, who occasionally, barely ever really, might give us stink face and mumble something about foreigners while looking at us. Or maybe it’s not stink face: maybe that’s just their faces from being so old. But, you know, we don’t really hold it against old people for being racist in Korea. Old people seem to be racist everywhere. Hands up if you got a racist grandma or grandpa! Don’t lie! You know you’ve cringed and/or almost got beat up from your grandparents outrightly insensitive comment made in public! Guys? Anyone? No?…oh…

Anyhow, overall, we love it here in Korea. TL;DR – We have had a fantastic, fantastic experience, as have many of our friends. Are foreigners treated differently here? Yes, but not so terribly that it would in any way negate our experience.

  1. I just want to note here that there are different types of foreigners

    Generally if you are white/American-looking, you won’t run into too much flak

    BUT say you are black, Southeast Asian, etc. you will be treated as sort of second-class. Probably not in an overt way (but possibly), but I’d say there are different “tiers” to being foreign

  2. How do you get around in Korea without being able to speak or write Hangul? Because I want to go to korea soon but I don’t know if I would be able to order food, ask for directions, etc. I want to be able to go to a lot of places and explore but how would I get around?

  3. Hi there, new to EYK here! Just finished watching Lee Michelle’s
    “Without You” mv and wanted to know how biracial people are treated in
    South Korea? I’m biracial myself and it’s not that troublesome in the
    U.S. anymore, but when I travel to other countries, I’m always asked
    “What are you?” and get weird stares. Is being biracial treated as a type of stigma in South Korea or is it being more accepted in a homogenous culture?

  4. I so want to know where you buy your accessories, they are SO CUTE!!!

  5. Lol, green hair? Yes, I probably would stare and want to touch them. But only cuz it would be Daesung, most probably. :P
    Sorry I dont have anything…contributing to say. :P

  6. Thanks, That was good

  7. omg the racist elders… i tell myself that they can’t help it, it was acceptable when they were growing up, korea has a very homogeneous society, etc, but it still floored me when i told my grandpa that i was studying stem cells, and he told me i should discover that changes people’s skin color from black to white >< i was like grandpa… you know that's NOT ok, right…?
    i can't really speak to being a gyopo in korea (koreans abroad… although i'm not sure that i count under that definition, since i wasn't born in korea to begin with); it's been a while since i've visited, and most of that time i was insulated by my family. but there was one time when i was with my grandma, and we ran into one of her neighbors, and there was the usual round of introductions
    "this is my granddaughter"
    "oh, is she visiting?""yes, from america" "oh that's why she has such lovely curves :D" (nota bene: on the scale from keira knightley to beyonce, i am definitely closer to keira knightley….) the thing i heard most, though, was how wonderful it was that my parents hadn't neglected my korean education (i suspect if i hadn't been reasonably fluent, they would've treated me with a lot more disdain)

  8. Idk about racist grandparents because i only have 1 and i rarely see her so i have never really heard a racist comment from her and idk about my other grandparents because they have all passed away but my parents are lol for some reason they seem really against the idea of me or my brothers marrying outside my race.

  9. I really want to move to Korea but i heard they can be pretty Racist especially to black people, and that’s a scary thought for me. I was picked on as a kid for my religion and i’m afraid to be in another similar situation like that. Do you guys think I should still give Korea a try?

  10. Can i ask, what if you’re an asian? Like non korean tho. ( i’m vietnamese-australian) would it be weird?

  11. Whites talking about racism… twilight zone.

  12. I’m lucky — I don’t have a racist grandma!!!
    My grandma rocks! I think she’s even more “modern-minded” then my mum! lol

  13. Haha, everything you guys have talked about for South Korea applies to China as well~

  14. Well I better head to the gym big time before I move to Korea this year, I am overweight, but this should motivate me to start shedding some pounds before I constantly hear how fat I am.  I am sure students will point this fact out on a regular basis.

  15. I’m currently living in Taiwan, and like you guys, I’ve had pretty much the same experiences-although I’ve never been outright pointed at and called “foreigner” (at least I haven’t caught anyone doing that), I have gotten stares and looks-mainly because I am a young woman, and most foreigners in Taiwan are older men. My Taiwanese friends and I have also joked about how I also don’t look like the stereotypical foreigner-I DO have blue eyes, but I’m a brunette with copper highlights (so yes, the “orange” hair is another stare point-I have caught Taiwanese people staring at my hair), I am extremely pale (I’m a vampire, like Martina),plus I’m 5’1”, so I’m around average Asian girl height-in fact most of my Taiwanese female friends are taller than me. So most of the reactions I get are ones of surprise, mainly from my height, since foreigners-even the girls-are supposed to be “giants”.

  16. I’ve wanted to be a teacher in Korea too, but now I’m kinda scared. I’m not over weight, I’m thin but I’m of Mexican decent and I have pretty dark skin. Does this mean I won’t get a job as easily as say a white person? :/

  17. Yeah, my Grandma was racist as heck. She literally wouldn’t let my mom attend her Senior prom because she was going with a black guy. This was the seventies. My mom only got to go when she brought a white guy home for Grannie to approve of (who was actually gay, but Grannie didn’t need to know that ;-D). She also frequently referred to any and all Asians as “Japs”.

    Oh, Racist Grandma. You’d have a heart attack if you knew I was going to South Korea.

  18. hello guys i wonder if you know about what korean boys like in foringers girls, i wonder this because im a overweight person..im not realy english as you noticed  do you understood what i tried to say? thanks anyway

  19. hello there i wonder such i´m a overweith person is that a bad point of beuty to korean guys?

  20. I’ve seriously considered teaching in Asia when I finish college for the last 5 years, but now I’m hesitating because I’ve heard so many terrible things about what happens to overweight people there/the way they’re treated.  I’m an overweight 22 year old woman – would they reject me outright/treat me like crap?

  21. I never got beaten up because of a comment made by my grandma, but that’s because I was a kid back then. She died long ago, but I still remember that she was really racist. My mother is too. So I really know what you mean!

  22. Hello my name is Mark Snippe from Holland and i want to now more about dating in korea and is it easy to date a korean woman as a foreigner  ?? do korean women find foreigners attractive ?? maybe you can make  a segment about this ? i am a long man and i have blond hair do the like this in Korea ? thank you i love your site :) 

  23. Nice Video :) I’m a European NZlander and I recently came back from a short visit to Seoul,  I totally had a moment when  waiting for a friend at the top of a pretty empty subway exit.  This old guy walked past me like super close and totally glared at me strongly in the eyes. I just think he really wanted to see my blue eyes lol

  24. great video!:D how many years or months it takes to learn korean??is it very difficult?

  25. I had the same experience in Japan, I’d get the “can I touch your [fill in the blank]?” a lot, especially being the only black girl with braids in my head there. Sometimes it got annoying and upsetting being stared at but yeah, it wasn’t every day people were just gawking and it wasn’t everyone and it really was good to keep in mind their lack of contact with someone like me. I neve really took it as racism because we were all just foreigners. Now living in the heart of Texas…there’s a den of political incorrectness and racist grannies. 

  26. I visited my Caucasian friend in Seoul this past spring. We were at Insa-dong, which was a really touristy area, and got yelled at by a random old lady for speaking English. My friend told me that it happened to her a couple times before. I just think it was ridiculous that we got yelled at at a place full of tourists and foreigners while the Koreans just watched and walked away.

  27.  im a college student and got 3000 words to go on for the paper but didnt even start writing it cuz ive been watching this all day it’s so funny

  28. 아 님들 좀 욱긴듯 ㅋㅋㅋㅋㅋ 잼나요 더 올려주셈.

  29. Koreans, in general, are quite cordial to the “white man” – perhaps partly because the “white man” knows English, which is a hot “commodity” in South Korea. However, I’ve heard of instances of Koreans not being too cordial to black or mixed Americans. But times are changing.

    You guys probably heard of the Hines Ward story, right? He’s the wide receiver from the Pittsburgh Steelers football team. It was really neat to see breakthrough in prejudices against other races and mixed races from the Korean point of view.

    One thing I know is that being a foreigner, from what I hear, is not too bad. South Koreans have changed in their mentality to accept other cultures and races, even mixed races.

    Doesn’t hurt that thousands of American GIs are still stationed up there in the border.

    We love our foreigners! Why am I talking like I’m full blown Korean? I am, but I’m more Americanized. 

  30. I gotta tell you guys I love your show! Keep going!

  31. I think you don’t have to worry too much about it. There always will be people who don’t embrace the differeces everywhere. but never mind and i am sure you will be fine. Koreans have a tendency to get scared when it comes to speaking English. but in generall most people are quite friendly i would say. If you are gonna study at school (uni?) it should be way easier to hang out with other students. !! Good luck with your study and hope you have great experience there!! :) :)

  32. I am a Korean who is living in England and have been to most of the western countries. Although what you’ve posted on here are majorly from your experience, opinions and from what you’ve heard from your friends etc, I just found it’s kinda little bit exaggerated. Touching black people’s skin in the public? Treating you better because you have a lighter skin than others? It sounds very 90s in Korea. Do you live in Seoul? My home is in Seoul and I visit there in every summer/winter vacation(I am a college student),  and I barely find any such cases you mentioned in Seoul. As becoming a global city, Seoul should be considered as an exception from the impression you got from living in Korea. In addition, I can’t find it is appropriate that you try to compare living in Toronto to Korea. Since I’ve lived in Europe for several years, I saw/experienced many cases of segregation/glaring/staring at different races from the majority race  in European cities. That is because I am an Asian and have a different color from the whites, although the major cities such as Paris,London, Frankfurt etc can be considered as exceptions.  This is very similar to the cases in Korea that you pointed out, and I believe it’s kinda hard to expect your life in TORONTO or Canada(an immigration country that has a short history) in Korea, which has much longer history and a strong identity as much as some European countries do. Lastly, I just have a little question that can you define ethnically what Canadians are? I presume the Koreans you just mentioned that called you an American is just because there are much more Americans they bump into than that of Canadians in Korea. I visit the US regularly and I cannot say the deep animosity toward blacks you find from a good number of white Americans or even from some of people in the western countries could ever compare to Koreans’ curiosity toward them. 

    • I think you are being too harsh at Simon and Martina here.

      Toronto, or Canada in general is a very multicultural country and Korea is one of the most homogenous nations. Obviously most Koreans are not going to be experienced in being politically correct when dealing with different races compared to Canadians. Simon was merely pointing out the differences and not comparing the two to put Korea down. It is obvious they have good intentions and love Korea. And you have to remember you are a Korean visiting Korea so your experience will be different from non-Koreans visiting Korea.

      I really don’t think what Simon or Martina said is exaggerated. I had Korean friends living in Korea ask me questions that were just jaw dropping. Some of them were: do white or black people smell differently, do all white women have big chests, are all North Americans fat, are all white people hairy, and yes I’ve been asked if I’ve ever touched an afro or a black person’s hair and how it felt. And yes they tend to have nicer views on caucasians over other races only because most of their experiences and views of different races come from Hollywood media.
      The people asking questions weren’t being racist or had malicious intention, but just purely curious since they have never had chance to be around foreigners close enough.

      They are just stating their and their friend’s experiences and I think they have a very unbiased and honest perspective in many aspects and I appreciate them for that.
      If anything, they have put more positive light to Korea than anything else I came across.

      • Exactly. I remember watching a video on a small city that didn’t have many tourists (because it was right in the middle of the country area) in Vietnam. There was this one black guy who was going around just touring/visiting/sight-seeing/whatever-he-was-doing-there. There were many people who were VERY intrigued and curious of his very very very curly and short hair and of his skin. He even out right pointed to his hair and bended down so they can touch his hair and feel how curly it is, and he was laughing and they were laughing and that was that.

    • They never suggested that any racism is worse in Korea than other countries… and even said they don’t believe most of the reactions are racism but are genuine curiosity. Did you not watch the whole video? They did say they have had friends with some bad experiences and they all tend to be non-white or overweight. 

      I have seen a video of this black guy with dreadlocks that teaches on Jeju Island… at this festival this Korean woman did go right up to him and start touching his hair without asking… although that could be considered very rude he definitely took it as her being curious especially when she wanted to take pictures with him afterwards lol. 

      Simon and Martina obviously love SoKo… just because they admit they have heard of a few bad experiences doesn’t mean they are overexaggerating, they barely mentioned anything negative and even said those instances should be taken in a more positive way ;) 

      • Hello. Thank you for your opinion. I would like to point out that I’ve never written any words that is “overexaggerating” if you’d ever read what I originally posted on here again thoroughly. About blacks on my comment, I wasn’t trying to defend Korea nor say that it’s not worse in racism than anywhere around the world. Instead, I was trying to balance the point what they made, a view from whites, as I am a Korean who is living in Europe. In addition, I wanted to let bernadettee[: to know that it’s kinda weird to generalize that Koreans do dislike blacks or anyone non whites. Perhaps, some are really prefer whites to another races, but that kinda people you bump into do not speak for all the people in this nation. You should come to Seoul and find it how the people in this city are globalised in such issues.  Like i said, I visit the US very often, and I wouldn’t say white Americans or even African Americans are racists just because few of them have deep animosity toward the other racial groups. I am not telling you my opinions are absolutely right, yet I’d like to emphasize that some of the point of view from them as foreigners in Korea may have errors or may have distorted what the native people’s general notions. The reason why people in Toronto never care anyone who has different color from them is just because they have a multi-cultural society, and Canada widely accepted immigrants from all over the world historically. That is same to the US, and I sometimes found it is such an ignorance that some people from these countries try to point out that the old history countries are too “homogeneous”. It is obviously awkward to ask such liberal atmospheres  to the countries that have more than 5000 years history with a strong identity as it is not such immigration countries like the US and Canada that have only less than 500 years history. 

  33. I’m really glad to see this… I’ve been maaajorly freaking out because I’ll be studying in Korea starting next month, and I’m going to stand out majorly because I’m half black (though relatively light skinned, I guess) and maaajorly overweight… so of course, I’ve been really worried about being in Korea because the average Korean is obviously a looot smaller than I am, and also we learned about Korean attitudes towards Blacks in my Korean Politics course (it’s not really fair to say “Koreans don’t like Black people.” There are a lot of nuances, tbh)… what was the point of this comment again? Uhhm. Oh, yeah. Thanks for posting this! Perfect timing [:

  34. When I visited Korea, I had a bit of a different experience. I’m actually Korean, but am adopted so all my life except 5 months has been in American culture. One day when I was there with my family, we went to a restaurant for dinner (Outback steakhouse – how un-Korean, I know. Don’t worry, didn’t only eat American food there), and the waiter saw a table with 3 Caucasians and one Korean and thought ‘Yay! I have someone who can translate!’ Little did he know that my Korean consists of poorly pronounced ‘Hello’ and ‘Thank you’. Once he found out that his supposed ace in the hole wasn’t really that, he fled. We felt so bad cause he looked like he was gonna cry! They sent another waiter who could speak English. There were times when I felt a bit like the outsider with double shame cause I couldn’t speak my motherland’s tongue (add to that how I’m abnormally tall for a Korean and was probably the worst dressed Korean around. Everyone seemed so nicely dressed!). However, don’t get me wrong, I loved my visits there and I found the Korean people to be some of the most friendly people around. Sure there are going to be people who don’t like differences, but that’s going to happen everywhere there are humans. And I would almost rather have the direct, open staring than the smiling facade that some Americans put on to cover their racial prejudices.

    • Your last sentence is food for thought, Holly. I cannot STAND that cheerful face that tastes as nice as chocolate cake sweetened with aspartame. Whenever I go out with Spanish speaking friends and we chat, the older ones always have that “façade” waiting for us. If they had any guts at all, they would launch into their “speak American!” tirades that they only discuss with fellow racists. That level of brutal honesty you discuss is perhaps the better alternative!

  35. t’s really funny to see you guys speak Korean almost perfectly.(-: Especially  we guk in(외국인).

  36. I have 2 funny stories. My brother-in-law is from El Salvador and the summer following my sister’s wedding his family had a reception there for all the family and friends who couldn’t come to the US for the actual wedding. So my family got to go to El Salvador. My mom and I have dark brown hair, blue eyes, and we both tan very easily. My other family members are basically super white, with blonde, light brown, or red hair, and they don’t tan, they burn. Everyone stared at us because we were obviously foreigners, but whenever people at the hotels or restaurants needed to talk to us they went straight to my mom and me. My mom doesn’t really know any Spanish besides hola and I only knew a little, not enough to successfully converse with anyone. It was explained to us that they assumed my mom and I were from Spain, because of our lighter skin and our eyes, and that my mom just remarried some white guy, getting his kids as part of the deal. haha

    And my other story is that last summer my sister and I went on a trip to Europe offered by my school. That year the trip was to France and Spain. When we were in Paris, my teacher was getting pictures of us in front of the Arc de Triomphe. There was a group of some Asian ladies there, obviously tourists as well, and they started jumping into the picture with us and handed their cameras to my teacher so she could get a picture of them with us. We were all pretty shocked and thinking, “What just happened here?” It was weird, but amusing.

  37.        I’m from a little country in Europe, last year I went working to another european country, and people can tell right away you’re not ‘one of them’ even if you do look like them.
          the things you guys are telling and the comments I read can’t even be qualified as racism judging by the things that personally happened to me in a country from my own continent, and when we’re supposed to have (almost) the same cultural values  :(. just saying

    • Yeah, but these guys are putting a really, really happy cheerful spin on their experiences in Korea. What is ludicrous is when foreigners are excluded from certain establishments or activities because they are foreign. The thing that makes it particularly frustrating and galling is that there’s not even a pretense or excuse; many Koreans seem to think it’s just fine or their prerogative to openly exclude people because they are foreign and/or of a different race, they don’t seem to understand that it’s discrimination.

      Koreans can be very welcoming to foreigners, particularly tourists. But they constantly want to put and keep people in their respective boxes, delineating “in” group and “out” group, “us” and “them.” As much as the novelty of foreign status may work in the favor of a good-looking caucasian, he or she will constantly be reminded that he/she is NOT one of “us,” the Korean people. And while that’s fine for the visitor or the short-term dweller, it becomes hurtful in the long run.

      Foreignness is not yet run-of-the-mill to Koreans. It is alternately intriguing and threatening, and you see inferiority/superiority complexes play out in the way Koreans relate to foreigners of different races and national origins.

      My personal observation is that Koreans feel most comfortable and at ease with foreigners when they are reduced to benign token status, like harmless clowns or curiosities. I recall being with a Korean who gushed, “Wow, your Korean is so great!” I pointed out that our mutual foreign friend X spoke fluent Korean, which was much better than mine. He responded, “Yes, but his Korean is… too good. We feel a little scared when we listen to him. But your Korean is so cute, like a little child! I love to hear it!” Mm-hmm. My friend is threatening, because he can fully express himself and speak his mind. I always sensed that, but it was revealing to hear it stated openly.

      • I won’t try to disagree or discredit any of the experiences you’ve mentioned here, but I will outright refute your opening sentence, that we’re putting a spin on our experiences.  Are you suggesting that our experiences have been bad and that we’re lying about them, that we’re intentionally falsifying our report of these experiences?

  38. Some great observations!  Having lived in Korea three years myself as a tall red haired ginger I have my share of stories to tell.  One in particular was an elderly Korean lady trying to pick the freckles off of my arms.

  39. hmmm, I wouldn’t know about Korea or even Canada, but in my latin american experience I did have a racist grandmother xD I think it’s more of an old world kind of thing, and her racism was towards black people, which now I remember and find curious because in here it’s either dark skinned people or americans. (she loved white americans)

    I’m thinking about it now and I have to say the whole pointing at people or looking at them and stuff (except for the touching darker skin thing, though here I guess it would be staring at asian eyes) I think can be found in any country. I guess it’s less likely if you don’t stick out as much, but the whole not hiring as an english teacher because they don’t fit the stereotype is something I’ve only heard of in Korea. I also read somewhere that koreans and japanese people are less inclined to accept people even after they become “real” koreans/japanese because of their background. I also know people like that here that even after years of living here are still considered foreigners because of the way they look. I think its a sore spot in every country, no matter what they say (again, I wouldn’t know about Canada)

    I read somewhere else that having a foreign friend in Korea was like having a pretty accesory or something like that, I wouldn’t know, but I did have foreign friends and sadly sometimes(and I’ve seen this in the US as well) instead of by their names we would refer to them by their country, just for fun.
    I’ve had it happen to me as well, and while it stung a bit, it didn’t bother me as I never had the intention of fitting in in that country. It must be tough for those who do. I guess it’s something that they have to live with. makes me feel thankful for my foreign ancestors.

  40. My aunt and uncle lived in korea for 10 months last summer and I went to visit them. No one was ever rude to me, but many people would stop me and tell me that I am pretty and they want to give me a hug, I was once asked to have my picture taken with some young korean men which was a little bit akward. At first I was very startled and unsure of what to do, but I had it easy. My aunt has 3 children who are very young, they all have blue eyes and bleach blond hair, we were often stopped in the street by elderly people grabbing them and hugging them, or even just to say that they are cute. The worse thing that happened is when a couple requested some pictures with the children, and it ended up being a odd photo shoot type deal. By the end of their stay I know my aunt was frustrated and ended up being very rude to some people. I always try to be patient, and set clear boundries of what is and is not ok although it can be tough. I still love korea and it’s people!

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