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The Gyopo Experience ft Jen!

July 10, 2014


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When we were in LA, we spent a couple of days with Jen, who – by the way – is totally lovely. She asked Martina a really interesting question that really had us questioning ourselves. The question was this: do we consider ourselves Korean-Canadians or Canadian-Koreans?

It caught us really off guard. It’s not something we ever thought about. “Neither” is our first response. We have no Korean blood in us. We’re not Korean. Jen went on to say, though, that we’re in many ways more Korean than she is. We’ve been living in Korea for over six years now. We’ve been really immersed here. We have a home, a business. We eat Korean food every day. We speak Korean every day (not high level Korean, though: but more than enough to carry on conversations). We pay Korean taxes. When we were in LA, we were culture shocked by all of the things that are not like how they are in Korea.

But that’s not the point of our conversation. Though we’ve spent most of our adult lives in Korea, we still don’t consider ourselves Korean, yet we’ve adapted to Korean culture in many ways. Those of you angry Tumblrinas, please note: WE ARE NOT CALLING OURSELVES KOREAN. We were fascinated by the question, though, and what it implies.

Namely, the question of identity got us thinking. Back in the day, your language and your geographical location and your nationality and your heritage were very often all the same. A Korean person spoke Korean and lived in Korea and had Korean family. There was little mingling. But the world has changed a lot in the past 100 years. My parents are from Poland, but they have half-German grandparents. Then they moved to Canada. My first language was Polish, but then I dropped it for English. Now I’m living in Korea, and my identity and career are all based on Korean stuff. What do I identify as, then?

We hung out with Dan Matthews while we were in LA as well, who spent some time with us when he was shooting his documentary. He’s a Korean adoptee who spent his entire life outside of Korea. When he came to Korea, he hung out with us a bit, and we showed him around the area and taught him a bit about it. How does he identify?

Again, I’d like to make clear that I’m not here claiming some people are “more Korean” or “less Korean” than others. I’m not necessarily sure what I feel about the question of identity, either, because it’s something we’ve only been discussing recently, a lot more so after Jen asked us that first question. I’m not sure how much longer people are going to be able to identify themselves based on any country in the future, really, the more we travel and bring our history with us to plant in new places.

I remember when we were in Poland for our Polish meet up. It was a very difficult time for me, for reasons that I couldn’t really understand. I’ve always felt like a terrible Polishman. I remember visiting Poland when I was 16, and my uncle scolded me for not knowing Poland’s historical figures, and he stated that every good Polishman knows Poland’s history. I remember my brother not wanting me to speak Polish around him, because my pronunciation is terrible. I don’t know Polish well, I don’t speak it well, yet there I was in Poland, with a bunch of loving, Polish Nasties, all of whom I wanted deeply to identify with, but I felt deeply ashamed to. I had no right to claim any Polishness. I just had a Polish family and a bit of the language. That’s all.

A big part of this is why I’m fascinated with the gyopo experience in Korea (a “gyopo”, by the way, is a Korean who grew up outside of Korea). We’ve spoken with many who have a really difficult time here, some of whom have been scolded publicly for not being Korean enough, for not speaking enough of the language. It’s something I feel when I think about my Polishness. And it’s something that I consider while we’re here in Korea as well. What place do we have in this country? We’ll always be considered outsiders, no matter how long we live here.

I’m not sure what else to say here. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter, even though I don’t have any clear answers or questions. I just don’t know what cultural identity means anymore. I just know I’ll get a ripping from angry social justice warriors for questioning cultural identity, which won’t help me out much. What’s your position?

I also know that I was really happy to do this video with Jen, who could share her experience as a Korean American and touch on the questions of cultural identity as well. We hope you liked the video as well :D

If you’re looking for something more fun, though, I’d recommend checking out Jen’s video makeover on Martina. Side note: Jen’s got SUCH A NICER CAMERA THAN OURS. Ooooh look at that lighting!

And, lastly, click on this pretty button below for more TL;DRs, and for more collaboration videos. We’ve got another one coming next week with Korean Englishman, who’s, like, very similar to us but very opposite in many ways. Yay!



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The Gyopo Experience ft Jen!


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  1. AH, I can so relate, too!
    I am Taiwanese-American, but, my way of living, my ideals, my mannerisms, – everything about me is VERY American, because I was born and raised here. My Mandarin has always been so-so, although I am trying to fix that now. I am considered ‘asian’ in the states, but ‘white’ in Taiwan. I have very mixed features, so I stand out a lot in all asian countries. But since becoming older, I have been trying to ‘be’ more asian in many ways if that makes any sense. I really love many of the asian cultures, especially the food and way of life. And now having a Korean boyfriend, I’ve become really interested in Korean culture, and I think I have a greater passion for learning their language than I do for Mandarin!! SO where do I fit in? What’s my identity? This is an awesome post, because I’ve always been in that spot, too (: It’s actually great to see so many others like me who are hybrids (in all ways!) But thankfully, I’ve really grown to appreciate it, despite always sticking out like a sore thumb.

    5 years ago
  2. im a korean american adoptee and returning to korea was so tough! at first glance i look korean but i dont speak korean and i am very westernized since i grew up in a caucasian family. native koreans would speak to me in korean until they realized i didnt understand them, and then i’d feel ashamed. i always stood out, but to still feel like i didnt belong in korea was hard. returning again in a few weeks with my husband and son to meet my birth mother. crazy. i hope she isnt disappointed that i am as “white washed” as i am. thanks for all the videos, simon and martina! its pretty sweet getting to know a little more about korea from a western perspective!

    5 years ago
  3. American here, I take my shoes off when I enter both my parents’ house and my own apartment. Usually the only time we’ll leave our shoes on is if we’re going to go back outside immediately. Whenever I go to a friend’s house, I always take my shoes off if I see them taking theirs off or ask if they want me to. I think because the US is such a cultural mish-mosh, there’s no hard and fast rule about shoes in the house. some families take them off, some leave them on.

    6 years ago
  4. Ash

    I am American and at least in my family, we always take our shoes off when we enter our home. One exception being my father, who will take his shoes off, but sometimes wears shoes in the house. I don’t think anyone can truly say what the “rule” is for whether or not you wear shoes in an American home. Our country truly is a mosaic of cultures and so it will depend on the family that lives in the house. If I’m visiting a Hmong friend, my shoes are off before I even step through the door, but maybe at another friends house I would take them off inside or (though it feels rude to me) leave them on. I always check to see what they do or whether or not they are wearing shoes when I enter their home, that’s a pretty safe method.

    6 years ago
  5. I never knew people in Canada took their shoes off! I’ve lived in the Philly area my whole life and we NEVER take our shoes off at the door. I mean, when we come in, sit down in the living room or whatever, then we take them off if we’re gonna relax and be home for a while. It’s actually considered rude if you go to your friend/family’s house and take your shoes off without them telling you that you can. Kinda like, you’re going to your friend’s house and take your shoes off, they get all, ‘OMG What are you doing? You don’t live here, why are you making yourself at home in my house?!’ I have been friend with a Chinese family and a Puerto Rican family in Philly, and they both always took off their shoes and we had to do the same when going to their homes, so it might be a cultural thing too. We’ve never done it though, like I said. Unless y’know, you’re going to your Grandparent’s house for a while. It’s always cool to take your shoes off at Grandma’s house. :)

    6 years ago
  6. With the whole shoes on/shoes off thing….I have lived in California my whole life (17 years) and everyone I know take off their shoes in the house and it’s common courtesy to take off your shoes unless they say you can leave them on. I guess in other states they must leave them on…

    6 years ago
  7. Ka

    I’m from Hong Kong and I’m not a mixed child/foreigner so I’m Chinese but I go to an international school so its slightly different to the Gyopo experience but also really similar. English is my first language but my mother tongue is Cantonese. In our school we have a choice of languages to choose and I chose French (most of the Chinese people in my school chose Mandarin) so I don’t really know how to read or write Chinese anymore.
    In Hong Kong they call international school kids/kids that study abroad (this is referring to Chinese/Hong Kong kids) ABC’s, Bananas (yellow on the outside, white on the inside- HK is quite uh racist XD) but this doesn’t necessarily make you one if you study in international schools because there are some very very local people here XD. Apparently I don’t qualify for an ABC as I speak Cantonese fluently (Canto has 9 tones so its ridiculously hard to get tones right unless you actually speak) so I like to call people like myself “the illiterate Chinese”.
    Its really easy to differentiate the “ABCs” (the non local school kids) and the “locals”.
    Usually ABCs don’t speak Canto unless they have to. They can usually understand basic conversational Canto but they would prefer not speaking as they know their Canto is “off” (in terms of tones- its quite endearing you see to locals… they like to make jokes out of bad Canto in general OTL).
    ABCs tend to have amazing English unlike locals. The international school kids have the international school accent which pretty much refers to a mix of American/Australian/British English- some say “tomato” like a Brit but say “and” like an American LOL. Locals can understand basic conversational English but when they speak you automatically can tell- its the Chinese accent LOL.
    ABCs tend to hang out with mixed groups of people. I mean this gender wise and ethnicity wise. Locals generally are seen in groups of only Chinese girls/guys. ABCs usually hang out with different people from all around the world.
    Locals date more. Date as in instead of the groups of people, its really common to see couples from different schools. Common as in EVERYWHERE.
    ABCs are more of the American style dressing. We’re more open to shorts and tank tops, etc. Its not only dressing style, its more of everything from the attitude to our reactions (legit. even laughing is different…) and I think even the way we stand. Its really similar to Jen’s situation. They’ll look at you and ask you if you study abroad.
    Locals don’t usually like ABCs as they think “oh they have such an easy school life” “they’re just rich”, etc. ABCs don’t usually like locals because they think “they’re so weird” because they aren’t very in touch with HK culture (another reason why I don’t fit the ABC category)
    Theres a lot of differences that can’t really be described as its just a feeling (like how in school you learn to analyze people in one look) and this post will be too ridiculously long if I go on LOL. yep ^^

    6 years ago
  8. Rei

    I’m Korean American, born and raised in Northern Virginia my entire life. My area is actually FULL of Koreans- my high school is, I think, almost 50% Korean now! Anyways, my family always ALWAYS takes their shoes off when entering another Korean/Asian home, but if entering an American’s home, we keep our shoes on because the floors are usually really filthy.

    So, my parents taught me to use only Korean at home (whenever I meet my mom’s friends, they’re always surprised at how well I can speak Korean despite having been born in the U.S.) and they followed Korean traditions quite well, so I’m pretty familiar with a lot of mannerisms and whatnot. But, our way of thinking is soooo different (the whole individualism vs. collectivism thing). I went to Korea about two years ago for three months and was shocked at how different. I definitely consider myself Korean- like, I hold a certain amount of pride in it- but when I was in Korea, I didn’t really feel like I belonged. It was almost as if while I was in Korea, I considered myself American. It’s really strange how that works. I can’t quite explain it. And I definitely know that I didn’t blend in because I have no interest in fashion trends…but, I like to consider myself as having an equal balance of both worlds. The food is also one of the best parts! My mom makes homemade Korean food all the time so it’s rather great!!

    6 years ago
  9. Random thing I noticed about Jen, is that her mannerisms are definitely more American style. I’ve noticed native Koreans don’t really talk with their hands much. In interviews they just sort of sit still and reserved, but Americans/Westerners tend to move a bit more, and even use more facial expressions, and in general are a little more expressive.

    6 years ago
  10. I think we all should start going by “hybrids” or something because even though I’m a Polish American and associate more with being that, I’m still 1/10th Japanese and the recessive gene shows and not just in me, but some other cousins of mine. My eyes are not brown as they once were when I was younger, they’re like greenish blueish gray now–if that makes any sense.

    I was raised by two Polish immigrants in a Polish neighborhood with Polish American culture. We adapted American traditions. That being said, I still take off my shoes before I enter the house completely. I take my shoes to my room and keep them in my shoe storage. Once when I was severely exhausted, I took off my shoes outside my front door and then proceeded to enter into my house. xD But I feel totally wrong if I don’t take off my shoes in someone’s house, even if they asked me to keep them on.

    We have traveled back to Poland every 3 years, and I’ve been in Poland since I was conceived. At the age of 16 I started to go back alone and now I’m actually in the process of moving to Poland, I’m much happier there. Simplest reason I can give you. There’s other much more longer reasons, but I’m a dual citizen and I’m much happier there. Take it or leave it! I’ll still travel and visit, but for now I feel like I should be in Poland.

    I really also am interested in the part of my family that was Asian, the culture, the language (which I know Japanese, & have knowledge in Chinese & Korean). So I believe myself to be American born, Polish raised, and Asian inspired.

    I’ve always ran from Poland towards Asia. I refused to date Polish guys (because the ones I knew gave the rest a bad name, but because I was young and naive I thought they were all the same), and only dated Asian ones (because Anime and dramas make you think that they’re ideal). I don’t know Poland’s history, but I do love Poland’s culture. Now I’m not really bias after a bad relationship and I’m not as naive anymore.

    My Polish is at a high level, but it still needs working on. My oldest sister, she was born and raised in Poland for majority of her childhood. But she gave up that life for her American life, has a family here, and hasn’t gone back since. My Polish is actually a lot better than hers.

    I could really go into this some more, but then I’m afraid I’d have a book. And at first I didn’t want this to be so long. Oops.


    – We should go by “hybrids”
    – I’m Polish American with 1/10th Japanese, a recessive gene that actually shows in me and some of my other cousins.
    – Raised by Polish immigrants in a Polish neighborhood with Polish Americana tradition
    – Still take off my shoes
    – Travel to Poland a lot
    – Moving there because I’m much happier there
    – American born, Polish raised, and Asian inspired
    – Thought all Polish boys were the same
    – Dated Asian boys
    – Grew up and dropped the naivety
    – Oldest sister born and raised in Poland but prefers America

    6 years ago