Ich bin ein Westerner

Foreigners Gangnam Style(Source: Republic of Korea; CC BY-SA 2.0)

Steve, who is unfortunately leaving Korea soon, has written a short but interesting post about the meanings and ramifications of the terms waekookin (외국인) in Korea and gajin (外国人) in Japan over at his blog Where is Cheongju Again?, and long-timers here especially could do much worse than take the five minutes to read it over their coffee this morning. Overall, he makes a pretty convincing case for Westerners in both countries referring to and thinking of themselves as such rather than simply as “foreigners” (the basic translation of both words), and I’ll be doing so myself from now on.

It may not sound like much, but like I said in this forum, Korea’s (and Japan’s) “bloodline”-based notions of nationalism and citizenship emphasize and exaggerate the differences between natives and non-natives to an extent rarely found elsewhere in the world, and the constant reminders of these quickly become wearisome to anyone who’s spent even just a few months living here, let alone eight years. Also, ironically, constantly hearing the term waekookin in our daily lives probably means that we come to adopt some of the same notions of division and distance ourselves too, and the effect snowballs.

A little cliched? Perhaps. But still, the term is such an immutable fact of expat life here that probably few of us have ever given some thought to it, and it surely can’t harm to do so. Not least, by a grizzled and cynical old timer like myself.

Update: If you found this post interesting, then you might want to check out this thread on Dave’s ESL Cafe too. To those of you not in Korea especially, it gives a good idea of how (over)used the word “foreigner” is here, and just how quickly it can become annoying.