Megan Bowen‘s YouTube channel, which boasts almost a million subscribers, focuses on her life in Korea. Megan is fluent in Korean and recently married a Korean national in a traditional ceremony.
Her most recent video touched upon what it’s like being a non-Asian foreigner in Korea and is actually a follow-up to a video she posted 8 years prior. She noted that at the time of posting her original video the population of Korea was 98% Korean, and has currently “jumped down” to 97%, however, of that 3% the majority of foreigners are also East Asian.
The new thing everyone is surprised about is when you actually live here, like myself, have an F-Series visa, like a resident visa, and you speak fluent Korean.
If you have the face of a Westerner and you’re in Korea, they have zero expectations of you.
Megan shared that there are no expectations of you to know Korean or know anything about Korea, and even if you say something basic, like “annyeonghaseyo“, most Korean nationals will be super happy. She said she enjoys not having any societal pressures, and appreciates that she can just “be”. But, the downside is that no matter how much you know or how knowledgeable you are, you’ll always feel like you’re not Korean, even if you gain citizenship.
Even being a Korean with a Korean passport, it’s kind of hard for them to see you as a Korean national and it makes sense because Korea is not a melting pot.
While this isn’t specific to being a non-Asian foreigner, she mentioned having a non-Korean name can be complicated because registering for anything online requires you to use the name that’s on your ID. Most Korean names have 3 to 5 syllables, but because you can only use five spaces, you may not be able to sign up or you’ll have to call customer service to have someone process it on their end.
You have to go through the extra effort of making a call and being like, ‘hey, actually I want to sign up for this service but my name is like hella long so can you just manually do it for me?’
Overall, Megan loves Korea, being in Korea, and learning new things about the country and culture. She conceded that while sometimes it can be a struggle because people don’t expect a foreigner to show up after she books services, like a taxi ride or making reservations at a restaurant, it’s only because they’re not used to seeing non-Asian foreigners. Multiple times throughout the video, Megan encouraged people to visit Korea for a symbiotic learning experience for both foreigners and Koreans.
“I think being a foreigner in Korea is amazing… There’s always new things to discover and new things to see.”