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having children in korea

Oh, Baby! Raising Children in Korea

In a joint media project between Joe McPherson of SeoulPodCast.com and Busan Haps, a selection of foreigners who work in the Korean English media sat down one Sunday morning over coffee and Skype, sharing stories, grievances, and uplifting viewpoints of working in Korea’s English media, while juggling married and/or family life in Korea. The following is part article and part summary of the show and its guests, both of which you can check out at www.seoulpodcast.com.

As Korea opens itself to world, international-ization naturally begins to take shape. While the country struggles to find that elusive mix that will allow for an embracing of international idealism, there remains an undertone of conservative ideology that is hardwired in the collective conscious. Without a doubt, the path to internationaliz-ing Korea is paved in Korean thought and lined with Korean customs and behavior. Koreans want foreign investment and foreign tourism, and in short, global acceptance. But when foreigners try to counsel and nudge aside the Korean version of internationalization, it is akin to a cowboy trying to break a steed. And yet, the horse stubbornly thinks that it can break itself in alone; citing its own looking glass perspective of the global community.The English media industry of Korea has become a new battleground pitted between those (usually foreigners) who feel that internationalization in Korea should be heavily influenced or even outright led by the guidance of foreigners, versus conservative media who wants to keep one hand (or often, two hands) latched onto the umbilical tether that connects Korea to its traditional idealism, regardless if it impedes true globalization of its mindset, and subsequently, its economy. In the fray of this cultural tug-of-war, are a handful of foreigners who work in English media and also walk through the front door after a hard day’s work to find Asian thought permeating their domestic lives. And I am one of them.

Having a child in Korea is something that leaves one even more perplexed with the culture than at any time in pre-parenthood. Think you’ve seen enough of the cross-cultural idiosyncrasies over the years that you’ve got this place figured out? Nope. Not until you have to deal with the potent combination of living with a Korean spouse, in-laws, and a newborn can you truly know how different things are between the Western world and the Eastern world. New levels of logic get tested, the moment that the pregnancy test shows positive.Things such as a pregnant wife cannot sleep near electrical outlets. Reading to the baby must begin in mere weeks after conception, even though the baby’s ears have yet to even form, let alone have any cognitive ability. No aircon. Not even during the summer. And the thick-ass socks the pregnant wife must wear, to prevent what the Koreans call, “wind in the bones”. Wha-? Yeah. Apparently, Korean women are especially sensitive to wind and drafts, pre and post-natal. If they don’t wear thick, woolly socks, their legs absorb the draft and they frequently get the leg chills which, so the story goes, last throughout their life.

New levels of patience are discovered when you rent some furniture, like a baby crib, and you have to watch your in-laws throw salt at your feet, before the second-hand furniture enters the house. Why? Well, to ward off any lingering bad spirits formerly associated to the furniture, of course! And you get the stink-eye look from your in-laws, if you don’t at least know that. You know the “we’ll give the benefit of the doubt, if foreign boy-friend/husband doesn’t have his head fully around the labyrinth of cultural requirements” treatment you get? That benefit of doubt eventually begins to seap away into the form of expectations. So, as a general rule, fellas (or gals), don’t try to be the ‘cultural rule exemption’ policy in your Korean family. Instead, pay attention to the lectures that you get now and get up to speed on what makes the Korean family unit, purr like a kitten. Even if you often mistake the purr for the howls of an annoying alley cat.

Well, that’s my take on things. Here is a run down on what the panelists had to say to Bobby and Joe on the Seoul Podcast show.~


The Panelist

Michael Simning 

Mike has been in Korea for over a decade and married for almost all of his time here. Michael is the host of City of Light, a talk show program on Gwangju’s English Radio, GFN. He presently lives in Gwangju with his Korean wife and 2 yr old daughter. Additionally, he remains a busy man with not just his family and media endeavors, but also being actively involved with local orphanages. He runs “Underground Grocers” (an imported food store that he co-founded), and is looking at starting up a restaurant in the near future. In our radio interview, Michael touched on some interesting moments he has had, such as the time when a young Korean man gave the finger to his daughter with no regard to the fact that Mike was looking right at him. Mike also talks about his issues with Korean-style internationalization, like not being allowed to say the word ‘crazy’ on the radio, even if it is being used in the context of ‘funny’, and not necessarily implying ‘certifiably insane’, which is the only transliteration that non-English speaking Koreans tend to identify with. On an upbeat note, Mike recalled over how much Korea has evolved with respect to immigration governance over married foreigners. “Eleven years ago, I was flat out told by immigration that I couldn’t get a spousal visa,” regardless of the fact that he was, indeed, married to a Korean. But he is pleased to see that, despite the average foreigner’s present grievances with Korean immigration, there has been a sea change in many aspects concerning married foreigners and spousal visas, over the past decade.

Rob York

Rob is based out of Chuncheon and used to be a reporter for a pair of newspapers in Tennessee. But now, he finds himself as a reporter and editor for the Korea Herald. Recently married to his Korean bride last fall Rob also now has a 5 month old son. A child to which he admits having become a 3rd string quarterback to taking care of, after his wife and live-in mother-in-law. Rob talked about these challenges of domestic life and struggling to be recognized as the father and a central figure in the baby’s life. He also gave his take on his recent processing of American citizenship for his baby and dual citizenship status.

Craig White

Well, that’s me. And like the others I have also been involved in the ‘dragging her, kicking and screaming’ process of the evolving English media in Korea, for the past 5 years. I started Galbijim.com with the intention of it being an information portal, with a heavy slant on food. It has since evolved into a web portal covering all things Korea, with over 9500 articles and 4000 members. My main focus now is bringing a stronger offline media presence to foreigners and English-speaking Koreans. Especially as the managing editor of Daegu’s bilingual magazine, Daegu Pockets. Two weeks after arriving in Korea in 2002, I met my future wife, whom I just married last fall, and recently had a baby girl, this past August. My wife has carried the brunt of the ups and downs of my English media efforts over the years, but there is a lot less friction now that Daegu Pockets has some stable financial traction. You can be hear me on the podcast panel discussing the ‘hazmat suit’ lifestyle that many father’s have to live, regarding the H1N1 flu scare, even if just to go to the corner store to get milk. Or you can hear about my up close and personal account of seeing a bronzed baby penis at one of Korea’s post-natal recovery centers.

Nathan Schwartzman

Nathan, while not married to a Korean, nor presently living in Korea anymore, is married to a Japanese wife and juggles his marital life with his day job as a law clerk with Indiana’s Attorney General. But what keeps him perpetually at the frontlines of English media in Korea, is his pet project: KoreaBeat.com (now Asian Correspondent. It is considered by many as being the #1 English language blog covering Korea. Every day for the past 2 years, Nathan translates Korean news into English and posts it on his blog. And judging from his site’s traffic and the occasional flare-up with conservative Korean websites who read his articles, it’s obvious that he has the nose for seeking out those Korean articles that deserve the English light-of-day, but were never intended to be seen in English media. In contrast with the Korean-bound fathers on the panel, Nathan talked about the ease of the Japanese visa system compared to Korea’s, and also claims that his wife has always been supportive of his blogging hobby, but even moreso, now that Nathan has moved his blog under the umbrella of the Asian Correspondent Network, which helps provide him with some cash flow for his tireless efforts•


Read Roy Early’s article, Fatherhood in the ROK

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