Posted by æolia
2011.03.26 16:48 EDITORIAL/국제 :: Worldpost



Ever noticed this among Koreans?

Perhaps it is just the schools I've attended or the neighborhoods I've grown up in but I think it is safe to say that I am not the only one who has noticed those gaggles of Koreans that stick together and sometimes, if they know any, throw around a Korean word or two. At least, the Korean American groups seem to be like that. The ones at college that I see all the time are made up of international students only speak Korean, a tendency I couldn't understand at first. If you've come all the way to the United States and are paying an exorbitant amount for your education, wouldn't you want to meet Americans and speak English and make the most of your experience here instead of attempting to perpetuate an environment that you could easily get while studying at a university in Korea? Why come all the way here and do that?

As I got to know them, though, I started understanding why. We're humans. We all fall back to what is most comfortable to us. It's difficult to step out, go out to where everything is new and unknown and where you could make mistakes and be embarrassed and forever branded as the socially inept foreigner. But this is how we learn. We put ourselves out there, make mistakes, learn, and grow.

I understand the appeal of exclusivity, though. I myself am guilty of perpetuating this phenomenon, if I may call it such. In high school, I enjoyed being part of a tight-knit group of friends. We weren't all the same ethnicity, but we were terribly exclusive. I grew to dislike any sort of intrusion, as I saw it, into our group, and never quite accepted any newcomers as part of the group for the longest time and sometimes, not ever. Though such tendencies have faded away quite a bit, I still notice that they haven't entirely disappeared.

So I suppose I can't say much to Koreans doing the same. I feel bad to my non-Korean friends whenever they comment on it, especially if our other friends happen to speak in Korean in their presence. And this is probably an American thing but I wish someone would tell people that it's rude to speak a language if not everyone understands it. Actually, isn't this more common courtesy? If you're speaking a language I don't understand, I would have to assume that you're talking about me or something I'm not supposed to know about, which is why you would have had to resort to using another language to begin with.

Granted, it's nice feeling like you belong to something that not everyone is a part of. It makes it that much more special. Of course, it's not enough that you be a part of such a group, but others outside of the group have to know so they know that they aren't part of it and that you enjoy such a privilege. It's the same with language use. If the group is an ethnic group and the members use the language common to them and one others can't understand, it's just another thing separating the members of the group from the "others." It is something only the group can understand, something only the group can laugh at and make jokes in and be understood while not having to worry about any outsiders listening in and understanding. Even if you're not talking about anything of import, just the fact that you'll only be understood by a select number is satisfaction in itself.

There is probably also an evolutionary advantage to humans being exclusive. Letting strangers into the group that could have infectious diseases or that had ulterior motives, such as wiping out the group for the benefit of another would have been seriously detrimental to the survival of the group. Staying with ones that are familiar and known and whose trust has been earned would be the smart thing to do, and so groups that did so would survive, as would their habits.

I am fully aware that other ethnic groups clump together as well, but no one seems to be as exclusive as Koreans. I myself didn't realize we were particularly more exclusive until someone pointed it out to me. Other groups do seem a lot more open to being with others not of their ethnicity, but perhaps that is just what I see from my position as an outsider, especially since I've never tried to get into one of those other groups.

Since entering college, I have enjoyed being a part of such a group. It didn't occur to me how exclusive it was until I realized I wasn't seeing anyone else outside of the group. I was eating, talking with, and playing with (what  my friends and I have called hanging out since high school) only international students, a group that I would never had seen myself with before. But I also became aware of the disadvantages that come with such communities. The main one: it's much too small. Yes, there may be several hundred in the group but that's certainly not large enough for one's activities to go unnoticed by a few, at best. Someone gets together with someone? Everyone knows. Someone breaks up with someone? Everyone knows. Someone's new boyfriend isn't Korean? Not interesting. Well, maybe a little but not as much as if both people were part of the group. And you can never really leave it. No matter what, there will still be people that know you and friends that you value that prevent you from abandoning the group completely.

So sometimes I lament my having gotten involved, and sometimes I'd glad for it, for I truly appreciate the people I have met and the experiences I've had with them, but I still don't see the need to be as exclusive as they are. Speak English! You're at Berkeley! Meet some people! Widen your circle! You don't gain much from being exclusive but boosting your own feeling of self-worth and a false sense of superiority. It not only shuts out and frustrates others but restricts what you yourself can learn and experience from them and isn't that what life is about?

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  1. As participating sort of major Korean clubs in Cal, I agree with your point. Most of activities held by those clubs do not officially tend to be exclusive for Koreans. The members however specialize themselves from those who don't speak Korean. Then, this tendency creates a variety of following problems such as ethnical distinctions due to lingusitic barriers...

    Ah, I totally regret myself with why I haven't studied English so hard. Being in Korean societies has guaranteed me to befriend with many Koreans. But after reading your article, I realized that such special affinity I'm enjoying right now is kinda combined with negative exclusivities. =_=

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
  2. Hi,

    I'm a new reader and I enjoyed reading this article and also your other article in the culture section. I think this is a great medium to have discussions that would help us to broaden our own perspectives, sometimes by encountering new and different perspectives.

    Yes, I've also felt many moments of the exclusivity in some Korean and also Korean-American social groups. Of course, I don't think it's always intentional. One thing I appreciate and admire about the Korean culture is the strong, often unspoken loyalty among the people--among friends, sunbae-hoobaes, and within student organizations. Especially for 유학생s, one's group of like-cultured Korean friends can create the feelings of being closer to home. It's a niche. It's nice to have it cuz you have people you can rely on in the large and unfamiliar setting of the American society. It's scary sometimes and I definitely think there is a fear factor involved in opening oneself up to the whole experience. I mean, how do you begin to try and "fit in" in a society full of such diverse cultures, which also has a pretty distinct white male dominated aspect to it? Especially when you come from a generally homogenous society where similar beliefs have been reinforced over and over? The newly formed Korean niche is how you can reinforce the cultural+personal identity you grew up with. I think exclusivity partially results from not wanting to risk having the niche and identity compromised. I think that's a natural tendency for all humans. It's understandable. I know I have at times excluded others and also have been excluded by others. But mostly, it's the fear of being excluded by others that makes me desire an exclusive niche with people I know I can trust and rely on. But really, exclusivity puts us in a bubble. It eventually makes us more ignorant, more aloof, and more defensive; it's just limiting in many aspects as human beings and social creatures who live in the same nation. Being more open to different people (which requires knowing and being at peace with who I am) is something I personally struggle with everyday.

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