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  Global Views
Drop the F Word
KBS(Korean Broadcasting System) TV's popular global talk show "Chatting with the Beauties."

It's painful to watch well-intentioned Koreans inadvertently utter a loaded word that immediately creates distance and disparity at a time when we should all be trying to come together. That word in question is the ubiquitous term foreigner.

Deeply ingrained in parlance, to many it seems completely natural for Koreans to describe people who come from foreign countries as "foreigners." We concede that foreigner is a step up from that old chestnut alien, but a small change in usage would do wonders for Korea's relationship with the outside world.

So what are the best alternatives to "foreigner?" Well, when it comes to translating the Korean equivalent woegukin (외국인) into English, we recommend internationals, foreign nationals, or expatriates. Actually, the term visitor or guest will often suffice.

The most important point to bear in mind is that, time and again, there is no need to use a special word at all. The test is whether the statement made applies only to those whose citizenship is not Korean. If that is not the case, then obey Occam's razor and just drop it.

Remember that millions of ethnic Koreans are citizens of other nations and a growing number of expatriates have received Korean citizenship. Furthermore, one in ten rural marriages are now binational. Is it apt to label the wives (mothers of Korean children) in such marriages as foreigners? The people hurt by such talk are not visitors from abroad but the Korean children who struggle to understand why such a distinction is necessary.

We welcome Korea's emergence as responsible global actor. Hand in hand with that step forward comes the end of an age of homogeneity and simplified labels. Korea has a bright future ahead in which its citizens can speak proudly of being Vietnamese-Korean, Mongolian-Korean, etc. When that day comes, Korea will have come of age.

Emanuel Pastreich
Advisor to the Governor of Chungnam Province.

Neil Routman
Speechwriter for the Minister of Knowledge Economy




 

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