This post is a little different than my regular posts. It’s a little more personal than just Korea. Maybe I have mentioned, but I recently got married to a Korean national, and boy, it hasn’t been the easiest of life journeys. There are so many things going on in our marriage: I am only 22, he’s 30; I am mixed (half Iranian, half American), he’s Korean; we have only spent collectively a year together in person but those times were mostly vacation trips I took during my school vacation (visiting and living are VERY different); and we’re both each other’s first (serious) relationship. This has given us our fare share of misunderstandings and arguments, some from cultural misunderstandings and some from a lack of relationship experience. Looking back on my last 6 months of marriage, though, there are some things that I wish I had known about marrying, specifically a Korean man. I’d like to share this with those of you who might be coming here or already here and thinking of starting a relationship with Koreans.
A little background first, though. So this past October I married my best friend of 3 years. He was a Korean man I had met 4 years ago online while he was studying abroad and in want of language exchange. We talked for hours every day and I knew before I flew to Korea at the tender age of 20 that I love this man and shortly after he was the one I wanted to marry. So we did it! I have always felt like an old soul. I get along better with those who are 30 and married than I do my own age. Always have and probably always will. I guess that’s probably why I married someone 8 years my senior and didn’t blink twice. I love him and he loves me, and that should be enough…right?
I’m not saying it isn’t enough! But there are some things I wish I had known about that would save me the disappointment, anger, hurt, or whatever negative emotion you could experience since getting married. I wouldn’t change anything, but I don’t like having these negative feelings towards my husband at any time for any reason. It’s not fair to either of us. I am sure I will learn more, but these are some of the bigger things to think about:
Korean companies have something called 회식 (hwe-shik). They will ruin your plans, make your husband sick, and you just have to deal.
The hwe-shik culture differs from company to company, but generally your husband/spouse will have to attend these meetings, get hammered, and be put in some very bad situations. My husband cannot handle alcohol so these meetings almost always make him sick and I have to just let him be sick because there’s nothing I can do. What a horrible feeling that is for me. He’s also told me that at these meetings, they eat racking up hundreds of dollars and spending more to order girls for “entertainment.” This entertainment can just be chatting, dancing, or more. Hubby’s been offered a girl when they are all aware he’s married.
Korean society is hierarchical. Your husband’s company will almost come before your family and putting it the other way around could jeopardize his career potential.
This one kind of goes back to the previous point. I have strong ideals of family. I want my husband to come home at a reasonable time, enjoy a nice warm meal, and just be with me. Well… with hwe-shik, he comes home some nights at 11 or later, tired, drunk, and just wanting to sleep…and he even dips out of the hwe-shik earlier than other people who care more about their relationship with their boss. If you don’t care if your husband is out like this once a month, once a week, or even working on weekends, then this won’t bother you, but I certain was not okay with it.
The family dynamics in Korea are changing fast, but there is still somewhat traditional gender roles present in Korea and foreigners are still not held or regarded in the same way as their Korean counterparts. Feminists and thin-skinned foreigners need not apply.
No matter if my husband says he will help me but a big part of the housework he leaves alone and doesn’t even THINK about doing. I just do it and he says I work too hard, but I have to because it won’t be done if I don’t do it. I try to imagine my husband as a “modern Korean male/husband” and in a lot of ways he is, but he’s in that generation between where he still holds on a lot to traditional Asian ideals. I signed those papers, too, so I better deal, right? But I also remind him he married an American and if I bend, so must he. He does… slowly. The second part to this is that foreigners will always be foreigners. Korean government is trying to make things easier for foreigners somewhat, especially those who plan to stay longer. Multicultural families have centers they can go to for extra support, on top of financial benefits and incentives. Hey, I’ll take that reduced water bill or the free teeth cleanings certain Sundays of the month.
I’m sure there are more I will think of and would love to tell you about, but I do want to add here that I have had to keep in mind that yes, I married a person from another culture and moved for him, but at the same time, he signed those papers uniting with an American and he will have to also need to bend a little on things. It’s slow. It’s a process. But it’s starting to work and I am very happy. 🙂 Don’t be discouraged by what I’ve said! My parents were from different countries and I saw these dynamics at play in a family my whole time, but I wouldn’t change who I am nor where I am going.