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The Weekly does away with the word 'foreigner'
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승인 2012.06.25  14:14:33
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The Weekly has recently made a small, yet significant change to its style guide. We will no longer use or print the word “foreigner” in reference to non-Koreans living or vacationing in Korea.

In its stead, we will use words like expat, non-Korean, overseas visitor, and the like depending on the context.
Over the past few months I noticed that whenever I heard the word “foreigner” from a friend, in its Korean form oegukin (pronounced “way gook in”) walking down the street, or out of my own mouth I felt as if a trans-gression was being committed. And of course, one was.

I am not a foreigner.

I am not foreign to Jeju and neither is the island foreign to me. We know each other well. Going on four years strong we are. This is similar for many non-Koreans living on the island, and a Jeju citizen, let alone a Korean vacationing from the mainland, has no grounds to call any of us foreigners. Just because you are foreign to the Korean using the word does not mean that Korea is foreign to you. Broken syllogisms do not fly in this house.

Take in point: You could be Canadian-born, have lived here 50 years, and still be called a foreigner by a national who has not lived upon this earth as long as your stay in Korea.

The word is inherently exclusionary — to be from another country and outside this culture, this community. Many of us, due to contract obligations, already have a hard enough time trying to become apart of the culture and community that we live within, and the use of this word makes it that much harder. It puts us linguistically on the fringes of the community; one foot in, and one foot always out. It is a word that restricts, envelopes an entire being into a single word, an insult, verbal abuse, and not to go so far as to call its use racist but ...

It’s discriminatory. It does not necessarily stem from a place of ill will, more likely from a misguided aristotelian categorization, but that does not change the fact that “foreigner” is the Korean equivalent to “oriental” in the West.

I think at times we often forget that a word is the verbal representation of an idea and when it is constantly repeated that idea becomes reaffirmed in the speaker and the receiver. The more it is said, the more the receiver and speaker accept it, the more it becomes true. And the ramifications of this “foreignerism” are everywhere in Korea.

The assumption that a “foreigner” will not like spicy food, or that you are expected to be tall, and that you must accept all aspects of Korean culture are notions embedded in the word “foreigner.”

It also allows for certain aspects of Korean culture to harden and fend off change under the guise of cultural differences. Even when those facets either hurt the country or are on the wrong side of history.

Lately, the word has been increasingly used in Korean news coverage. Why? Because non-Koreans are newsworthy, and they are apart of the culture they live in. But when it is used it is done inaccurately and imprecisely; the only way it can be used based on its definition.

One of the corollary effects of providing its readers with the information needed to be self-governing is that media creates and defines the community it covers. By calling a portion of the community “foreigners” the media is saying “you are less important to the community than a national.” This is why we see stories discuss how “foreigners” and their actions affect the community instead of the stories being a reflection of a community that has simply evolved.
For this reason, the word has been dropped from our paper. I hope other news organizations do the same and become more inclusive, more welcoming, and ultimately, less discriminating.
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