Stereotypes Abroad

This is an article from the Korea Times by a American man of Korean heritage – (“kyopo” in Korean) – thanks to EFL Geek for the heads up on this article and the comments on it at the Marmot’s Hole. Author Alex Lee deals with a number of different issues; being treated differently from his white counterparts while in Italy, being treated as not a “real” native English speaker by Koreans, going to Korea to learn more about his heritage and hearing a number of negative comments about Koreans from fellow foreign English teachers. One of his points is that people seen as genuine native English speakers are very often given an automatic amount of respect that others are not, and perhaps native English speakers are not really aware of this.

It’s a wide topic and I feel very unqualified to comment on this situation and larger phenomenon in Korea – I just don’t have enough information or insight to make any informed comments.

What I can comment on is my own experience in related areas, which has been eye-opening to say the least.

I’d like to convey my experience and what I took from it without badmouthing an entire country and also without perpetuating existing stereotypes, so for these reasons, I’d prefer to leave out country names. That said, I think there are already enough negative stereotypes about Bosnia and ex-Yugoslavia in general, so I would like to point out that none of this happened there.

Breifly: I think some people assumed that I was not from the US or a native English speaker but a citizen of one of their neighboring countries, about whom there were sometimes feelings of “They come and take our jobs and sometimes steal and never learn the language (and so on)”… and treated me accordingly. Does this belief have roots in reality? I guess I don’t really know, but I sure didn’t like the way people treated me. I don’t think native English speakers in a similar position to immigrants from other countries – coming to the country to work and not really learning the language – are treated the same way.

Read on for Part 2 – why did people think this? Am I sure? And what makes this experience unique?