When in Korea

Gyopo unmasked

gyopo (also spelt kyopo / 교포 / kee-yo-poh) definition: a native Korean who has left Korea post-war. Today, the term is used more broadly. A person of Korean ethnicity, residing in another country.

This is Edward Kwak. Korean. From Downey, California.

In California, you would find Edward making jokes, attending church and working as a marketing consultant.

In South Korea, Edward was still making jokes, still attending church, but this time was employed as a Guest English Teacher under the Gyeongsangnam-do (경상남도 / South Gyeongsang Province) Office of Education.

An MBA graduate of Concordia University Irvine, Edward brings to the forefront his truths of being a Korean from the U.S. in Korea.

Edward’s reason for coming to the country of his parents was not necessarily to teach English.



When Edward decided he would spend one year in Korea, he admits that he was very worried.

“Growing up, it was very conflicting because my household was Korean, yet my social life was American. I do have more of an American mentality than I do Korean. I did anticipate having identity issues coming to Korea because back home, people don’t consider me American. They see me as a Korean, as an Asian. Coming to Korea, I knew they were going to see me as an American.”

"Growing up, it was very conflicting because my household was Korean, yet my social life was American."

Having lived in Korea, Edward laughs at how true his identity prediction was. Edward considers himself a very contemporary Korean.

The 29 year old explains how Koreans do not assume that he is a Korean American, but a Korean. A fluent Korean.

However, once Koreans get to know Edward, they all begin to see his American side, yet admire how Edward is still able to have the respect and understanding to their culture and cultural habits.

Edward did struggle when it came to certain social religious point of views with other Koreans, as he felt his thoughts were more Western compared to the conservative thinking of Koreans.



He has not necessarily had the best of both worlds.

Edward has had to balance, at times, competing world views to find his place in either.

Conversely, Edward would end up in situations where he pretends to not know what is going on in Korea, just to be accepted by his foreigner friends.

Edward culturally felt the need to protect his foreigner friends when out in public, for example helping with translation, whether it is in a taxi or at a restaurant. Sometimes his friends would not ask for his help with translation, but Edward instinctively would assist because of being Korean.

Yet, when surrounded by his Korean friends, a different Edward was present.

“I shut down actually. I get super quiet. I get super introverted. And I just say yes to everything they ask me. “Oh, do you want to eat?” “Sure” “Do you want to go there?” “Sure” “Do you want to see this?” “Sure”. I have learnt to say no, but for the most part, I don’t want to come off as being rude, so I just say yes.”

The culture shock game for Mr. Kwak was indeed, real.

He says that on his third week of living in Korea, he was ready to go back to America.

"I did anticipate having identity issues coming to Korea because back home, people don't consider me American."



What also raised Edward’s eyebrows when living in Korea was how different dating the Korean way is in comparison to the Western way.

“Westerners play the game. You get the person’s phone number, you wait 72 hours *laughs*.”



Edward said goodbye to his teaching days in Namhae Island (남해도), his lifestyle in Samcheonpo and the $7,000 USD of debt he came with to Korea in the beginning of September 2016.

Reflecting on his time teaching in Korea, Edward admits that the job does become very stagnant.

Upon reaching this point, he had become driven to be more focused on his professional goals.

Edward has his eyes set on entrepreneurship and setting up a business back in the U.S.

Unexpectedly, Edward found himself relieving his childhood while in Korea.

“I watched the anime Mobile Suit Gundam Wing (1995) as a kid, so when I came to Korea and saw that there was a store dedicated to it, I spent ₩200,000 worth of models and started building them. Being able to explore myself, my childhood, I have this belief that all these experiences I’ve had in Korea will combine into one thing that will truly define everything I do, professionally and personally.”

"I have this belief that all my experiences in Korea will combine into one thing that will define me personally and professionally."

Edward does not hide the reality of being stared at by foreigners or that there will be Koreans who sound angry, when they are not.

Edward does share what an American should expect when coming to Korea.



When it comes to Korean culture, Edward highlights an example of the struggle of being a gyopo.



For Edward, he shares that being in Korea, his pride for his family had grown immensely and he had changed a lot because of that.

He admits that he would bust Asian jokes all the time and would make derogatory comments on some aspects of Korean culture.

“After living in Korea, I’m almost sorry that I said those things. Not completely because I’m a humourous guy, but I do understand a lot of things about Korea better now. When I hear people make comments or jokes about Asians, Koreans especially, I no longer shake it off. I’m offended.”

Edward’s final words for those wanting to experience a life in Korea…

"Expect to learn and be open to learn."


2 thoughts on “Gyopo unmasked

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