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More diversity, but not enough understanding

The streets of Korea look a lot different from what they used to be like five years ago. Each time I came back to Seoul after spending short periods of time overseas, I noticed the quite visible increase in foreigners. Not only people from English speaking countries, but also from Southeast Asia, China and other parts of the world.

A signal of economic status this country has achieved, perhaps.

But part of it also comes from the fact that there are a lot of men, especially in rural areas or small towns, who failed to find Korean spouses. So we’re seeing a large influx of foreign brides.

It’s been years now since stories of foreign brides being abused by their husbands have surfaced. A lot of attention was given to the issue last year when three Vietnamese women died after coming to Korea: One woman was beaten to death by her husband, another fell from a building as she tried to escape using a rope dangling from a window, and although the cause uncertain, the last woman committed suicide.

This year already, a Korean man was convicted for raping his Filipino wife. It was the first case in Korean history that a husband was convicted for such an act and the story received a great degree of coverage from the media. The man, saying he was also a victim of intercultural marriage, killed himself on Tuesday.

The problems related to intercultural marriage are much more complicated than one would think. From the outside, it's easy to point fingers, but once you start talking to the people involved in the stories, you realize that in some cases the men also do become victims.

Intercultural marriages work out fine for some families here. There are a vast array of support programs for foreign brides and their families, and it’s not like the government isn’t trying. While doing some reporting last year on the fate of foreign brides, I was surprised to hear activists in the field say it is not necessarily the lack of support from the government that is the problem.

However, in a lot of cases marriages don’t work out. The cultural gaps, the language barriers, and the different viewpoints are sometimes simply too much to overcome. Implementing new policies and introducing support programs is something that can be done overnight. But, how long will it take until people can not only coexist but actually embrace the different colors and flavors of culture that are starting to emerge in this society? That's the tough question.