Since arriving in Seoul two months ago, I have learned about a popular local television show, “Minyeotulei suda,” which can be translated as Chatting With Beauties. Misuda, as it is called, is essentially a talk show with 12 attractive foreign female hosts.
The show epitomizes the reaction I get as a student studying abroad here. I’m an unmistakably foreign student and am stared at by the Koreans I pass on the street. I share the same difficulties as any other student leaving home, but in addition to struggling with the language barrier and learning social etiquette, I have also had to settle into a nation that remains incredibly homogeneous and rather ignorant about lifestyles outside of their country.
When describing the ethnic makeup of South Korea, the CIA Factbook omits all of its usual percentages of foreign-born citizens or minorities, summing up the country of 48 million as “homogeneous.” The largest minority are the 20,000 Chinese residents.
While I have been watching Misuda, I have also been reading about what Korean Web sites have to say about the 12 women. They have been assailed at times for being too provocative and ditzy, for discrediting their homelands and even for not being foreign enough. But from a foreign perspective, I think the women serve as positive representatives of the countries, which include Ethiopia, South Africa, France, New Zealand, Italy and the United States.
In addition to the foreigners, there is a panel of Korean celebrities who ask questions. The most popular is the women’s impressions of Korean people.
In trying to explain the show to my family back home, I have been unable to find anything similar. When I was living in Washington, D.C., I could walk down the street in an afternoon and find 12 foreign women who spoke fluent English. That Koreans are willing and eager to tune in to this show indicates just how isolated this country can feel.
In a particularly poignant moment of the show during a midsummer episode, a woman from Ethiopia, Meaza Eshetu, described the blatant racism she suffered as she applied for jobs and worked as a professor. I have never suffered anything close to what Eshetu was forced to bear, but I can empathize with her frustration with Koreans’ pervasive ignorance about other countries.
The show’s young women speak about the differences between their education systems and cultures. Yet these serious anecdotes are almost always interspersed with funny stories about Korean dating or cute baby pictures, and the most popular topic of conversation for the Korean audience is their own country. But despite my griping, the show presents a positive image of foreigners in Korea, which is often hard to find in the local media.
Like the women of Misuda, I have come here on my own free will and have truly enjoyed myself. The show has made me appreciate GW as an island of homogeneity in a world that regards white Americans as the exception to the norm.
-The author, a junior, is spending a year studying abroad at Seoul National University.