The student news site of Reedy High School in Frisco, Texas

Reedy High School Media

The student news site of Reedy High School in Frisco, Texas

Reedy High School Media

The student news site of Reedy High School in Frisco, Texas

Reedy High School Media

Korean perspectives on the K-wave

The Korean Wave stimulates an evolving relationship between Korean transnationals and their ethnic culture.
Survey taken of Korean students opinions and behaviors towards the Korean Wave.

With the recent surge in popularity of Korean popular culture such as K-pop and K-dramas into global consciousness, foreigners, including those in the Western Hemisphere, have become more aware, appreciative, and even obsessed with the growing Korean wave.

Korea’s presence in the Western Hemisphere has largely laid dormant before this cultural phenomenon. The sudden transformation of public perception toward Korean pop culture presents a unique experience for Korean transnationals living in Western countries, who may develop new relationships with their ethnic identity and culture.

One of the emerging responses many Korean Americans have begun to experience is the greater recognition of the Korean ethnic identity as distinct from other Asian identities.

“Ever since the whole Korean boom, people have started to come up to me and ask me if I’m Korean first,” Korean American Olivia Kim said. “Before, they would first ask if I was Chinese or Japanese.”

Along with the growing awareness of the Korean race, Americans have begun to distinguish Korea as its own nation.

“In elementary school, I had to explain where Korea is or what it is,” Korean American Hannah Song said. “But now, everyone knows what and where Korea is, and it’s no longer a ‘North or South Korea’ kind of thing.”

The growing popularity of Korean pop culture may be transcending the individual consciousness and creating a common ground for Koreans and Americans to bond over their shared interest.

“I remember in one of my classes, this girl was talking about a famous Korean drama,” Korean American Hailey Yoon said. “And I was like ‘I’ve seen that’ and that led to a whole conversation about our interests in K-dramas and K-pop.”

As many Koreans have observed more of their American peers appreciating Korean pop culture, many say they have become more encouraged to express pride for their ethnic identity in public.

“My younger self used to be very embarrassed to eat Korean food or to pronounce some words the way that my parents pronounce them with a Korean accent,” Kim said. “But as the world started to accept Korean culture more, I’ve noticed that I’m more authentic to myself around other people because I don’t have to worry about how others judge me.”

However, for some Koreans, the mainstream popularity of Korean pop culture has spurred a paradoxical relationship with their identity. While they feel more confident about sharing their heritage with others, some say they also feel an increasing alienation of Korean culture from their personal identity.

“Since the 10th grade, I felt like some people would approach me just because I’m Korean,” Korean-born Lina Yeom said. “They just seemed to be asking me about Korean culture and not really about me or my interests.”

With the globalization of K-pop and K-dramas, Korean entertainment exports have become increasingly commodified and have deviated from their original form as a culture.

“I think people have adopted Korean culture as an interest or aesthetic which is kinda [sic] odd for a culture,” Sophie Meinershagen said. Meinershagon said she is half-Korean from her mother’s side.

The growing fascination with the Korean wave as a cultural commodity may have caused some people to overly glamorize or exotify Korean culture and Asian people. Cultural appropriation is one byproduct of Korean culture becoming mainstream. In the 2020 “fox eye trend”, for example, Caucasian celebrities and models would emulate Asian features by posting makeup tutorials of winged, elongated, and slanted eyes on social media platforms.

Some feel as though the exotification of Korean culture often reinforces harmful stereotypes that have already existed, such as the slanted eyes of Asians, but through a seemingly positive facade of innocent curiosity and attraction.

“I’ve become increasingly annoyed by how people have started to adopt Korean culture as a personality trait when it’s not necessarily a part of their ethnic identity,” Meinershagen said. “The ‘fox eye trend,’ for example, mimics Asian features that used to be made fun of, and now celebrities are just exotifying Asians for clout.”

Cultural insensitivity related to the Korean wave among non-Koreans may tarnish environments dedicated to the appreciation of Korean culture. These environments could include Korean language classes or Korean affinity groups.

“When my sister was trying to join a Korean sorority at her college, she saw there weren’t many Korean people,” Meinershagen said. “I feel like these affinity groups meant predominantly for Koreans have become more like interest groups for fans of Koreans who may be obsessed with the culture, so I’ve become more hesitant about getting involved in activities relating to Korean culture.”

Along with the emerging trends that exotify Korean pop culture, the desensitization of people to that culture can lead to outright discrimination.

“I remember this one time, this group of boys made snide comments about BTS, Korean music, and K-pop,” Yoon said. “I think their idea of masculinity is very different from Korean beauty standards, so they don’t understand why men would wear makeup, dress up, and dance in a certain way.”

The negative stereotypes projected onto celebrities at the forefront of Korean pop-culture may instigate fear among Koreans about becoming victims of these negative stereotypes themselves. In fact, some may be discouraged from associating with the Korean culture at all.

“Because of these negative stereotypes of Korean culture, I wanted to stray away from associating myself with the culture,” Yoon said. “I feared that they might project these stereotypes onto me.”

Unfortunately, many of the cultural differences between the East Asian and Western cultures fuel these criticisms. Over the years, Korean culture has become increasingly westernized to appeal to a global palette.

“I was really into K-pop when I was in middle school before it became super blown up,” Yoon said. “As more people became interested, the music became more Westernized, and I find myself consuming Korean media less frequently.”

While the increasing globalization of Korean pop culture has led to deviations from traditional Korean cultural values, the increased visibility from the Korean wave is undeniable.

“There’s always going to people who have negative biases and stereotypes about cultures,” Song said. “But I think what’s more important is that people are more willing to learn about Korean culture, and I think we can all appreciate that.”

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