Subtle Asian Traits

Subtle Asian Traits

“Subtle Asian Traits” is a Facebook group made up of over 1.4 million members. The group was originally created by a group of Asian high school and university students living in Australia who started sharing memes (funny images) about their experiences growing up in Asian-immigrant households. The topics range from the culture-clashes associated with being Asian in a foreign country, disputes with parents, and a shared love of K-BBQ and bubble tea.

The group allows any of its members to post relatable and amusing memes, and despite its humorous beginnings, it has also become a type of virtual safe space for Asians, created entirely by Asians. People have started to move away from only funny pictures and have started to share personal stories, ranging from dating experiences to heartfelt, honest stories about abuse and illnesses. Because of the highly relatable content, the group has become international, reaching Asians all over the globe.

This group has also played a small, but still significant, role in connecting Korean adoptees, some of whom had joined and decided to post and speak up. One adoptee posted:

I’m adopted from South Korea. Lived in the United States my whole life. I have never gone back to Korea or met my biological parents. I want to plan a trip to Korea and try to find them this summer. Is this a good or bad idea? Any thoughts or comments would be greatly appreciated!”

The post got over 700 likes and nearly 300 comments, with people reaching out by offering advice or giving words of encouragement. Several other adoptees shared their own experiences with racism, growing up with a non-Asian family, and the search for their identity. International Asian adoptees have even created their own Facebook group called “Subtle Asian Adoptee Traits” to share their own memes and stories. The group is private and adoptees only, to make sure the space is kept secure and safe for adoptees.

As the original “Subtle Asian Traits” group has gotten larger, spin-offs have popped up all over social media including “Subtle Asian Dating”; a group where people post pictures and descriptions about themselves or their friends who are looking for some romance. This group, commonly referred to, almost ironically, as SAD, is bursting with dating and relationship related memes.  Other groups include “Subtle Asian Fitness”, “Subtle Asian Makeup/Beauty Squad”, “Subtle Asian Mental Health”, and many more.

One reason for the groups’ popularity stems from the fact that people don’t have to explain the joke punchlines, since everyone else in the group shares a similar background. This sense of shared understanding is especially appealing since it is often difficult to explain every single detail of Asian culture to non-Asian friends. Sometimes, all a person wants is for someone to just get it.

Recently, the group has been encouraging people to share more about their Asian culture with non-Asian friends. Having a supportive Asian community at their backs, virtual or otherwise, people have started to become proud of their culture and are opening up more to the idea and practice of discussing and embracing their culture.

The practice of creating a community, regardless of whether the community is for sharing jokes or serious topics, is very powerful, and there is no reason to believe these groups will diminish over time either. Rather, these groups will likely continue to evolve and grow by welcoming even more into the community.

Here are the links to the Facebook groups if you want to check them out!

“Subtle asian traits”: 

“Subtle asian dating” : 

“Subtle asian adoptee traits”: 

Author: Eva Kim

Editor: Leanna French

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Book Introduction: TO SAVE THE CHILDREN OF KOREA: The Cold War Origins of International Adoption


Arissa Oh is a professor at Boston College whose study is concentrated in immigration, race, gender, the role of family in U.S. history, and transnational Asian-American history. Her book TO SAVE THE CHILDREN OF KOREA: The Cold War Origins of International Adoption was published in 2015 in the United States. In the way that it carefully explains and outlines the history of international adoption, it is the first and only book available that delves so deeply into the topic of Korea’s transnational adoption phenomenon. Since 1953, over 200,000 children from Korea have been sent for adoption abroad, with more than approximately 110,000 adopted to the United States. This book cogently and honestly details out the history of international adoption that has previously been unknown to Korean society.

The first section of the book is on the historical condition that spiraled adoption, such as children being adopted as “mascots” by American soldiers and mixed-race babies born between Korean women and American soldiers. Then the book moves on to systematic adoption and the missions of Harry and Bertha Holt as well as the role of Christianity and American patriotism in the adoption process. The final section outlines how international adoption was a safety net for South Korea and the process of how adoption eventually turned into an international industry. Her work contributes to understanding a myriad of different topics such as the influence of the Cold War, the history and consequences of race in America, social work policies in Korea, etc.

This acknowledged work was translated and published in Korea, with the title “왜 그 아이들은 한국을 떠나지 않을 수 없었나.” The translation was aided by a student-led club in Hanyoung Foreign Language High School called 세빛또래, partnered up with KOROOT, an organization that also aids international adoptees returning to Korea, to provide the most accurate translation of the original work1.

The cover of the published book was motivated by the work of Amanda Eunha Lovell, an international adoptee currently living in Korea, called “Sung Myung: Your Name here (성명, 여기에다 이름을 쓰세요).” In Buddhist art, one image is copied over and over again, similar to how the same prayer is repeated. In this case, the image of a child with a halo and a nametag is pasted throughout the cover.  Through the cover image and her writing, Oh sends out prayers for the 200,000 Korean international adoptees2

In the introduction of the Korean version, Oh writes that she believes it is important for both Koreans and Americans to understand how and why international adoption started in Korea over 70 years ago and how international adoption has influenced current-day Korean and American society. She raises the importance of thinking about what it means to be Korean, who can be considered Korean, and why the answers to these questions are important. Oh hopes that her writing acts as a catalyst for the readers to start asking and thinking about these questions themselves3


Written by: Eva Kim
Edited by: Leanna French


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Differences to Expect in the Streets of Korea

Differences to Expect in the Streets of Korea

During a first visit to Korea, there are so many things to see and plan and visit that it can get a little bit overwhelming. There are dozens of blog posts and YouTube videos about first experiences traveling in Korea, with many of them giving helpful tips on how to maneuver through different cultural differences. At GOA'L, we thought it would be fun to come up with our own list of things that a visitor might see during their time in Korea and share the best way on maneuvering .

  1. Strangers hand you leaflets all the time

In all the major cities, you will encounter teenagers and even older trying to give leaflets to pedestrians. Sometimes these workers even wear costumes to catch people’s attention. This is one of the most common forms of advertisement in Korea. Many people take on the part-time job of handing these leaflets out getting paid only after handing out the set quota of leaflets per day.

During the approximately 6 minute walk from the closest subway station exit to the G.O.A.’L office, one will usually end up with two to three handouts. Although the tactics used by the people handing out flyers can sometimes be slightly aggressive, the leaflets usually provide coupons and sometimes introduce you to fun, new restaurants or a cool VR cafe. It can make it worth taking a look at.

  1. Sales on makeup and skin care products

As you may already know, Korean beauty products are making their way across the world. Korea is now known for its affordable cosmetics and high-quality skincare products. You can find multiple cosmetic stores on every street, ranging from Innisfree or Etude House, two famous domestic make-up brands, to Olive Young, a Korean version of Sephora. There are often workers that stand in front of the stores to promote ongoing sales and inviting people to come in and check out the products. Many places offer 1+1 deals (otherwise known as buy 1 get 1 free) and reduced prices on their high-quality sheet masks, selling a pack of 20 sheet masks for as cheap as 10,000 KRW (USD 8.50/EUR 7.50). The promotions are almost endless, which makes trying a variety of brands that much harder to resist. During your first (or next trip to Korea), find a new favorite or stock up on your go-to(s).

  1. No one really says "excuse me”

실례하겠습니다 (shil-le-ha-ge-sseum-ni-da) is the Korean equivalent of the phrase “excuse me”, however, it’s rare to hear people saying it in public situations, especially to strangers. The Korean phrase for “excuse me” is quite formal, which could be one reason why it is not commonly used, however, another could be that Koreans rarely apologize in general. For instance, if you are standing in a crowded area, and someone needs to get through behind you, they may just silently shove past you. Not saying “excuse me” or “I’m sorry” is the norm and is not considered particularly rude amongst native Koreans. Perhaps because Korea is so crowded that it would be impossible to not accidentally bump into people all throughout the day. Koreans don’t have a word for “bless you” either! For many city dwellers, this is not something that you may already be used to, however, for many of us, this is something new, but it’s simply something that we have to understand as one of those cultural differences.

  1. Wearing masks and carrying mini fans

This past year especially, Korea has been struggling with air pollution and fine dust particles. To combat this air pollution, Koreans started wearing masks to cover their nose and mouth and spent most of their time indoors. However, as the summer approached and the air started to clear up, Koreans did not take those masks off.  Recently, some Koreans have started to wear these masks to cover their faces when not wearing makeup, while others wear masks with interesting designs to make a fashion statement. Most celebrities wear these masks for both these reasons. In many other countries, wearing a mask suggests that you are either sick or easily get sick, but in Korea, a black surgical mask is a fashion statement. There is no need to be startled when you see a group of people walking past you wearing masks!

Another common item you will see in Korea if traveling during the summer is a portable, electronic fan. These fans are a must-have when trying to survive the humid, sticky, and hot weather. As early as May, shops set up an area dedicated specifically to these fans so people can prepare themselves for the incoming heat wave. These fans are also helpful when stuck in a crowded subway. Grabbing one of these fans will not only make your summer in Korea more bearable but also allow you to fit in like a local.

  1. The night life!

The night life might just be one of the best things that Korea has to offer. My German friend was shocked when she visited Korea for the first time, because she did not expect Koreans to be big-time drinkers. She was so fascinated by how much Koreans love to drink and hang out starting in the early evening and ending sometimes late in the morning. Because the nightlife scene is so developed in Korea, there are countless places open 24 hours, including convenience stores, coffeeshops, PC-bangs (computer rooms), jjimjilbangs (Korean spas), restaurants among others. The streets are bright from all the LED banners, and you feel safer even late at night in areas like Hongdae or Gangnam, because there are so many people around you. You can get dinner with your friends, drink at a bar, go clubbing, and then get a full Korean meal afterwards at 5 in the morning, before you take the first bus home.


Author: Eva Kim
Editor: Leanna French

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Dining Out in Korea: What to Expect

Dining Out in Korea: What to Expect


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Korea has some of the most delicious food in the world. Before gorging yourself on dishes like samgyubsal or kalbi, it can help to know some of the main differences in dining culture in Korea.

  1. Many things are “self-service.”

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In Korea, many things are up to the customer to grab, which allows the restaurant to save time and money. For instance, you can find a sign that says “Water is Self,” which means that if you want water, you need to get it yourself. Some places even make their banchan, or side dishes, self-service. Additionally, many restaurants do not come with utensils and place settings ready for their customers. Instead, there is a small drawer attached to every table that contains eating utensils, napkins, and sometimes wet tissues for the customers to use. This can be quite convenient, because you don’t have to wait for the server every time you need something. It also speeds up the process of getting the tables cleared and also allows customers to be seated more quickly. So don’t panic if you can’t find the chopsticks or water. Just open the little drawer and look for the water filter machine in the restaurant.

  1. Pay the bill up front

In most restaurants, after you order, the server will put your bill on your table immediately and update the bill as you order more. When you are finished with your meal and are ready to pay, you simply take your bill to the front counter, usually near the entryway, to pay. You don’t need to wait until you have the waiter’s attention to get the check, pay, get your change, etc.

  1. Use the call bell when you need something

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Although you can still holler at the waiters or wait for them to walk past you to get their attention, Korean restaurants use a more efficient method. At most restaurants in Korea, every table has a small call bell that rings loudly when you press it. When servers hear the ring from your table, they know that you are seeking their assistance and will check in on your table. 

  1. No tip is needed and tax is included

Since most things are self-service in Korean restaurants, you do not need to tip the servers. It is very uncommon to tip in the Korean service industry in general. To make it more convenient to pay and split the bill, all Korean food prices include the tax. Because there is no tip and additional tax, you can expect to pay exactly the price that is found on the menu rather than adding tax and a 20% tip before figuring out how much each person pays. 

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Now that you know what to expect in Korean restaurants, we hope that you enjoy all the delicious food that Korea has to offer!

Not sure where to start on your Korean food adventure? Here are some GOA’L staff favorites:

Julianna: 만두 // mandu

Leanna: 찜닭 // jjimdalk (with cheese!)

Shae: 닭갈비 // dalkgalbi 

Jes: 삼겹살 // samgyeopsal

Damien: 독도새우 // Dokdo shrimp

Author: Eva Kim

Editor: Leanna French

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