*This post is meant to be introductory in nature and is no way comprehensive in addressing adopted Koreans and/or identity*

On Introducing Yourself & Explaining Your Background

자기소개 (Self-Introduction): This can be a challenging task for adoptees living in Korea. Unless you are meeting other adoptees, most Koreans (and some foreigners included) will have many questions that follow after saying your name and where you are from. These questions may seem insensitive or even offensive.

Introducing yourself is a frequent requirement while settling in Korea. Many adoptees attend language school or are working in a Korean environment. Others may join clubs or sports groups where (normally) new members give a self-introduction the first time they attend. During my year and a half in language school, almost every new teacher and classmate I met had a few interesting questions for me beyond what my name was and where I was from. Many thought I was an overseas Korean raised by Korean parents.

2015 G.O.A.'L Potluck Picnic

Originally, I was unsure and uncomfortable with introducing myself in Korea. Should I say I’m American or Korean or both? Should I tell people I am adopted or simply raised overseas? Eventually, I found a comfortable way to introduce myself to others in Korea.

Personally, I keep my self-introduction quite straightforward. I say my name (Nathan) and that I’m American and have lived in Korea for about 2 years. If they ask if I am an overseas Korean (교포) or say that I look Korean, I simply tell them I, was adopted overseas (해외입양인). If they give me a puzzled look after that, I explain that after I was born in Korea, I immediately went to the USA and was raised there by Americans. Questions and comments that follow may include:

“Are you looking for your birth family?”

“Why aren’t you looking for your birth family?”

“Why don’t you speak Korean?”

“Why are you learning Korean?”

“Life in another country is so much better, right?”

“You are so lucky!”

“You were saved!”

“You must have a lot of money to afford a life here!”

“Welcome Home!”

“Why do you want to live in Korea?”

I find most of these questions and comments come from the other person simply not knowing enough about the history of adoption in Korea. I try not to take any comment or question as a personal attack. However, it can be frustrating to hear these responses often, due to the repetition (these questions/comments come up almost every time you meet a Korean) and personal nature of the situation. It is, of course, up to you how much you share about your background and if you want to even mention adoption.

Besides questions that touch on adoption, you may experience another ‘question ambush’ from native Koreans and other foreigners. In other cultures it may be considered rude to ask personal questions or comment about another’s relationship status, job, age, or even their weight. But in Korean culture this is quite common as Korean people want to establish a better relationship with you through knowing this information. Age and job/social position is especially important to Koreans as it establishes the politeness and formality of speech they use. Questions and comments may include the following:

“Are you dating someone?”

“Are you married?”

“Why aren’t you dating someone?”

“Why aren’t you married?”

“When were you born?”

“How old are you?”

“What kind of work do you do?”

“You are too thin, please eat more!”

“You should diet to be healthy.”

“You should exercise more.”

“How much do you earn?”

You may not want to divulge any of this information, especially to someone you just met. It may seem intrusive and rude that someone is asking such probing questions right after meeting you, especially if raised in a different culture. Although, to most Koreans, this is a common social practice and not meant to be intrusive, even if it appears to be.

It may be helpful to remind whoever you are talking to, that you come from a different culture and that it is uncomfortable for you to answer such questions, especially right after meeting someone. This may deter whomever you are talking to from asking you further questions. On the other hand, some may state that since you are in Korea you should adhere to Korean customs and culture and be open to answering those questions. Nevertheless, I normally do not feel obliged to answer these questions.

How do you introduce yourself? Do you talk about adoption? Have you gotten encountered similar questions? Leave a comment below.


For more posts about adjusting to Korean Life, stay tuned to the G.O.A.’L blog and feel free to email me here for questions regarding life in Korea.

  • Adjusting to Korean Life - Introducing Yourself to Others-0