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Korea’s Multicultural Growing Pains (Page 2 of 2)

To help people like Ms. Hui achieve better Korean language skills and understanding of the Korean culture, MOGEF operates multicultural family support centers nationwide, called Multicultural Family Support Centers. The number of centers has increased from 37 in 2007 to 200 in 2012 to keep pace with the rise in the number of multiracial families.

According to Kim, the official at the Yangpyeong Multicultural Family Support Center, “Every year MOGEF creates guidelines and plans that each center should follow. Under MOGEF’s guidance, we offer various programs such as Korean language tutoring services, interpretation services, and consultations. Many people with multicultural backgrounds visit and use our center, and many people benefit from those programs.”

Korean society continues to grapple with the social issues that arise in marriages between Koreans and people from foreign countries. According to research by the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs (KIHASA), the number of multicultural families in Korea reached about 270,000 in 2009. That figure is expected to increase to about 740,000 by 2020.

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South Korea has become an attractive place for many people from lesser developer countries who seek to improve their living standards. That appeal means more people hope to move to Korea by marrying a Korean. The trend has attracted brokers who arrange marriages between Koreans and foreigners. Competition among these brokers is fierce, and a growing number of scams have been reported. For instance, to attract more customers, brokers have created fake profiles of potential spouses. Many people travel to Korea for marriage without having first met their future spouses in person.

One victim of the scam is 23-year-old Atchraphan from Thailand. “I was promised to have a better life in Korea just like I watched in the Korean dramas,” she told The Diplomat. “But when I arrived in Korea, I realized that the broker had lied to me. My husband was a totally different person from what I heard or what I saw on the paper and pictures.”

The natural result of this deception is that many multiracial couples end up divorcing. According to a survey by MOGEF, 32.8 percent of multiracial couples divorce because their spouses have fled. Other reasons include personality differences (30.9 percent), economic problems (10.6 percent) and conflicts with in-laws (10.3 percent).

Even among those who stay married, many report martial problems. Some 69 percent of immigrant wives say they have experienced some form of abuse, including physical, mental or sexual, or are subject to unreasonable control over their daily lives.

To help foreign women with marital problems, MOGEF operates a 24-hour counseling hotline. The government also provides shelter and rehabilitation programs to women deemed to be in abusive marriages.

“Multiculturalism is now an inevitable phenomenon in Korea,” says Lee Ra, the head of the Association for Multicultural Women. Lee calls on Koreans to exhibit greater empathy towards multiracial people, as well as to make efforts to teach them the Korean culture and language. She adds, “It’s an international era. The idea of one nation with a single racial composition has gone. The Korean people should understand this and keep that in mind to reach social harmony.”

Tae-jun Kang is a journalism student at the University of Hong Kong.

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