#26 Interview with Frank Brannen

May 28, 2010

Frank Brannen

Guest: Frank Brannen
Interviewer: Chris
Duration: 56 minutes
Recording Date: June 13, 2009

Frank Brannen is a 28 year-old half-Korean American who grew up in Korea, Florida, Germany and California. Frank experienced diversity going to US Department of Defense schools growing up and then went on to study political science at the University of California at San Diego. While working in Washington, D.C., an interest in working for the US Department of State brought him to Korea to learn Korean. He currently works as an English instructor at a university.

In this interview, Frank discusses growing up in Korea and partially internalizing Korean nationalism; he talks about his experience living for a year in extreme proximity to the DMZ and exposure to the reality of Korea’s relationship with North Korea, life and work as a foreigner in a small town and his eventual transition from public middle school teaching to university. In the social realm, Frank talks about living in Korea as a mixed-Korean adult, the looks a heterosexual “foreign” man receives dating a “Korean” woman, and the differences between the American business environment and Korean hierarchy in the teaching field.

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“My first six months of being a teacher was a disaster […] I had no idea what I was doing, you know, I was asking everybody: ‘What are doing? You play bingo?! That’s genius!’ […] So the first six months was like a crash course and after that […] it became easy.”

“My first year, dating would be people I met in Seoul; in the countryside I didn’t really date. Because it was such a small town, everyone knew your business […] And then moving to Seoul, you do get looks. You do get stared at, especially if the girl is Korean and you’re a foreigner, then people do stare. Especially in the countryside, that’s probably one of the biggest things: they look at the girl, they look at the guy, they look at the girl, they look at the guy […] I see that and I think about my parents, and they were doing this in the 70s, and I’m sure it was much much more close-minded back then.”

#25 Interview with Gregory Chan-wook Diggs Yang

January 16, 2010

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Guest: Gregory Chan-wook Diggs Yang
Interviewer: Chris
Duration: 49 minutes
Recording Date: June 19, 2009

Gregory Chan-wook Diggs Yang is a 34 year-old half-Korean, half-Black American who has been living in Korean for the past seven years. Born in Seoul, Greg grew up in Busan, Germany and Illinois (among other locations) as his father was in the American military. As an adult, Greg lived in Illinois, where he went to university, Colorado, where he worked, Los Angeles, where he attended graduated school in education administration, and San Antonio, where he worked as a public school teacher. While evaluating his life and experiences, Greg decided that his goal in life would be to found a school for mixed-race Korean children living in Korean that would offer them the chance to visit the United States. Although this goal has taken on a different form, namely the start of a foundation, it was the spark that inspired his move to Korea.

Seven years in Korea provides one with a wealth and breadth of experiences. Greg began as a public school English teacher in a small Korean town, knowing little Korean. He commuted for hours on weekends to attend Korean class and later when he moved closer to Seoul continued with a rigorous schedule of work and commuting. On that note, Greg has worked as a teacher, editor, translator for the Pearl S. Buck Foundation, and most recently as a teacher training staff member at Seoul National University.

In this interview, Greg discusses growing up in Korean culture, Black culture (at separate times), financial and educational decisions that moved him around America as an adult, the dedication necessary to learn Korean and the multiple facets of living in Korea and being racially interpreted as a person of mixed Korean ancestry in Korea.

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“I used to get upset when people would talk to me in English when they saw me, and then I realized it’s because when I’m with foreigners and talking with foreigners, they’ll talk to me as I’m a foreigner, but when I’m by myself, and in my ‘Korean mode’ if you want to call it that, or with my Koreans friends, they’ll talk to me in Korean. So, I guess because of my unique features who I am associated with when they see me a lot of times will determine how they approach me with the language […] When my Korean is so good that they never say I speak Korean well, that’s when I know I speak Korean well.”

“Growing up I used to think I would marry a Korean woman because I knew my African American side so well and I wanted to give my children the knowledge of both, and now I feel like I know the Korean well enough that I can marry anyone and feel like I can give them both the Korean and African American cultures.”

#24 Interview with Diana Sargent

December 17, 2009

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Guest: Diana Sargent
Interviewer: Chris
Duration: 47 minutes
Recording Date: June 17, 2009

Diana Sargent is a 28 year-old half-Korean American from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and has been living in Korea for the past four years (having originally planned on staying for only one). Diana grew up in various locations with many Latino friends, identifying more with this community than other Korean Americans. After studying at three universities and finishing at Brigham Young, she was surprisingly not placed in Korea for her mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and her one and-a-half extra years in Salt Lake City, Utah, eventually factored into her decision to move to Korea thereafter.

Diana originally came to Korea to work teaching English, but changed focus as time passed to learn Korean and then attend graduate school for a master’s degree in international relations at the Ewha Women’s University Graduate School of International Studies. She eventually took a job working as a news reporter for TBS (Traffic Broadcasting System) in Seoul.

In this interview Diana discusses her various stages of life in Korea and how they evolved, being the outspoken American in her graduate program, working in news broadcasting (including dealing with the seemingly obligatory culture of after-work drinking), as well as dating in Korea and the image of the sexually liberalized Western woman.

“For anyone that’s looking to come to Korea, just ask ‘Why?’ Why are things different? Why does this person act that way? Why is that person treating me like this? If you can seek to understand those things, life will be so much easier, as opposed to coming in and expecting people to conform to you […] there’s got to be some give-and-take there.”

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#23 Interview with Marina Yugay

November 30, 2009

Marina Yugay

Guest: Marina Yugay
Interviewer: Chris
Duration: 42 minutes
Recording Date: June 24, 2009

Marina Yugay is a 22 year-old ethnic Korean from Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, the country home to the largest number of ethnic Koreans in the former Soviet states. Marina grew up a minority among minorities, in a country comprised of 80% Uzbeks, 5% ethnic Russians, 5% Tajik and 10% other ethnic minorities, including somewhere around 200,000 Koreans. These ethnic Koreans, known as goryeo-saram, are the descendants of Korean peasants who sought better lives in (or were moved to) Eastern Russia, but then were deported to Central Asia under Stalin during World War II.

Marina attended a Russian-speaking school with few other ethnic Koreans and as such, her parents were strict with her education in traditional Korean fashion and her father encouraged her to learn how to defend herself. Marina had some access, but little interest, in Korea and Korean culture growing up, more interested in Western pop culture. Under constant encouragement from her parents to gain more interest in Korea (and find a proper Korean husband), Marina applied for a full-ride scholarship through the National Institute for International Education Development to study for her undergraduate degree in Korea. She received a place to study at Kyunghee University, and with this opportunity gave up her three years of studies in Uzbekistan to study tourism management in Korea.

In this interview, hear how Marina has navigated cultural differences such as alcohol consumption (Uzbekistan is a primarily Muslim country), learning Korean through dongari, special interest clubs at her university, rather than her studies, and evaluating the prospects of future work in Korea and abroad.

“Korean culture somehow is close to me. Even if I feel distance in communication with Korean people, they try to treat me not as bad as I was at home.”

Korea is a wonderful country … it has everything, it’s growing up, getting globalized. I really thank my lucky stars for giving me a chance to come here for five years. It’s a really great experience for me.

Click here to listen.

Other links:

Information on ethnic Koreans in Uzbekistan.

The National Institute for International Education Development

Wikipedia also has some interesting articles on Uzbekistan, Goryeo-saram (Koryo-saram), and

#22 Interview with Susan Selin

November 19, 2009

Susan Selin

Guest: Susan Selin
Interviewer: Chris
Duration: 32 minutes
Recording Date: June 10, 2009

Susan Selin is a half-Korean, half-Jewish American from San Francisco, California. Her parents met in a “disgustingly romantic” fashion while her father was working in Korea as a civil engineer and her mother rented rooms to foreigners. After growing up attending school in the ethnically diverse San Francisco public school system, Susan attended the University of California at San Diego, majored in economics and began working in finance. Dissatisfied with her situation at the time, and itching to make a move, Susan made the choice to move to Korea, where she has been living for approximately six years.

Susan came to Korea with a plan to prepare herself for an ambitious future: learn Korean and gain experience in the financial industry to prepare for the development of a post-dictatorship North Korea. In this interview, Susan discusses her years-long struggle to learn Korean and notable aspects of life in the Korean business world, in both the public and private sectors.

“A lot of people in the world think that America is the land of opportunity, but I think Korea has been my land of opportunity.”

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#21 Interview with Daniel Lee Gray

September 28, 2009

Daniel Lee Gray

Guest: Daniel Lee Gray
Interviewer: Chris
Duration: 59 minutes
Recording Date: June 3, 2009

Daniel Lee Gray is a 29 year-old Korean American from Wilmington, Delware. Dan was adopted from Korea around the age of five to a family with one other adopted Korean daughter and one biological. Daniel studied English, wrote plays and worked as a chef before deciding to move to Korea about five years ago at which point he began working as an English teacher. Here in Korea Dan has worked teaching English, writing about food in Korea (both Korean and foreign) and is now taking a year to himself to learn Korean and enjoy what Korea has to offer. In this interview listen to Dan talk about the detriment of the release of “The Karate Kid” during his youth and trips to Korean cultural activities, becoming a connoisseur of world foods, cooking with his biological mother in Korea and turning into a de facto guide to Korea.

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To check out Dan’s musings on food, go to his blog, Seoul Eats.

#20 Interview with Alexander Kim

June 19, 2009

Alexander Kim

Guest: Alexander Kim
Interviewer: Chris
Duration: 40 minutes
Recording Date: May 26, 2009

Alexander Kim is a 4th generation Korean Russian from Khabarovsk, a city in the far East of Russia. His ancestors came from what is now North Korea and with the onset of World War II his family was deported from the East to Central Asia, far away from Japan. Upon recognizing the misdeed it had done, the Russia government offered to relocate ethnic Koreans back to the far East. Alexander grew up in Khabarovsk, a city of around 600,000 people, with few other ethnic Koreans around as he was younger, but a growing community.

In this interview, Alexander discusses growing up as one of two ethnic Koreans in his school, developing an interest in learning Korean and moving to Korea, his life in Korea studying for an MBA with a full scholarship from the National Institute of International Education and developing a desire to settle permanently in Korea.

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#19 Interview with Annie Koh

May 14, 2009

Annie Koh

Guest: Annie Koh
Interviewer: Chris
Duration: 56 minutes
Recording Date: March 31, 2009

Annie Koh is a 30 year-old Korean American from Chicago who has been living in Korea for about four years. Annie has the perfect Asian American academic record: Phillips Exeter, Yale, Seoul National … but also proves that going to an Ivy League school doesn’t have to end in giving up your dreams of making a difference in the world. After college Annie moved to the Bay Area where she worked on a fellowship for an Asian arts foundation and worked as one of the founders of HYPHEN magazine. In this interview, Annie talks about her experiences growing up in a primarily Jewish environment and living on a track of academic success, discovering Asian America at a less-than-progressive ivory tower university in the US and exploring the world of activism and creativity in Korea.

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#18 Interview with Lisa Collins

April 10, 2009

Lisa Collins

Guest: Lisa Collins
Interviewer: Chris
Recording Date: March 19, 2009
Duration: 59 minutes

Lisa Collins is a 29-year old, half-Korean, half-Irish American form Albuquerque, New Mexico. Lisa has lived in Korea on and off for over four years and her time here has included intensive language study through both a language school and a US government specialists’ training program, as well as graduate work at the Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies and Korea University. Lisa currently works at a Korean think tank that specializes in US-Korea relations and North-east Asian policy. In this interview she discusses moving back and forth between the US and Korea for training in international studies and law school, studying Korean long-term at a professional level, the Korean group mentality and perpetual branding as a cultural outsider.

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#17 Interview with John Cho

March 7, 2009

John Cho

Guest: John Cho
Interviewer: Chris
Recording Date: February 23, 2009
Duration: 49 minutes

John Cho is a Korean-born Canadian citizen who immigrated to Canada at the age of eight with his family. After attending university in Ottawa, John moved to Vancouver to do editing work and then decided to move to Korea over 10 years ago. John’s case is interesting in that he actually lived in Korea for seven years-or-so, during which time he worked as an English teacher and attended graduate school in culture and gender studies, then moved to the United States to matriculate in a PhD program in Anthropology, and then back to Korea for a year of research. In this interview, listen to John discuss his thoughts on the Korean psyche, both heterosexual and homosexual, doing qualitative research in Korea, and the changing face of Korean society vis-a-vis globalization and competition.

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