I can’t believe I need to say this, but I guess I do because the situation of disrespect has been getting progressively worse over the past few years, and this weekend I just about lost my shit.
Public notice: If you are someone who is coming to Korea to interview, study, or make an art project out of people here, treat us with the same respect as you would anyone else. Think about your white neighbor, for instance. You understand and treat your white neighbor as a human being with thoughts, feelings, and dignity — as opposed to the zoo animals that some people seem to think we are. We are human beings too.
Basic courtesy: 1. Write a letter of introduction. Write it in a language that the people can understand. If their language is Korean, it is your responsibility to get it translated. If you cannot translate it yourself, hire someone to do it for you. You would not expect your white neighbor to read a letter in Korean.
2. Arrange mutually convenient dates to work together, if people agree to work with you. Do not just show up whenever is convenient for you, with your deadline, and expect your white neighbor or anyone in Korea to suddenly drop all what they’re doing so they can help you with your project. People actually have things that they are already doing. Like going to work. Don’t come here and say, “Well I only have two weeks and so I need to meet you before next Thursday.” Maybe we are busy until Friday. Contact people before you buy your plane ticket.
3. When you get here, do not just show up at someone’s house, meeting, or workplace. Contact them first and ask permission to come. If a stranger just showed up randomly on your white neighbor’s porch, he would slam the door in their face and say, “Sorry, not interested.”
4. Be prepared to convince people about why they should participate in your project. Convince us that we should work with you. Tell us what you are doing and why. Show us work samples so we can make an informed decision.
5. We are more likely to want to work with you if you are working in solidarity with us. Are you going to stick around for awhile and make a friendship and build trust with us? Are you going to support our work through yours in some way? If so, we are more likely to want to cooperate with you. If you have learned something about what we are doing before you even contact us by reading on the internet or reading books, etc., we can tell how much you have learned by your attitude. If you have done your homework, we are more likely to want to work with you because you have shown that you are already caring enough to take the time to learn. Do not expect us to use our precious time to explain everything to you from square one. If you are here for a quick trip to just take what you need for your personal gain and then leave, why would we (or your white neighbor) want to give you the time of day?
In addition, people who work on a volunteer basis in Korea are working ON A VOLUNTEER BASIS. Volunteers get to do only what they want to because they are not paid to do anything. We are doing activist work out of our convictions. We are usually happy to help out when we feel that your work aligns nicely with our convictions and our activism. If you have a great track record and you come well-prepared, people will probably fall all over themselves to help you.
However, if you have come to Korea in a completely ignorant state or with an attitude that Koreans do not deserve the same respectful treatment as your white neighbor, then don’t expect volunteers to use their precious and limited time to help you do anything, and don’t expect us to open any doors that will enable you to exploit our friends.
Lesson: Do your homework. Use common courtesy. Then everything will work out fine.