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Not So Foreign Anymore

Hit TV programs show Koreans are actively seeking cross-cultural friendships

Back in June, MBC’s cable network MBC Every1 launched the pilot of their new travel show “Welcome, First Time In Korea?” The pilot was a huge success, with ratings reaching over 2 percent for the first time ever since the cable network was first founded 10 years ago. Since then, the program’s ratings have steadily increased, hitting 4.5 percent in recent weeks, according to statistics released by Nielsen Korea.

Each episode of the show revolves around an expat and his or her group of friends that are visiting Korea from their home country. The basic concept of the show is to give the visitors an exciting tour around Korea, giving them a chance to explore the country like a local. In one of the earlier episodes, the former “Non-summit” member/TV personality Daniel Lindemann takes his German friends to the beautiful city of Gyeongju in Gyeongsangbuk-do. The group stays at a Hanok and also feasts on a full-course Korean meal to get a taste of traditional culture. In one of the more recent episodes, a group of Finnish travelers relax at a jimjilbang and try out some popular late-night snacks.

“Welcome, First Time In Korea?” has sparked other TV networks’ interest in travel reality shows that focus on the interactions between Koreans and foreigners. For example, JTBC’s new TV show “My Foreigner Friend” sends celebrities off overseas on soul-searching trips and documents their journey. One of them is the actress Oh Yeon-soo, who visits Italy and forms a close bond with a local family that she meets through the show. Despite the language barrier, Oh and the family, especially the mother, learn to understand and appreciate each other.

OLIVE and tvN recently co-launched a program in November called “Seoul Mate.” Unlike “My Foreigner Friend” where a Korean celebrity travels abroad, “Seoul Mate” is all about welcoming travelers to Korea. A panel of celebrities act as hosts and open up their homes to foreign travelers. The show’s Korean hosts include the comedian Kim Sook, who invites French guests into her apartment, and the actor Lee Ki-woo, who befriends Mexican travelers.

The rising popularity of such programs seems to indicate a major shift among Koreans from being shy about meeting new people to actively putting themselves out there and being excited about interacting with people from across the globe.

It’s no surprise that TV shows are reflecting this trend, considering the fact that the number of foreign residents here in Korea has been steadily climbing in the last several years. The expat population recently reached over 1.7 million, and foreign residents currently make up more than 3 percent of the entire population. Naturally, more people are making an effort to understand diverse cultures and opening themselves to new experiences. Young Koreans are no longer simply learning foreign languages to advance their careers, but are now actually doing so to form lasting cross-cultural relationships.

 

Written by Miruh Jeon