South Korean Mail-Order Brides Get Schooled

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South Korean Mail-Order Brides Get Schooled

Mail-order brides are the new reality for commerce

Marriage isn’t easy even if you know each other pretty well and agree on most things in life. Half of all marriages end in divorce, or thereabouts, anyway. So what happens when the person you marry speaks a different language, comes from a different culture and knows next to nothing about you? Of course, things tend to fall apart pretty quickly. The government of South Korea, an importer of brides, has set up a school for Vietnamese women who are going to marry South Korean men. The Confucian belief that education is the answer seems to have no bounds.

South Korea has urbanized in the last couple of decades, and that means lots of young women are moving to the cities. That also leaves behind some men in rural areas who continue agricultural professions as bachelors, which is not traditional. At the same time, it is no secret that South Korea is a society that values material success. Somebody, though, has to lose. Those men who come up short on the career side often have trouble finding a local bride.

Meanwhile, Vietnam remains a poor nation, only too glad to export people, including mail-order brides. And given the traditional preference for male offspring, if someone wants the surplus girls, that’s fine with most people there. A Washington Post report followed the case of one young lady who had “dropped out of school after the seventh grade because her family couldn’t afford education for both her and her brother. Her previous boyfriend was six years older, a drunk, and she feared that her next one would be a lot like him. She’d come to see Vietnam as a dead end. A move to Korea, she felt, was a chance for something else.”

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The result is a booming mail-order bride industry complete with brokers and their fees.

That same Washington Post article, however, told of another woman (or girl, maybe, since she was all of 19) who said, “My family is very poor, and I try to be obedient, but I’m not very comfortable with the idea [of a South Korean husband, aged 42].” Sex with a stranger was a turn-off for another interviewee.

There isn’t much a government program can do to help you with your marriage, but these women are dealing with not just marriage but culture shock as well. That is something that can be addressed.

At the consulate in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon if you’re over 50), the South Korean government runs an eight-hour course — bride school, if you will. The course is optional, but it does help with the visa requirements. The class teaches basics about life in South Korea. Most of the future brides know little of South Korea save for what they have seen on TV (usually soap operas).

“Frankly speaking, this is not education. This is orientation,” said Kim Ki-young, spokesman for the Asia Cultural Exchange Foundation, which operated the program using $80,000 of the South Korean government’s money.

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Well, I give him points for honesty. You can spend a lifetime learning another culture and never figure it out completely; eight hours is hardly scratching the surface.

I don’t care what anyone says, it is easier to figure out another culture than it is to figure out another person. The hardest thing is doing both at the same time.

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