A program in which a group of foreigners sit around a table talking about the economy, culture and politics started broadcasting in the summer of 2014. This has caused a sensation among viewers because it was very different from previous programs involving foreigners, which threw questions like, “Do you know Gangnam Style?” or “Do you like Kimchi?”
In today’s programs, foreigners are not merely represented as people who have the general traits of their homeland. By making foreigners play the main characters, programs provide a fascinating glimpse into their values and culture at a more personal level.
The Argus looked at these programs to see how this kinds of broadcasts have grabbed people’s attention.
How do programs star foreign casts?
Foreigners travelling around
People nowadays are paying more attention to travel programs that show foreign culture by focusing on foreigners’ own character and their lives more closely.
“Where is My Friend’s Home” is a program depicting a trip taken by friends together who all have different nationalities. In each episode, they visit each other’s homes. This program took note of the personal story of the foreigners appearing in it. For example, in one episode, foreigners flew to Italy to visit their friend Alberto. To reenact a scene in an old photo of Alberto, they wore ridiculous costumes and rode bicycles together.
“Welcome to Korea” is also getting explosive attention lately. Foreign entertainers who live in Korea invite their friends from their home countries who have never been to Korea before.
Viewers also find out the differences between Korean and foreign cultures. In the episode on India, Indians went through an automatic car wash and they were amazed. They explained that there are no automatic car-washing machines in their country due to the cheap labor costs.
Each foreigner’s personal character is also a charming point of recent programs. Mario, who appeared in the Germany episodes, is a history and Latin teacher. When he visited Seodaemun Prison, he expressed a strong interest in Korean history, saying, “For all the countries that remember the past, the things Japan did are still a problem.”
Foreigners living with Koreans
The format of a program that shows foreign people living with Koreans was newly introduced. Such programs with a concept of cohabitation show cast members sharing trivial things and spending a relatively long time with each other.
“Foreign Friend” depicts two people who have the same age but different nationalities living together. An Italian named Giovanna lived with Korean actress Oh Yeon-su Through the conversation they had while they were doing housework such as laundry and grocery shopping, viewers could get a glimpse of foreign culture. For example, by observing Giovanna ironing a pile of tablecloths, people could assume that Italians use tablecloths a lot, unlike most Koreans.
Yoon-hu, the son of a Korean singer, lives in Carlsbad with a girl named Hannah. People could see how elementary school students in America spend their days through Hu and Hannah.
Foreigners settling down in Korea
By seeing the personal lives of foreigners living in Korea for a much longer period than traveling or cohabitation, viewers get to know how they maintain or adapt their own culture to life in Korean society.
As broadcasters highlight foreigners earning a livelihood in Korea, people can get a deeper understanding of other cultures and other people. “Global Family” is a program that shows how global families are living.
A Canadian, Stefan, is a beer maniac living in Busan. He only reads and watches things related to beer, and he adds many food ingredients such as honey and ginger to beer. Passionate about beer, he has an ambitious aspiration to make the best beer in Busan.
“My Neighbor, Charles” is also a program that depicts the stories of foreigners who settle down in Korea for various reasons.
Including an American named Timothy, who is a chef selling homemade sausage and a barbecue platter in a food truck with his wife, the program introduces many other foreigners living passionately in Korea.
Why do people love these programs?
Broadcasters no longer depict foreigners as mere representatives who have the general traits of their homeland. Instead, viewers are interested more in the programs which focus on an individual’s personality. As they play a significant role as a subject telling their own stories, it is possible for viewers to be able to understand foreigners more vividly.
People want candid contents
These programs are gaining in popularity because people want to see a more straightforward portrayal of the foreign performers. People are tired of the visceral aspects of TV programs, such as carefully planned scripts and the exaggerated reactions of the performers. As a result, viewers now seek more authenticity in programs.
With the natural portrayal of foreign characters that do not abide by a script, viewers can enjoy the programs without any sense of discomfort coming from fabrication. It feels like getting to know a friend, not just a person with a different nationality.
“I was experiencing a bit of disgust in the fetched unfolding of the plot that most of the TV programs have. However, recent programs involving foreigners seem more like themselves,” said Kim Ji-sung, an undergraduate.
People learn other cultures on an individual level
The program’s format itself has transformed into a more personal style that allows viewers to look closely at foreigners’ lives which reflect the characteristics of each individual. Thus, people can satisfy their vague curiosity regarding foreign cultures and foreigners.
Through the words and actions that foreigners show on the TV, viewers can guess about the situations of their native countries. In Welcome to Korea, Russians decided to go Hongik University, but they headed to Seoul station, in the opposite direction. They did it because in Russia the cities are small, so they can easily go anywhere once they reach the central station.
“I think there is a certain limit to getting information through the Internet or books. I have more fun getting to know about a specific foreigner through programs. I find it instructive to get details about foreign cultures,” said Kim Seung-ha, a college student.
People find happiness in their daily lives
People change their attitudes about their own repeated activities that previously seemed mundane and boring by looking at how foreigners spend their daily routine
People enjoy seeing foreigners in the programs admire the scenery of Seoul, in which modern buildings and nature are in harmony, people feel renewed about the landscapes that have been taken for granted like air shining brightly.
“The process of rediscovering things I have been familiar with is interesting,” said Kim Ji-sung, a college student.
Even if the everyday routine is the same, it is no longer boring or obvious if the background is changed. In Foreign Friend, Hu and Hannah go to school every day, and every kid their age do the same thing. However, the background and setting in which things happen is not Korea, but the USA and this comes fresh to viewers.
“People who had been searching for something refreshing and different from their daily routine now have learned that they can find newness also in their daily lives through these programs,” explained Jung Deok-hyun, a culture critic.
How can these programs be improved?
Limited genre of the programs
Unlike in the past, the programs have changed in a way that focuses more on individual character, not general traits of foreigners. However, they still do not escape from the genre of entertainment that centers merely on fun.
“It is a pity that the genre is one-sided. It seems that foreigners appearing as a subject in various genres such as educational programs are likely to bring benefits and novelty to the viewers,” said Kim Heon-sik.
“Using foreigners in TV programs just for inducing fun seems like it will reach its limit soon. Viewers want something new continuously,” explained Kim Chi-ho, a professor in Culture Contents at Hanyang University.
In order to retain foreigners as attractive characters in the broadcasting industry, it is necessary to devise ways where foreigners can play a greater role in various aspects.
Overgeneralization of foreign countries
Programs with foreigners are loved by viewers because they illuminate each character’s stories, but ironically, this has the potential to generalize the image of foreign cultures.
“In Welcome to Korea, German friends stuck to their schedule thoroughly. By watching this, people might assume that all Germans are very punctual because the program itself constantly emphasizes where they came from. Making viewers unduly draw conclusions about the personality of a country by looking at the words and actions of foreign performers is narrow-minded,” said Kim Heon-sik.
“Although the original intention of these programs is to convey the culture of a country through a foreign individual, excessive generalization seems to be the inevitable limit for programs that focus on each foreign character,” said Jung Deok-hyun.
Insufficient reflection of a multicultural society
Even though we live in a modern age where many are open to the value of accepting differences beyond nationality and race, programs are still not fully reflecting this social atmosphere.
“Many foreigners that appear on the TV screen are white, I think. The nationality and ethnicities of the foreign characters have been varied compared to the past for sure, but they still do not seem to show a multicultural society perfectly,” spoke Kim Chi-ho.
“Not only are the races still not diverse, but the frames programs cover with foreigners also feel old-fashioned. Normally male foreigners are featured based on their intellect, but females are chosen for their appearance,” said Kim Heon-sik.
Gone are the days of programs that show stereotypes regarding foreigners like Japanese are polite and Mexicans are passionate conceptions are true. Viewers concentrate more on programs that focus on the life story of each individual foreigner.
By Jeon Nu-ri
Reporter of Culture Section