International Student in Korea Shuts Down Haters For Attacking Her Hanbok Photo

An international student studying in South Korea became the victim of vicious comments after posting photos of herself in traditional Korean clothes (Hanbok).

Maria, an international student studying Korean language in Seoul, uploaded a photo of herself wearing a Hanbok with a cute caption mentioning SHINee. The caption was a reference to when member Taemin wore an identical Hanbok on KBS’ variety show, Hello Baby.

Unfortunately, the tweet seemed to anger a group of users who interpreted the photo as cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is generally seen as a member of one culture using aspects of another without proper understanding or appreciation of that culture.

The angry Twitter users proceeded to harass the student, with one user even calling her a “White Devil,” for wearing the traditional Korean dress.

Maria immediately went to Twitter and addressed the accusations and completely shut down the haters. Below are excerpts from her full explanation posted on her Twitter, providing more context to the story.

“I currently live in Seoul and I’m attending a Korean language program at a university here. Every semester we have a day set aside for a culture class. This semester we went to Unhyeongung and learned how to put on a Hanbok, what each piece of the hanbok is called, the traditional way to serve tea, and then did a paper craft. This was all directed by the [Korean] ladies who worked at the palace.”

— Maria

Maria continued on to explain that she’s mixed-race, with her mother being Filipina and Mexican. She opens up in an incredibly strong way about the amazing relationship she has with her mother and how hurt she was to be reduced to simply a ‘white girl who is culturally insensitive’.

She further explains that all of the Koreans she has met are happy to see foreigners wearing Hanboks, “so long as it’s done [from a position] of knowledge and respect.”

This is absolutely the case, with the Korean Government even endorsing programs that allow for foreigners visiting South Korea to wear Hanboks. There are tours that travel outside Seoul for those who wish to experience wearing Hanboks and travel the countryside. There are also tours in popular tourist destinations such as Bukchon Hanok Village where you can spot tourists in Hanboks everywhere.

The attacks on the innocent victim in this story show why it’s important to wait for the full story before jumping to conclusions. The users that directed anger to the original poster seem to be unaware that most Koreans don’t mind it when a foreigner wears a Hanbok.

The foreigners and international fans who initially started the campaign against Maria have largely disappeared. There’s no doubt that as Koreans find out about this story, they will confirm there is no cultural appropriation here, only appreciation.

K-Pop fans have become rightly sensitive to cultural appropriation, due to past cases of blatant ignorance by artists. Most notably, CL, who used a verse from the Qur’an in her song “MTBD,” and Unpretty Rapstar vol.2 winner Truedy, whose image and style led fans to believe she of African descent have become sensitive topics in the industry.

Cultural appropriation is an extremely important issue and it should be treated as such. But, it’s just as important to not make assumptions without doing proper research first.