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Just Say 'Ronaldo!'
Brazilians in South Korea reveal cultural challenges
Ana Maria Brambilla (brambilla)     Print Article 
Published 2006-08-05 01:51 (KST)   
A Brazilian in Korea
Lucia Seale enjoys life and work in Korea, although she misses Brazilian coffee.

They're suddenly in a completely foreign land. The language is their first and biggest problem. Nevertheless, they're capable of saying at least one word that will help them make many new friends: Ronaldo.

They're Brazilians who, for many reasons, have chosen to live in South Korea.

Pedro Oh is completing a master's degree in theology and chose Korea to pursue his interests in Brazilian and Korean religions. He is from Sao Paulo but has lived in Seoul for the past five months and plans to stay in South Korea for four years.

Although he's busy with his full-time studies, Oh has already experienced his share of cultural mishaps. At his first meal, Oh ate only beef, leaving his rice and other dishes untouched, without realizing that by the end of his meal he'd consumed six portions. Since each portion cost US$25, he found himself in quite a pickle, not to say kimchi.

If Korean cuisine seems a little strange for Brazilians, the opposite is equally true. A Brazilian woman who requested anonymity reveals that when she offered Brazilian beans to her Korean husband's mother, her mother-in-law refused to even try them. Yet she understood: "After more than 50 years eating only Korean food, you need a bit of courage to try a food that you have never seen," she says.

Lucia Seale, a scientist from Rio de Janeiro living in Ansan, southern Seoul since January 2004 can't give up her habit of drinking Brazilian coffee, which isn't easy to obtain in Seoul. She also misses Brazilian beans and chicken with cheese. "When I began to miss the silly things, then it's time to visit Brazil again," she explains.

Lucia is living in South Korea because his husband was called to work there. "It's a love story," she says. Today, Lucia is working in a field a little strange to Brazilians who live abroad: scientific activities form a great job environment in South Korea, according to Lucia.

To school teacher Soleiman Dias, South Korea is one of the fastest rising countries in recent years. This makes Korean universities a great place to teach in.

Dias was born in Fortaleza, Ceara, northeastern Brazil and has been living in Seoul since 2001. Nowadays, he is finishing his Ph.D. in International Studies and was attracted to live in Korea because he had a lot of Korean friends at an American university where he studied years ago. "I always wanted to try Asian culture," he recalls.

Brazilians during the Hi Seoul celebration in Korea.
©2003 Soleiman Dias
Dias created the Brazil-Korea Association, a group made up of Brazilians living in Korea or who are planning to move there.

Lucia Seale is greatly impressed with the organization. They offer help and support for those unfamiliar with the life and culture in this far-away land. In other fields, they organize soccer games, traditional Brazilian parties and dinners, meetings and visits to Korean locales.

"I have lived in other foreign countries, I can say that it's the best Brazilian association I have seen abroad," she says.

According to the Brazilian Foreign Affairs Ministry, the community of Brazilian people in South Korea is very small. It's estimated that about one thousand Brazilians are living in Korea.

To be Brazilian in South Korean means to be treated with immense respect. That's how Dias felt when he arrived in Seoul. "It's important to remember, however, that it happens especially if the Brazilian is white, has light eyes and smooth hair," he said.

Brazil-Korea members commemorate the World Cup.
©2006 Soleiman Dias
Dias adds that Koreans like everything that comes from other countries. "Some people know about samba, but the strongest word is "Ronaldo,'" he says.

Lucia also felt how much Koreans appreciated soccer. But more than this, they imagine that Brazil is a country of adventure. "Maybe they think it because our culture sounds very exotic for them," she says.

That woman who requested anonymity for this article regards Korean relationships between men and women as very different from Brazilian patterns. To kiss the face merely in greeting, for example, is a very normal gesture between friends or acquaintances in Brazil. Even to give three kisses to each other. In Korean society, however, men and women seem to keep their distance.

"There are few couples who go out to have fun together. Wife here, husbands there! Every behavior is very formal," she observes. To her, Brazilians have fun easier than Koreans. "Even without money, we can laugh a lot, talk loudly, and it's not a sign of disrespect to older people." She adds that South Korea, on this point, is a little harder than Brazil.

"But it's not exactly bad. Finally, that's what makes it 'South Korea'! Different countries, different cultures."

Diversity seems to be both the main challenge and attraction to Brazilian who live in South Korea. To cross the Pacific Ocean to work for a Korean company or to get married to a Korean means to be a "world citizen" for these Brazilians. They may miss Brazil, but everything they say demonstrates they are proud to live in South Korea.

Ana Maria Brambilla is Brazilian journalist, citizen reporter and journalism teacher.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ana Maria Brambilla

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