The state of the expat: a lookback at 2012 and predictions for 2013

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It’s that time of the year again – predictions for 2012, 2011, and 2010 are all here as blasts from the past.

A lookback at 2012 would not be complete without a good, hard look at the Mannam / Shinchonji story. Scroozle, through his many-part series, combined facts and reasoning to inform us that Mannam aimed to use foreigners as pawns in the longer-term game of credibility in the eyes of locals. Their once-every-four-years rally still went on as planned – for better or worse, the goal was never to prevent it from happening, but to ensure people weren’t duped into participating. The final word (?) came in October, after an article written for the Korea Times got pulled following a call from a Mannam director. Scroozle, having seen the disappearing act happen more than once, got his own screenshots of the article to prevent the memory hole. A Yonhap article written by Curtis File remains online, although I’ve been told the published article has censored or not published some of his original draft.

One of the most racist reports seen on Korean TV stirred up outrage when MBC presented some very interesting glimpses of the terrible aspects of foreigners dating Korean women. Despite the outrage amongst expats and a Facebook group that quickly collected thousands of members, the whole incident seemed a reminder of how impotent we are at influencing Korean behavior. Roboseyo’s post on the matter is one of his top 10, and puts the incident in a historical perspective – something that’s too easy to forget when most expats measure their time here in months or a year. As a follow-up, the Groove Magazine published a look at a number of Korean-and-foreigner relationships.

Gangnam Style blew away the Korean music scene, the world music scene, and if there are any aliens watching us from afar they’ll probably be trying to do the horse dance as well. A billion views is nothing to sniff at, and despite the Korean government attempts to insert itself into the picture, I’m quite content to see the man succeed despite his American-bashing in the past. That wasn’t enough to make him Time’s Man of the Year – instead, American President Barack Obama repeated that honor. We could mention the Girls Generation on Letterman making their US debut, but I’ve seen limp spaghetti that had more enthusiasm.

On a brighter note, the mega-stars Eat Your Kimchi received crowdfunding over and above their goal, publicity, and have laid the groundwork for their new studio in Seoul.

Expats continue to make their presence felt across the country, especially in the arts scene. While I was unable to attend, the Night At The Paradise performances were still being talked about months later by the cast and crew. Seoul now has more musical, dance, and theatrical performances done by expats than any one person could keep up with. Busan’s and Daegu’s scenes have both expanded, if Facebook is any indication.

To the predictions!

2013 will be a year of transition – a lot of experienced expats have or will find Korea to grow increasingly untenable as they approach a glass ceiling. Expats leaving won’t go without a plan, however – and a fair number of them will return to Korea where the grass is at least growing.

With Park Geun-hye as Korea’s new president, things will remain fairly calm on the North Korean front. The generational gap will become more obvious, as the younger generation will become less satisfied with coffee shop work. Some will ideally go on to start their own businesses, while others may leave the country to find better work.

A growing number of expats will find themselves living in their own apartments and coming to Korea on tourist visas. While illegal to work on a tourist visa, they’ll stay under the radar by working with trusted partners, but making enough will be a continuing challenge.

Expats will continue to struggle against business regulations set forth by a government more interested in preventing people from taking advantage of the system than assisting legitimate applicants.

And finally, the Boryeong Mud Festival will bask in the glow of officially sanctioned debauchery and feature any number of Korean photographers with more lenses than brains getting shots of the Western women in bikinis.

Readers, what are your predictions for 2013?