There is a fine line between appreciating a culture and being obsessed with it, you're practically claiming it to be yours. To some people, that line is always blurred. From an outsider's perspective, being a Koreaboo is worrisome and most of the time, problematic.
But before we get into the details, let us first define “Koreaboo”.
According to the Urban Dictionary, a Koreaboo is someone who is so obsessed with the Korean culture, they claim themselves to be Korean and denounce their own culture. Koreaboos like using random Korean words in their sentences. Words like oppa or saranghae get used loosely and poorly.
To be clear, people who learn and understand the language aren’t Koreaboos. Imagine seeing the tip of the iceberg and then treating it as the absolute truth without diving deeper and seeing a bigger picture underneath. That’s being a Koreaboo.
Some people have pointed out that Koreaboos also try to look Korean through makeup and sometimes, even surgery. Dressing up in Korean-made clothes or taking inspiration from KPOP idols for your OOTD is one thing, but if you start changing the way you actually look to look like someone you’re not, then that’s where the problem lies.
Like we said earlier, there is a line between appreciating a culture and obsessing over it. We’ll give you some examples of what’s okay and what’s not.
Thinking that Korea is a superior Asian country. Saying you like Asian people when you only mean Korean. Korea is a small part of Asia. Not all of us look white, thin, and tall. Even in Korea, the features of Koreans are very diverse. Not everyone who have small eyes are Koreans. Chinese, Japanese, and even some Thai and Filipinos have small eyes. We may look alike, but if you’ll take your time and look closely, you’ll actually be able to determine who is Korean and who isn’t. And if you can’t tell by appearance, asking first before assuming is perfectly acceptable.
Speaking broken Korean and not even trying to learn the language. Or learning the language because you think it will make you Korean. Language is part of the culture. Learning it respectfully and for the right reasons is actually very flattering. But learning the language won’t make anyone Korean. If you are going to use Korean words, at least know its meaning and how to properly use it in a sentence. Like one Quora user said, you can only be Korean if you’re born from at least one Korean parent, if your ancestry is Korean, or even if you’re just born in Korea from non-Korean parents.
Whitewashing, changing your appearance to look Korean. We’ve actually seen some teens on YouTube do this and it is truly cringey. Again, changing one’s appearance to appear Korean won’t make them Korean.
Stalking and being overly friendly Koreans (who aren’t your friends) and obsessing over anything Korean. Being too friendly to a complete stranger will make anyone feel uncomfortable. Then, they would get annoyed if you incessantly pester them about something related to their race. Asking to learn is always good. Asking to feed this image in your head can lead to some dangerous paths.
Denouncing your own culture and identity. All cultures have a mix of good and bad. The Korean culture is the same. It should not be glorified because of what the media feeds us. We can appreciate other cultures without denouncing our own.
If you think you’re slightly leaning towards being a Koreaboo, breathe. You can still fix it. The important thing is you see the problem, you acknowledge the problem, and you’re willing to solve the problem.
Here are some things that you can do to still appreciate the culture without being creepy.
Study the language. Language is your gateway to another culture. By communicating with the locals, you’ll get a first-hand perspective of what Korea and Koreans are actually like. Talk to them to learn. Take Korean classes. Listen to Korean songs. Watch Korean shows. Practice. Keep it balanced, though. Study on your own, study with a friend who knows or is Korean, and know when it is appropriate to use the language.
Realize and remember that not all Koreans look like KPOP idols or KDrama actors. Widen your horizon. Go to Korea, if you can afford it. Realize that people of one race and look and be different from one another. And don’t date Koreans just because they’re Koreans. That won’t end well.
Know the difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. Cultural appreciation is merely appreciating the culture. It is liking the culture, but with boundaries. Cultural appropriation is adopting elements of a culture. We’ve seen this a lot with black people. They get mad when people from other culture use dreads or tan their skin to the point where they could pass as POC. This is because of the dark history behind it. Those things have meaning to them, like what the Native American headdress has for Native Americans. This is another one of those blurred lines so if you will, tread carefully and always be mindful of what you say or speak, especially towards a member of another culture.
Educate yourself. If you like a culture, learn about it. Study it. Know what’s appropriate and what’s not appropriate and do not push yourself to be in it.
Love your own culture. It would be easier to empathize to those who do if you love yours too. And instead of just taking and taking from another culture, you will have something to offer them in return. And who knows? Maybe they’ll appreciate your culture too.