The Offbeat Couple
Names: Byung Kyu and Mariel
Location: South Korea
Occupation: We both got BS in Accountancy. I’m a CPA and he’s working in Accounting Department of one foreign company.
How long have you been married: 1 year and 8 months
What makes your marriage offbeat?
We are in an interracial marriage. I’m a Filipina married to a Korean who’s 5 years younger than I am. We’re both Christians.
What made you end up in an interracial/interfaith marriage? What was your motivation in deciding to marry someone of different culture or faith?
For me happiness means following your heart’s desire. What I was really looking for a boyfriend/husband is someone who’s sincere and the first time I met him, that’s what I saw in him. His nationality was never an issue to me. Considering that we’re both Asian I was thinking that our cultures may not be that different. In 5 years of our boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, he would explain to me whenever he has a chance about Korean culture and that’s when I realized that somehow we have cultural differences. He would tell me not only the good but even those that he doesn’t like about their culture and that only proved his sincerity to our relationship and our love grew deeper in spite of cultural differences.
Tell us about the wedding. Did your different religious and cultural background affect how you planned the wedding?
We got married in Seoul. But prior to our marriage, I had been working here in Korea for almost two years and during that span of time, I was able to attend wedding ceremonies of my friends and officemates. So matters related to our wedding were not very surprising to me anymore. In fact, I learned most of the things about wedding preparation from my female officemates.
Here in Korea, it’s the groom who prepares the house and the bride takes care of the appliances, furniture and everything that will be needed inside the house. Even though it’s different from Filipino culture, since I had a good amount of savings at that time which was thanks to my job here as an OFW, I didn’t have any qualms following their tradition. I have to make it clear though, my husband and his family didn’t expect me to do this. I just did it voluntarily.
Wedding preparation in Korea is just easy. You check through internet wedding halls, visit them and they will take care of everything, the venue, decoration, wedding photos, make-up, food and everything. We got engaged in July which was summer here. We planned to get married in autumn, my favorite season. However, we had to postpone it due to his father’s busy schedule in the office.
We didn’t have any problem at all when it comes to our wedding preparation since the wedding hall that we contacted took care of almost everything. But when we had to postpone the wedding, that’s when arguments arose. It was hard for me to accept that we had to postpone the wedding. But when his parents and my mother (she was here in Korea from September to November 2009) discussed with me the issue, I understood their concern and agreed to re-schedule it to spring, in April.
Byung kyu and I chose to have prenuptial photos. We spent one whole day in a studio doing different kinds of poses for our wedding pictures. Korean brides prepare a lot to make sure they look great on their wedding. According to my officemates, most brides go to salon to have facial massage every week or every other week during three months before the wedding. My officemates who got married did that but it’s quite expensive so I had mine only twice before the wedding. It was only my mother and niece who were able to attend my wedding. My eldest sister, who lives in the Philippines, gave birth just a few months before my wedding so she couldn’t go with them while my brother and another two sisters are living in the US with their families. My father passed away when I was 7.
Usually wedding ceremonies are held in the groom’s hometown. My husband’s hometown is in Kangwon province but we had our wedding in Seoul. One reason was because his elder brother got married just a year ago and his parents wouldn’t want to put burden to their friends and neighbors to attend another wedding in their family (in Korea, when you attend a wedding, you give money as a gift. They call it “chuk-euigeum”). But his family had to hold a party in their hometown for our wedding the day before the ceremony which is to be attended by their friends and neighbors. The bride and groom are supposed to attend that event too. But we’re both busy at that time because of work so we weren’t able to attend it. Another reason why we had to get married in Seoul was because most of our guests will be coming from Seoul. My office was in Seoul, most of my husband’s friends and some officemates are also living in Seoul.
30 minutes before the actual ceremony starts, the bride has to stay in the bride’s room. This is when the bride feels special. Visitors come and visit the bride and give their congratulatory message and well wishes. It makes you feel like a princess. The groom has to stay outside near the entrance, welcoming the guests.
Actual wedding ceremonies in Korea are really short. Mostly it lasts for only 30 minutes. Then the guests will proceed to the restaurant (which is located in the wedding hall too). But since our ceremony was bilingual, the pastor speaks in Korean and then translates it in English, so ours was extended to 45 minutes. Parents and immediate family of both the bride and groom have to wear Korea’s traditional dress, that is hanbok. So my mother and niece also wore hanbok. The wedding ceremony is to be emceed by the groom’s bachelor best friend. Usually, wedding ceremonies in Korea are officiated by university professors. In most weddings I’ve attended to here in Korea, I’ve never seen the groom and bride exchange vows. But ours was different because our pastor is Korean-American. Thus, we followed the American way. We were able to exchange vows and exchange wedding rings. Unlike in the Philippines though, we didn’t have our bridesmaid, best man, flower girls and ring bearer. (But if others would want to do it, it’s possible. You just have to inform the wedding hall.) Before the ceremony ended, my husband sang for me and of course it was a sweet moment.
Then we proceeded to Korean wedding ceremony. This is also not mandatory but most Koreans opt to have it. It’s only for family and relatives. Guests don’t get to see this. For the Korean wedding ceremony, we have to wear hanbok. We just followed what they asked us to do but we actually both don’t have an idea what is the meaning of all that (even my husband doesn’t know it). After the Korean wedding ceremony, the bride and the groom have to visit the restaurant to greet and thank the guests.
We had our honeymoon in Palawan. So right after the wedding ceremony, we went to the airport. We had a small celebration in the Philippines too for my family, relatives and friends.
What are your biggest challenges (as an interracial couple) and how do you solve them?
Even from the early stage of our relationship, he’s been very honest to me about Koreans’ preference to marry a fellow Korean. Marrying a foreigner is frowned upon here. (But I guess it’s somehow changing nowadays especially because many Koreans travel abroad to study or work.) His exact words to me were this “We have to overcome the reality” and that means the hardship we may have to face before his parents can accept our relationship. In our entire 5-year relationship, it has always been my prayer for his parents to be able to accept me when the right time for them to know about us comes. Our 5-year relationship was a secret from his family. He was just a student that time and very much dependent to his parents. He didn’t want to disappoint them. It was his sister who first learned about our relationship. But she also kept it a secret from their parents for they didn’t know how they would react to it. When his parents finally learned about our relationship, my boyfriend (now husband) had to visit them in his hometown in spite of his busy schedule in the office (he’s been working for just 3 months at that time). During his university days, he rarely visits his hometown because he was preparing for Korean CPA exam. And he told me that his mother was really cold to him when he visited and told them that he was planning to marry me. His mother really got upset and didn’t even prepare food for him which was first time for him to experience. His father was calm and told his mother to first hear out Byung Kyu’s explanation before judging him. After hours of persuading them, they finally approved our relationship and the weekend after that, he brought me to his hometown to meet his parents. (A month before that, we got engaged but we chose not to tell this to his parents. Until now, they don’t know about it.) His mother told us (I and my mother when she came to Korea for a visit) that at first it was difficult for them to accept our relationship but because their son never cause them trouble since he was young, they trust and believe his decision.
What compromises are required in order to make your marriage work? Did any of you have to move to your spouse?s country or learn the language? How did you find the integration process?
We are staying now in Korea. There are a lot of compromises. I’m not sure if it’s proper but what I always tell my husband is that since we are in an interracial marriage, our life can never be normal. Like I cannot have a life like what Filipino married couples have and he cannot have a life that married Korean couples have. My idea of a typical Filipino family is that at night, they enjoy gathering together in the living room, chatting while watching TV, eating dinner together. But Koreans are busy people. They spend longer hours in the office and my husband grew up in that kind of set-up so at first it’s kinda hard for him to adjust to what I want…. that he’d be home early. When I say early that means before 8pm. When he has to go out with his officemates for drinking parties (Koreans are hard drinkers, it’s their culture), he has to be home before 12 midnight. The compromise on my side is of course accepting the fact that he cannot be really home early everyday.
Language is another big issue. It’s fine for the two of us since he can speak english. However, when it comes to communication with my in-laws, it’s really hard. They want to know me more so they want to talk to me but since I’m not that good in Korean due to lack of practice, my husband always has to interpret for us. Right now, I’m enrolled in a university taking language summer course.
Another thing is budgeting. Since most of our expenses are paid using a credit card or debit card (it’s rare for Koreans to pay in cash) and credit card bills are in Korean language, I’m having a hard time monitoring our expenses since I’m still struggling with my Korean. As a wife (and Accountant) this is really frustrating to me.
Did you ever encounter people who frown upon interracial marriage? How did you deal with them?
As I mentioned, for Koreans marrying a foreigner is still not that much acceptable. However, as far as I’m aware, I’ve never met a Korean who disapprove of our marriage or maybe I just don’t understand what they’re saying. It’s quite ironic though that when I meet Filipinos living/working here in Korea, that’s when I feel quite uncomfortable mentioning that I’m married to a Korean. They ask questions such as where did I meet him… how old is he…. Those kind of things. My answers are just plain because I don’t want to sound defensive about it (although I don’t see anything wrong if a woman married someone older than her).
How did your in-laws and extended families from each side react to your interracial marriage?
If there’s one thing I really appreciate much about my parents-in-law, is how they embraced me as part of their family like a real daughter. Due to language barrier, my parents-in-law cannot talk to me. They try but my husband always has to interpret for us. Of course we know that having someone interpreting for you is different from hearing it straight from the person you’re talking to. I feel that I’m really blessed to have kind and understanding parents-in-law. They trust me even with their finances. My mother-in-law thought of investing in real estate in our place and to put the title under my name. I felt so much honored when I heard it from my husband. Actually, he was also surprised when he heard it from his mother. Because let’s face it, what they know about me is only based on what my husband has told them. But in spite of that, she has put her complete trust in me.
What are the benefits of an interracial marriage?
In marriage, there are already lots of surprises and new discoveries. And in interracial marriage, these surprises/discoveries are twice as much and that doubles the excitement I guess. Not only do you discover deeper your husband’s personality but you also get to learn new things and get amazed everytime you see or hear similarities and differences in cultures between your own country and his country. Of course there are also disadvantages, like the difference in culture can spark an argument between spouses.
What are the things that you learned about each other?s culture? How does learning about each other culture benefit your relationship?
If ever we’re having an argument 90% of that is due to “hweshik” (dinner and meeting with officemates alongside alcohol). Most Koreans also work until late at night. It’s a blessing though that my husband is working in a foreign company which is not that strict in comparison to conservative Korean companies. He can sometimes go home as early as 7pm. I have worked in a Korean company and I have seen what ordinary Koreans do, how late they finish their work and how frequent they go to “hweshik” and my husband is still far better than them. But to be honest, I’m still adjusting to it. I admit that sometimes I demand too much from him but maybe that is out of boredom being alone at home. He can also take vacations easily (though not as easy as it is in the Philippines) in comparison to other Korean workers.
During holidays in Korea, we have to stay in his hometown. The daughter-in-law is expected to do a lot of cooking in preparation for some rites the following day. This is not much of a problem to me because I have an understanding mother-in-law but it still causes me stress since I’m supposed to help in cooking and don’t know yet how to cook Korean food. Instead of that I just help in doing the dishes.
On his part, he complains about too many house rules. But I guess it’s not about Filipino culture, just my own culture. Hehehe.
If children come, of which culture (and religion) do you plan to raise them?
We don’t have children yet. We’re both Christian so we want to raise them as good Christians as well. As for the kind of discipline, I guess there’s not so much cultural difference between Filipinos and Koreans, so I think that won’t be much of a problem.
What´s your favorite way of spending time together?
We both love music, especially him, he loves to sing. There are times that we go to singing rooms (karaoke), but this is like 3x a year. But what we really love doing is to go out and do mountain hiking. We also enjoy excercising together in the park near our home. We sometimes play badminton. He loves soccer and he doesn’t have anyone to play soccer with nowadays, so we even sometimes play with soccer ball like kicking and dribbling. While he’s running with the ball, I try to steal it from him. It’s so difficult believe me but it’s really fun! We also enjoy making fun of each other and of course we love eating!
What are your secrets in keeping the romance alive?
I guess laughter….. My husband and I are both introverts but when it comes to just between the two of us, we’re so much comfortable that we keep playing jokes with each other… making each other laugh… We even dance with this crazy step that he made up. And I can’t explain how he can make me follow him. Hehehehe. Even though we’re already married, we want to make sure that we go out every month on a date, going to some special place or eat in a special restaurant.
What advice would you give to those who are planning for or are new to an interracial/interfaith marriage?
Before marriage, it’s important that you give each other time to understand each one’s culture. Patience is very important. What I realize about marriage is that love is not the only thing that needs to be satisfied before deciding whether you’d marry a person or not. Patience is also very important since there are a lot of compromises, sacrifices and adjustments to do in a marriage, much more in an interracial marriage. Learning your spouse’s language is also very important. This is not only in case you have decided to stay in your spouse’s country but also so that you can communicate well with your in-laws and understand your spouse’s family culture. This is important, especially if you are marrying a Korean. Like in the Philippines, there is a strong family ties here in Korea. In some cases, in-laws have very strong influence on your spouse’s decision. Though this is not the case for us.