Living in Korea

Song Joong Ki’s Marriage & the Reality of Multicultural Family Benefits

Recently, there have been a number of reports in Korean news outlets that speculate Song Joong Ki’s international marriage makes him eligible to receive Multicultural Family Benefits. However, the reality of multicultural family benefits is very different from the picture these reports paint. Most marriage migrants to South Korea never receive multicultural benefits. This is what the foreign community has to say.

Song Joong Ki’s Multicultural Family

Actor Song Joong Ki suddenly announced his marriage to Katy Saunders, who is a British national, last month. They also announced that a baby is on the way. The actor was famously married to his co-star, Song Hye Kyo, before getting divorced after two years. His second marriage announcement came suddenly, only a month after he confirmed his relationship with Saunders.

 Personally, I am not a fan of Song Joong Ki. And so, I did not plan to dig more into his new marriage. However, shortly after the announcement, I read the news headline: “Song Joong-ki’s family to receive ‘multicultural family’ benefits” in the Korea Herald. I thought it was an interesting angle for a news article. I thought that most people would only focus on the fact that his wife is a foreign national, not the fact that his new household will fall under the ‘multicultural household’ demographic in Korea.

The Trend of Mixed Marriage

If you spend your time scrolling through Instagram and TikTok, you may notice that there are A LOT of ‘international couples’ channels and accounts. They usually have avid followers and viewers, and probably gain clout more easily than other kinds of channels. 

I mentioned in my previous article that international marriage in Korea encompassed 6.8% of the total marriages in Korea. In my opinion,  there has been an increase in the ‘fetishism’ of Korean men among Hallyu. Many Kpop fans fantasize about marrying a Korean, which further drives the increase in international marriages.

However, the terms’ international marriage’ and ‘multicultural family’ actually refer to different kinds of marriage. Honestly, both are very discriminatory at that – but it’s a discussion for another time. Today we are discussing the newspaper article above. It made the claim that said that Song Joong Ki’s mixed marriage will make him entitled to multicultural family benefits. So in this article, I want to write about multicultural families and their so-called benefits.

Multicultural Policy

Korea’s multicultural policy is related to the phenomena of the increasing number of foreign residents, marriage migration, and the low birth rate in Korea.

Multicultural policy in Korea is mostly geared towards marriage between a Korean man and a migrant wife. Most policies were made with wives from Southeast Asia in mind. This kind of union has become ‘popular’ as the marriage rate, and the birth rate is declining among Koreans. Many Korean women prefer not to marry nowadays. As a result, the government has actually been actively promoting these types of marriages. Policies have even (controversially) included state sponsorship of mail-away bride programs.

Source: KoreaTimes

I admit when I heard about the ‘multicultural’ term in Korea, I found it a bit intriguing that they interpret multiculturalism this way.

I am an Indonesian expat who met and married an American here in Korea. As a result, the Korean government doesn’t recognize us as a multicultural family, because neither of us is Korean.

Coming from a very diverse country where multiculturalism is a way of life, multiculturalism is something that I find to be a given. In many countries, including mine, it means living side by side with people of different cultural backgrounds. Couples merge two different cultures together, without losing either side. However, in Korea, multiculturalism is not a merging of cultures. Multiculturalism seems to mean that the foreign partner (mostly migrant wives) needs to learn to be Korean. They must assimilate into Korean culture and society, giving up their homeland. There seems to be no conversation about the Korean partners learning about their spouses’ backgrounds.

But hey, what about her culture?

What’s a “Multicultural Family”?

Based on the ‘Multicultural Family Support Act’ (다문화가족지원법), a multicultural family refers to a household containing a couple with one Korean national (by birth, recognition, or naturalization) and an immigrant. Currently, the number of marriage migrants reached into 13 thousands in 2021 (Statista), and the Korean government has been facilitating marriage migration through various legislation since the 1990s (Stella Jang, 2022). 

Korean men and migrant wives (Source: NY Times)

Later on, multicultural policy also began including education for wives and children, and assimilation programs (also for foreign residents). Interestingly, North Korean defectors are included in this policy and in the statistics, despite coming from the same ethnic background. There are also studies on how the policy is rather discriminatory towards migrant wives, North Korean defectors, single parents, foreign residents, etc. But, as I said, these are discussions for another time.

Multicultural Family and Benefits

Now, according to the article about Song Joong Ki, multicultural families can receive these benefits from the Korean government:

  • Multicultural children can apply for international schools and special admission to some universities
  • Multicultural children are prioritized for state-run daycare without a waiting list
  • Government offers discounts on water, electricity, medical bills, mobile phone bills, and other financial supports (low-interest loans for weddings, education, tuition, etc)
  • Government prioritize multicultural family when applying for public rental houses
Multicultural in Korea (Source: Joongang)

The Multicultural Family Support Act also listed some benefits, along with “support textbooks for Korean language and mother tongue education for married immigrants, etc., for language development of the members. and support for language learning, etc.” (Article 10) and interpretation services to navigate daily life. Danuri, a support center, was also established to provide help for multicultural families.

The Reality of Mentioned Benefits

I have no first-hand experience with multicultural family benefits, but I like reading about people’s experiences on Facebook and Reddit. They mostly speak from their personal experience. Some academic journals also provide some insights into policy application. However, some are not updated on the most current issues and have no interview method. 

Multicultural Children Do NOT Recieve Prefered Admission to Most International Schools

For international schools, some schools refuse to enroll a child who has one Korean parent. International schools’ preferred enrollment is for children of foreign nationality. The argument that children from multicultural families receive preferred enrollment at international schools makes no sense since a ‘multicultural family’ applies to any household with one Korean parent and one foreign parent. The children of ‘multicultural families’ are Korean citizens.

If you actually read the Multicultural Families Support Act, there are no stipulations concerning preferential enrollment in any institutions. Furthermore, the number of multicultural children has increased by 5.4% from 2021 to 2022. So it is not possible for all of them to go to international schools, especially for lower-income families. In fact, there are more multicultural children in local public schools than in international schools.

Unfortunately, Korean public schools do not seem to have multicultural education. So these children are prone to bullying and discrimination from their peers. They also record a lower level of education than Korean peers, whose enrollment rate in universities reaches almost 100%. Some of them are part of NEET (not in education, employment, or training). It would benefit children from multicultural families to have prefered admission, but they don’t.

Multicultural Family Benefits are Income-Based

One immigrant residing in Korea posted:

Foreign residents who meet the definition of ‘multicultural families’ agreed that the benefits listed in Song Joong Ki’s article are not accessible to most people. Income level decides whether you can receive benefits.

Most Multicultural Family Benefits are the Same as Benefits for Korean Couples

In addition, most of the financial benefits multicultural families can receive are also available for Korean families. In fact, the benefits were included in the ‘Multicultural Family Support Act’ because multicultural families were originally disqualified from receiving the same benefits as Korean couples by some local governments.

Multicultural Family Benefits Depend on Local Funding

Currently, families have to apply to get benefits and can get rejected for income reasons, even though their income can be classified as ‘medium’ or single-income. Also, some city and local governments may not have the budget to provide these benefits. The ‘Multicultural Family Support Act’ states that benefits also depend on the available resources of the government.

Multicultural Family Benefits are Being Disbanded

Further, the enactment of the ‘Multicultural Family Support Act’ falls under The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, which is being disbanded. So presumably, all of these “benefits” will disappear along with it.

Accessible ‘Benefits’

While the benefits mentioned in the article on Song Joon Ki’s multicultural family are highly inaccessible, there are a few ‘benefits’ multicultural families regularly receive.

Gender-based Classes

Many cities have multicultural centers for foreigners to learn about Korean culture. But the classes they offer are mostly for foreign wives. Topics are normally very gendered, you can learn to cook and properly set up holiday offerings. Of course, they don’t stop men from joining, but the intended audience is clear. Cultural classes are “focused on teaching the practices of a traditional Korean mother: serving their husband, children, and in-laws.” (Jang, 2022). 

Cooking class for foreign wives (Source: KoreaTimes)

There are also free Korean language classes for foreign residents, including multicultural families. However, while the classes may help migrant wives and children to integrate into society, there are reports citing that these classes discourage wives and children from speaking in their native languages, as it is assumed to hinder the kids’ Korean fluency.

Conclusion

Song Joong Ki’s family may not receive benefits for multicultural families as the articles claimed. His high income aside, the reality of these benefits can be very far from the written law. Some families even said these perceived benefits have caused some rifts with Korean families who thought they receive less than these multicultural families.

Thinking of starting a family in South Korea? Click Here to read about parental benefits!