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Immigrant wife says Koreans are hooked on Southeast Asian culture

Filipino immigrant wife Kenneth Dela Cruze Sangalang speaks during an interview with The Korea Herald. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Filipino immigrant wife Kenneth Dela Cruze Sangalang speaks during an interview with The Korea Herald. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
A decade has passed since the Korean Wave, or hallyu, hit the Asian region with the rapidly growing popularity of Korean entertainment and culture, especially in ASEAN countries.

However, there has been little effort in Korea to understand ASEAN culture in return, while an increasing number of people from Southeast Asia come here for work and marriage.

But a Filipino immigrant wife who recently attended a seminar called “In Depth ASEAN” said she felt pleased to see Koreans becoming more interested in ASEAN culture.

Currently, ASEAN-Korea Center, an intergovernmental organization with the goal of promoting economic and cultural exchanges between ASEAN and Korea, is offering a series of six ASEAN brownbag seminars every Thursday from noon to 1 p.m. through June 9 at the Press Center in Seoul.

“I feel grateful that Koreans are paying more attention to ASEAN countries including the Philippines. After attending the seminar, I realized that Koreans are more open to us and our culture,” said Kenneth Dela Cruze Sangalang, 33-year-old Filipino immigrant wife and reporter for Women Net, an official portal of the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family. She attended the May 26 seminar, where Choi Kyung-hee, research fellow at the Korean Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, talked about ASEAN pop culture.

About 100 Koreans, mostly workers whose offices are close to the Press Center, were attentively listening to Choi’s lecture with sandwiches in their hands.

The focus of Choi’s talk was Indonesian pop music “dangdut,” which she said was the key to understanding pop culture of Southeast Asian countries.

Such a seminar was almost unthinkable 10 years ago when Dela Cruze first came to Korea to marry a Korean man who was much older than her.

“When I was back in the Philippines, I was raised and taught that I could make my own decisions as long as I took responsibility for them. But here, I felt so strange that I had to ask permissions from parents-in-law even when I had to meet my friends,” said the mother of 10-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, living in Sangam-dong in Seoul.

She also teaches English at a community center where she gets to meet other immigrant wives from Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Uzbekistan.

“They learn Korean culture playing janggu and learning how to play Nanta. But they also want their culture understood by Koreans,” Dela Cruze said.

She went on to say that too many Koreans are obsessed with success and future goals. She said she felt sorry that Koreans’ sights are so set on the future that they do not have much room to be happy in the present.

“I don’t quite understand why Korean moms are obsessed with their children’s grades. In life, there could be many alternatives, other than being good at study,” she said.

The ASEAN-Korea Center’s fifth seminar will be held on June 2 on the topic of ASEAN art with Min Byung-hoon, director of the Asian Art Department of the National Museum of Korea.

The sixth and last seminar will be on ASEAN music with Chun In-pyong, professor emeritus at Chungang University on June 9.

Admission is free and sandwiches will be provided.

For more information, visit or call (02) 2287-1146.

By Kim Yoon-mi (