[Herald Interview] From Mexican copper mine to Korean entertainment scene

By Hong Dam-young

TV personality Christian Burgos talks about Korean entertainment industry from foreigner‘s perspective

  • Published : Nov 20, 2017 - 17:10
  • Updated : Nov 20, 2017 - 17:10

Before arriving in Korea, Christian Burgos worked as a Korean-language interpreter at a copper mine in Mexico. 

The sweat-soaked days at the dusty mine often pushed him to the edge, but he clung to the idea of buying a plane ticket to Korea, his first trip abroad. Three years later, the Mexican national is one of the most active foreign celebrities in the Korean entertainment industry. 

“When I first watched the Korean variety show ‘Quiz to Change the World’ in Mexico, I was immediately smitten by the Korean culture and its language. So I started learning Korean with the show’s subtitles, and after six months, I began working at a copper mine affiliated with a Korean company to earn money for a ticket to Korea, as well as develop my Korean,” said Burgos during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul.

Christian Burgos poses during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo / Korea Herald)

“Because of my experiences with Koreans at the mine, I was already well adapted to Korean culture, such as using honorifics when talking to elders, by the time I got here. But I had no idea I was going to settle down here. My plan was just to stay for six months with a round-trip ticket.”

But that was not what his destiny had in store for him. Fueled by his natural talent and fluent Korean, Burgos auditioned for “Non-Summit,” a talk show where Korean-speaking foreigners from around the globe discuss various topics, and became a regular panelist. 

The program not only changed his visa status, but also the direction of his life.  

Christian Burgos poses during a recent interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul. (Park Hyun-koo / Korea Herald)

Despite his insight into the entertainment field, diving into the local pool himself was a completely different matter. Speaking of hunger and poverty, Burgos used to eat only one meal a day and live in a poorly conditioned room due to lack of money.

Burgos also emphasized that he was shocked by how fast and wide news could circulate through the grapevine and eventually impact one’s career in Korea. He noticed that in Korea, when a celebrity makes a mistake or causes a problem, that figure was immediately booted out from the scene.

“That celebrity will then be dropped out of the circuit. They won’t be able to appear in TV shows for years, or even forever, and that’s scary and shocking. Contrary to Korea, in Mexico, which is about 20 times bigger than Korea, scandals and rumors can make celebs even more popular,” he said.  

“That’s how I learned that in order to survive in this world, I’ll have to stay clear from issues. And that’s why I usually sidestep parties or get-togethers.”

Christian Burgos appears on JTBC talk show “Non-Summit.” (JTBC)

Addressing foreigners‘ “limited access” to the local broadcasting industry, Burgos went onto express his hope to see more programs featuring foreigners, just like “Non-Summit” and MBC’s “Welcome! First Time in Korea,” a travel variety show featuring foreign visitors in Korea. Burgos has been appearing in “Non-Summit” since 2015 and has become a sought-after guest in various TV programs, including the MBC travel program as well.

“As a foreigner, it’s really hard to go mainstream in the industry. There are many talented foreigners in Korea who want to start acting, but all they get is the role of a waitress in a drama,” Burgos said.

Band "Hangeul" (FMG Entertainment)

Several years ago, Burgos was an aspiring video producer. Now, he dreams of something bigger.

Considered a success case among foreigners seeking to debut in Korea, Burgos said he often receives messages from his followers asking for advice. And this is what he wants to tell them: “People may have the same general goal, but don’t try to follow in the shoes of others. Pursue your own direction and capacity.”

“Look at me. Working at a copper mine? Who would want that? But I did, no matter how hard it was, because I believed in myself.” 

Christian Burgos attends a hanbok event at the palace Gyeongbokgung in Seoul in October. (Hanbok Advancement Center)

Burgos was recently appointed as a goodwill ambassador for Korean traditional dress hanbok by the Hanbok Advancement Center. He is also a keyboardist in a band called “Hangeul,” which is composed nine foreigners performing Korean drama soundtracks with Korean traditional instruments and Western musical instruments. But Burgos’s ultimate goal is to become a cultural bridge between Mexico and Korea.

“Who knows? I might become the ambassador of Mexico to Korea one day. By the way, the ‘best‘ one in history,” he said. 

By Hong Dam-young (lotus@heraldcorp.com)