By Diana Kassandra A. Almarez
Korean culture has taken over most Filipinos’ lives through their attractive music, dramas, fashion, cosmetics, video games, food, and more, but this phenomenon was not new.
Filipinos were introduced to the world of Korean culture from the late 1990s to the early 2000s through Korean dramas and pop music. At that time, Korean dramas were aired and dubbed on local television channels such as the familiar titles of “Winter Sonata”, “Dae Jang Geum” (or “Jewel in the Palace”), and “My Sassy Girl”, “Boys Over Flowers”, and “Full House”. Moreover, most Filipinos are unaware, but they were first introduced to Korean pop music through a song that was often mistaken as Spanish. This was Shim Mina’s “Answer the Phone” that was released in 2002. Fans and non-fans alike would remember that it gained popularity across the country, especially in radio stations, and malls. Eventually, Korean pop culture has sustained the waves in the Philippines through the years with dedicated fans. This Korean Wave or Hallyu has become stronger in this pandemic.
This pandemic has seen many Filipinos binge-watching Korean dramas and spazzing their hearts out about their favorite Korean celebrities through various online platforms like Netflix, Viu, YouTube, and Spotify. Other than their media content, Korean food like samgyupsal, kimchi, and tteokbokki has also become a new favorite among Filipinos that a lot of Korean-themed stores and cafes are popping up nationwide.
As a K-pop fan for 12 years, I have observed how Korean culture flowed in this country over generations. This simple hobby and interest of mine have inspired me to become successful in my studies and go on many adventures. It seems simple, but it has impacted my life in a good way.
When K-pop was just starting to spread in the country around 2009, there were a lot of stereotypes and discrimination against fans, but this did not hinder us to stay dedicated. The community was still small back then, but it was also a refuge when everyone was mocking us for loving K-pop. Contrary to stereotypes, K-pop fans like me work hard for their dreams. At first, our goals would be dreaming to go to Korea or meeting our favorite celebrities, but soon life would then catch up. Our original dream remains and it would always be one of our goals, but this would also enable us to create a purpose beyond K-pop. I encountered much bullying and teasing since grade school and high school, but I didn’t mind them. During high school, I even learned the Korean language at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman so people would stop telling me that I listen to K-pop but I don’t understand it. I even campaigned as student council president under a party named “K-POP Partylist.” I know it was funny, but it worked and I served as the president of our high school student council. From that day forward, I always hoped to become better so I could serve the country better in any way that I can. K-pop was never a hindrance to school. It was a matter of setting priorities straight and managing time and money well.
In college, I went from a mere K-pop fan who only likes to spazz mainly about 2nd and 3rd generation Korean artists and study like a nerd, to an aspiring international relations student and Korean studies scholar. When I studied Chemical Engineering in 2015 at the University of Santo Tomas, I became more active not just in K-pop or learning Korean, but also in Korean Studies. I really didn’t like my course and I really wanted to study international relations, so I would read articles and discuss topics with my friends in Asian Studies. Later on, I found myself going with them to Korean Studies seminars and conferences. I remember being absent from school because I wanted to attend a national Korean studies symposium at UP Diliman and Ateneo. During those times, I thought that continuing my Engineering studies was meaningless because the things I do beyond the classroom were all about international relations.
So in 2017, I transferred to De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde to pursue my dream course, Consular and Diplomatic Affairs. This time, I really enjoyed studying and I took my sweet time going on different local and international programs, conferences, and other good opportunities. Now, my love for K-pop was not just all about Korea. It has branched out to broader interests and purposes like Philippines-Korea relations, ASEAN relations, and other diplomacy-related activities. Because I studied hard and took every opportunity with great contribution and impact, I was able to collaborate with different institutions and travel with a purpose. During my time in Benilde, I volunteered for many institutions such as the Korean Cultural Center in the Philippines, Asian Development Bank, U.S. Embassy – Education USA Philippines, Cultural Center of the Philippines, and Love Education Philippines. Also, I was still connected with my Korean language teachers in UP Diliman through my involvement with the UP Korea Research Center (UP KRC) as a volunteer and participant in events. I also worked pro-bono as an Honorary Reporter at Korea.net, the official Korean government website, of which I am still part. I produced a lot of articles to show and contribute to Philippines-Korea relations. I was chosen as one of the two Korea.net Honorary Reporters who joined the ASEAN-Korea Train, the official side event of the ASEAN-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit 2019 in South Korea. It was my first time as part of the media for such a prestigious event, considering also that I was the only college student in that group. Aside from these, I also joined international youth conferences in Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand.
I believe that as simple as liking something like K-pop would lead us to a better purpose in life. It’s all about thinking of ways on how you can serve your country in your own ways, while still keeping your hobbies and having fun despite the hardships. Some of these ways can be volunteering at charities or any other institutions and sharing experiences with other youth and peers. It depends on what you also think is enjoyable for you. Even just learning well in school is one way of serving the country. Anything can go a long way no matter how small or big you think it is if you stay passionate about it. My engagements have taught me that active youth participation beyond borders is one way of serving and improving the Philippines’ relations with other countries. One trimester before my graduation this year, I was hired as a research assistant at the UP Korea Research Center and I am still working with them today to help scholars learn more about Korean studies, Korea-Philippines, and ASEAN relations, and assist in events that involve many experts and professionals in the academe and other institutions here and abroad. With everything happening in this pandemic, I can say that UP KRC is currently the main reason why I keep myself inspired and interested in Korea.
Diana Kassandra A. Almarez is an AB Consular and Diplomatic Affairs graduate, and former media intern from the School of Diplomacy and Governance, De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde. She currently works as a Research Assistant at the UP Korea Research Center. She is also an Honorary Reporter for KOREA.net, the official website of the Korean Government under the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism - Korean Culture and Information Service.