These past few years, it has been impossible to miss the enormous hallyu — wave of South Korean culture — that has swept across the globe: the idol groups BTS and Blackpink to name a few, K-dramas like “Crash Landing on You” and “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay,” movies like “Parasite,” and the growing love of Korean barbeque. In grocery stores, it is increasingly common to see aisles stocked with mouth-burning buldak ramen and honey butter potato chips. Even this past school year, the Netflix show “Squid Game” made headlines for its record-breaking success, and local to Yale, the recently-opened Korean hot dog restaurant Oh!K-Dog has been thriving, with students and New Haven residents alike standing in crowded lines for potato-studded, sugar-dusted, and cheese-filled corn dogs. As a first-generation immigrant from Seoul, the capital of South Korea and birthplace of hallyu, I feel… well, complicated. 

Firstly, of course, I feel pride; it fills my heart to know that my culture is being enjoyed and shared with other communities. Most of hallyu is contemporary, I’ll admit; deep-fried sausages are hardly a centuries-old Korean culinary tradition. However, I’ve also taken restaurant orders from American customers seeking out stone-pot bibimbap and spicy stir-fried pork as old favorites. Besides, culture is an ever-evolving fluid, and BTS is no less Korean than the legendary King Sejong, who introduced the Korean hangul script we still use today. Every time I see hallyu around me, I feel supported and affirmed.

However, this glow is dampened by my inability to ignore the current political and social situation in Korea. Behind the comedic office scenes of popular romcom K-dramas like “What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim?” and “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon,” South Korea is actually held by researchers to have the worst workplace environment for women out of industrialized countries with a pervasive culture of sexual abuse, harassment and objectification. “Femi,” short for feminist or feminism, has become a widespread derogatory term, weaponized by outspoken meninist communities that have taken the push for women’s rights as a personal insult to their position of privilege and as a perceived threat to their own safety; these communities have even shut down idols for simply reading feminist books and forced a company to apologize for and take down an ad campaign that used a so-called “anti-male” hand gesture. The LGBTQ rights movement is largely ignored, with little awareness of the struggles that queer Koreans face; K-dramas like “Kill Me Heal Me” and “Strong Woman Do Bong Soon” use gay-coded characters for comedic effect, but the companies behind such shows only seek to profit from this “entertaining” representation, with no action to support queer rights. In such an ethnically homogeneous country, racism is also normalized to the point of blatant slurs being accepted in casual conversation— there is no perceived “political incorrectness” or social faux pas when Koreans discriminate against practically any other race and ethnicity. As I keep up to date with domestic Korean social and political trends, I have to admit, the future doesn’t look bright; the political right are too outspoken, too numerous, too powerful. 

Even with the positive, beautiful wave of culture roaring outwards from the peninsula, the domestic state of Korea itself is stagnant with violent misogyny, normalized sexism and patriarchy, homophobia and livid racism. As strongly connected to my culture as I am, I also feel hopelessly alienated from Korea’s morbid reality. Korea is so eager to peddle to the world her wares of dazzling idols, thrilling TV shows and delicious cuisine, but when will she stand behind the messages of its media exports instead of using them as empty, profitable shells? 

Maybe I’m reaching too far when I try to connect domestic Korean issues to the international boom of hallyu. But this matters to me. I am a member of the Korean diaspora who will never quite be fully Korean nor American, but rather a new entity: a Korean-American carrying cultural, social and political values and experiences from either side of the globe. These issues will never be separate to me, and I will always think of the bigger, messier, even uglier picture. For the general audience: Korean culture is not just a fascinating product to be celebrated; it should also be examined critically and protested for its flaws and hypocrisy. And for the Korean diaspora: hallyu should be met with not only pride, but somber recognition of the struggles that plague its cradle. Our heritage, our culture, our history; it’s complicated.

Hyerim Bianca Nam is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Her column ‘Moment’s Notice’ runs on alternate Wednesdays.

Hyerim Bianca Nam is a senior in Saybrook College. Her column 'Dear Woman' will culminate in a composite exposition of womanhood at Yale. Contact her at