Category Archives: Filipinos in South Korea

Wellbeing of Filipinos in South Korea: A Needs Analysis

The coronavirus pandemic is an unfolding crisis whose extent of damage could be measured only when it finally ends. Suffice it to say that its economic ramifications are devastating. The global economy shrunk. More and more people are unemployed, hungry, and homeless.

But on top of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis, its socio-psychological implications should not be taken for granted. Remember that human beings have needs beyond foods, clothes, and shelter. These are only what Maslow classified as basic in the hierarchy of needs. People have higher needs – psychological and self-fulfillment needs – that must be satisfied.

The inevitable changes that took place because of the spread of this coronavirus have created different kinds of challenges and difficulties that left people with no choice but to contend with. They were confronted by circumstances different from what they were accustomed to.

The ongoing health crisis is testing how much a person could endure… how resilient are they. The current reality forged by the deadly pathogen has created different kinds of problems  that may lead to uncertainties, grief, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. It would require resilience to overcome these negative emotions.

Resilience as defined by Luthar (2006), is “positive adaptation despite adversity.” It refers to the person’s ability to adjust to change and/or the capacity to recover from unfortunate events or misfortune. It is the capability to tolerate (and effectively cope with) experiences of change and adversity.  

How resilient a person is depends on their level of wellbeing. In any study featuring these two constructs, a hypothesis of a direct positive correlation existing between them is very likely to be accepted.  It means that the higher the level of  a persons’ wellbeing the more resilient they are.

The Oxford dictionary defines wellbeing as the “state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy (Oxford, n.d.). This concept, as Purcell (2018) explained, embraces more than just physical health. It takes into account the entire person, both body and mind. It indicates not just the  absence of illness but also the presence of positive mental states, emotions, and moods.”

“Species with useful adaptations to the environment are more likely to survive.” This is what Charles Darwin famously said. Given the current situation, to adapt is the only option people have. And the ability of a person  to adapt to the kind of environment the ongoing pandemic created  hinges on the level of their wellbeing.

Surviving  the pandemic is the goal of adaptation. It is a personal responsibility. It’s not just  a matter of steering away from the deadly path of the infectious disease but also coping with the situation that emerged from its trail of destruction and maintaining a strong resolve not to succumb to the challenges and difficulties that come along.

Overcoming the challenges and difficulties the deadly virus spawned  requires all forms of toughness – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. It demands a body and mind in tip-top shape, a holistic wellbeing.

The fear of possibly getting infected by the virus and  losing job or working fewer  hours (which means lesser pay too) are causing fear and uncertainty among many people. Losing loved ones to the deadly pathogen has left a lot of people grieving too. Coping to changes in lifestyle has caused so much stress as well. All these and other problems would really require toughness to overcome. And if a person is non-resilient, their inability to adapt or recover might lead to some other and worse problems.

Take into consideration also the directives to stay at home and strictly observe social distancing. Such orders from the authorities may seem inconsequential, but they are not. They do have debilitating effects.  While social isolation may have saved a lot of people from getting infected by the virus,  it exposed them to another kind of malady – loneliness.

Loneliness is a psychological condition that should not be taken for granted. Wilson et al. (2007) stated  that “loneliness is often described as the state of being without any company or in isolation from the community or society. It is considered to be a dark and miserable feeling, a risk factor for many mental disorders like depression, anxiety, adjustment disorder, chronic stress, insomnia or even late-life dementia.”

“Prolonged isolation,” as Cacioppo and Hawkley (2003) argued, “can adversely affect physical and emotional health, altering sleep and nutritional rhythms, as well as reducing  opportunities for movement.” Nardone & Speciani (2015) added that “isolation causes the natural channels of human expression and pleasure to become depressed negatively impacting  mood and subjective well-being.”   

 So, social isolation, if not properly handled, may cause both physical and emotional problems. However, it is necessary. Most people would probably choose to bear the problems resulting from social isolation than the one caused by the deadly virus.

Staying at home and socially distancing may not be much of a problem, or not a problem at all, for those who are living with their families. But for people living alone, either by choice or circumstances, it could be. These people are the ones most vulnerable to problems that social isolation brings about.

One particular group that belongs to the category aforementioned  expats or people living in foreign countries, mostly as workers or students.

Foreigners in a particular country, just like the citizens of that country, are caught in the same web of problems created by the coronavirus pandemic. They feel or face the same uncertainties, grief, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. But it’s very likely, that the foreigners, being away from their families, are more prone to the dangers of social isolation and other kinds of problems emanating from the ongoing health crisis. Thus, they need all kinds of assistance   they could get from whatever support groups their own governments or from private organizations or individuals who are willing to  help them.

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Then Came The “Layered Meat”

200Unabashedly that I made a confession in my article entitled “Love at First Bite” that I fell in love with kimchi.  I have to admit though that with all the luscious Korean… DISHES, I wasn’t faithful to kimchi. I would later fall in love with other Korean foods.

Almost everyday that my new friends and colleagues would introduce me to a new local dish during my first few days here in South Korea.  However, when I recalled what the doctor in the Philippines said during my medical examination before I flew here – that I need to lose weight – I slowed down a bit.

Then came the three-layered meat and the realization that losing weight is (and has always been) a “mission impossible.”

Before my first week in South Korea ended, we were given a treat by a fellow professor from the Philippines – Randy.  He brought me and two other foreign professors (Deborah and Kenn) to a restaurant serving 삼겹살 (Samgyeobsal). That was after we claimed our Alien Registration Card (ARC) from the immigration office in Pusan to legitimize our stay in this country.

It isn’t enough to just say that I have tasted samgyeobsal that night. For me it was more than just eating pork belly. I don’t intend to sound dramatic but I guess it would be more appropriate for me to say that that night “I experienced samgyeopsal” instead of “I ate it.”

I consider the experience very special.


It’s a culture thing.

As we entered the restaurant, I saw  Randy and the other professors remove their shoes. I did the same. We were escorted by an ahjussi (a middle-aged man) to a table and immediately left us after getting our order. There were no chairs, not like the set-up in that restaurant in the hotel where we had the orientation for our students. We sat on the floor. So, for the first time that I would experience eating while seated on the floor. I wasn’t comfortable sitting cross-legged but as soon as the ahjussi returned and placed on our table what sir Randy ordered, I forgot about my discomfort and started salivating.

Along with the slices of pork belly, we were given plenty of lettuce, perilla leaves, and enoki mushrooms. There were also raw onions, garlic and green chili peppers. We were also served with lots of small side dishes which the Koreans call 반찬 (banchan). Not to be missed among the dishes in the small plates is kimchi. There was a plethora of food in front of us. I promised not to eat much that night.


The ahjussi turned the portable gas griller on and the grilling began. As sir Randy held with a tong a slice of pork belly, like a teacher, he explained what samgyeopsal literally means: 삼- sam (three), 겹 – gyeop (layered), 살 – sal (flesh).  His impromptu lecture did not end there. When the meat was cooked, he explained how to eat samgyeopsal the Korean way, that was after I excitedly picked up a piece of the cooked meat and had my first bite. He took a piece of meat, dipped it on a sauce then placed it on a leaf. Not done yet, he also added garlic and rice too. Then he rolled it up and stuffed it into his mouth.

“That’s the way the Koreans do it,” he said.

He made another roll and asked me to open my mouth. I hesitated at first because it was a little awkward. He explained that when dining Korean males usually do that and nobody would suspect them of “bromance.”  So, I allowed him to stuff it in and returned the favor shortly after.

We learned quickly how to enjoy samgyeopsal . It was either sir Rhandy’s a good teacher or it was just our hunger. It didn’t take long before we had to order another round of pork belly.

There were two varieties of dipping sauces given to us by the ahjussi. Sir Randy told us that one  is 쌈장 (ssamjang) and the other one 소금과 후추 기름 장 (sogeumgwa huchu gileum jang).

The kimchi served tasted differently from the one I first tried. There was no trace of sweetness. It was plain spicy.

While we were enjoying the “feast,” sir Randy who has been here in South Korea for a long time, recommended other Korean dishes that he said he was sure I would come to like.

The other customers in the restaurant were enjoying their samgyeobsal with 맥주 (maegju) and 소주 (soju). We wanted to also but we had class the following day.

We were one in saying that  it was a sumptuous dinner.

For me, it was not a simple dinner. It was a wonderful cultural experience.

What about my promise not to eat much that night? Well,  promises are meant to be broken.

Love At First Bite

I am a foodie. The extra pounds around my waist is a testament to that. So, when I came here (South Korea) I was excited to finally try the dishes which I saw only on television shows and in movies in my country.

The first food I ate here in South Korea was (drum roll, please)… biscuits from the Philippines. I wasn’t able to eat anything Korean immediately when I and sir Kenn (a fellow professor from the Philippines) arrived at the Busan International Airport. I was not thinking of food at that time. I was looking for at least a cup of coffee then, not because of hunger nor my usual craving for caffeine. I just wanted to feel something warm in my hands which started to go numb. It was freezing cold that morning and hunger was the least of my worries. The only thing I wanted was to reach our destination at Gyeoungju-si and wrapped myself up with the thickest of blanket I could find there.

My jacket wasn’t thick enough for my body to enjoy the early spring weather trying to give me an icy cold welcome. I didn’t have time to open my travelling bags because we had a bus to catch. It was my fault to believe what some friends back home told me that it’s not that cold here during spring. For a body used to either a hot or a VERY HOT weather, experiencing a  negative two  for the first time was literally a chilling experience.

As soon as I reached the apartment reserved for me by 경주 대학교 (Gyeoungju University), the first school where I worked here, I immediately unpacked and got myself another jacket. It was only when I was warm enough that I started to feel hungry and realized that I was actually a time zone away from my family. Back home, my wife would make sure that whenever hunger strikes there’s food I could grab from either the fridge or the table.

I waited for another day to officially get introduced to Korean dishes that I had the chance to see only on TV through the Korean dramas that Filipinos like me are so fond of watching. I found it amusing that aside from wishing me well for the Korean adventure I was about to embark on, my family and friends kept telling me that finally I would have a chance to try the legendary 김치 (kimchi).

Then finally the day came that something Korean would travel my digestive tract. I got that chance during the orientation for the university students held at the Concorde Hotel (Bomun Lake Resort, Bodeok-dong, Gyeongju-si, Gyeongsangbukdo). Of course, I was excited to meet my fellow professors from other countries and have my first encounter with Korean university students. But I was, I think, more excited to have my first dining experience in South Korea. What made it more exciting was the fact that after that night, the taste of kimchi would no longer be a mystery to me.

Right after the orientation, I joined the foreign professors and university officials and we all headed to the restaurant of the hotel. As we approached the dining hall, the ambrosial smell characteristic of hotel lobbies was replaced by a savory waft that was unlike any combination of aroma my sense of smell  was used to. It made me hungrier and more excited.


There were four of us who shared one of the tables reserved.  Already there (on the table) before we sat down were lots of 반찬 (banchan), or side dishes, mostly vegetables, including Korea’s “most-talked-about”   kimchi.

I dived in. The first Korean food I tried was (drum roll again, please)… kimchi.

Despite my struggles with the chopsticks, I managed to pick a small chunk of this famous fermented cabbage. The smell, as I expected, was biting and pungent. Its tanginess was nothing new to me because in the Philippines there are items in our cuisine that I could say are perhaps more biting and more pungent than kimchi. What about the taste? It’s garlicky, salty and of course spicy. The first one I tried then had a combination of sweetness and spiciness. I was told that there are more than 100 known varieties of kimchi.

After my first bite, I immediately wanted more of it. Yes, I came to like kimchi. I don’t know why, let me just say that it was “love at first bite.” It is so hard to explain as to why I would consider meals incomplete without a serving of this side dish.


The main meal served was a kimchi-based dish called 김치 찌개 (kimchi-jjigae).  Kimchi-jjigae is kind of stew where kimchi (preferably older or more fermented) is mixed with pork, seafood and diced tofu. I could handle spicy foods like this one. There are two problems though when I eat them. First, I sweat too much. Second and last, I probably would have up to two orders of extra rice. I was a little overweight when I came to South Korea. One of the things I set as goal when I came here was to get rid of the “belt bag.” With foods like kimchi-jjigae, I realized that night that losing weight is an impossible dream.

I completely abandoned my weight concerns when sir Randy, also a fellow professor from the Philippines, told me that the following day he would make me try 삼겹살 (samgyeobsal).

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