Pinay wives living out Korean telenovellas


(Editor’s note: The identities of women interviewed are protected in this story.)

QUEZON CITY (OFW Journalism Consortium)–FOR nearly a decade, more than six thousand Filipino women are living out what’re usually depicted in Korean romance telenovellas.

It is life imitating art, according to the latest study on cross-border marital arrangements in Korea or inter-racial marriages between Koreans and other nationalities.

A 443-respondent survey done last September that covered various nationalities, including some 73 Filipina spouses, bared that “love” was the primary reason for the women acceding to marriage.

Nine women in a center here run by Catholic nuns reflect that survey’s notions.

The women were participating in a workshop to help them in their marriage to their Korean husbands.

On a brown Manila paper, they wrote that Koreans work hard, budget their money, save, and are conscious of their hygiene.

These they gathered from watching Korean soaps on local television stations.

A study by Hye Kyung-Lee of Pai Chai University says something different about their mates.

Hye’s study noted that “lower class” Korean men seek “more submissive, obedient, and traditional (foreign) wives to serve them and take care of their parents” –especially by Filipina and Vietnamese wives.

The Koreans’ motivations already contrast those of the Filipino women, Hye’s recent paper found.

When asked why marry foreign women, Korean spouses –including 91 Korean men who married Filipino women– ranked submissiveness and obedience to Korean parents as primary reason.

Since 1990, the Korean National Statistics Office recorded some 6,216 Filipino wives of Koreans. In the 16-year period, that means every year, an average 388 Filipino women were getting married to Koreans.

Among nationalities, such as Japanese, Vietnamese, and natives of mainland China, Koreans with Filipina spouses had the highest percentage of responses saying they married their foreign wives due to parental obedience.

Hye’s Korean male respondents bared that the submissiveness, obedience, and traditionalist family practices of their Filipino and Vietnamese wives are the “most important reasons” why they married them.


THE numbers, however, don’t reflect the conflict running deep between the two cultures carried by the couple and the compromises they give to sustain their relationship.

The women interviewed by the OFW Journalism Consortium said they will rely on “love” to know their spouses better.

Commission on Filipinos Overseas director Minda Valencia, however, said love couldn’t conquer all.

Their entry into a society with a rich Confucian tradition –but which allows online matchmaking– is seen to be a burden for the Filipino woman.

The women’s limited knowledge of Korean language and culture may cause some marital problems, Valencia said.

For some Korean men, such as those who are of lower social status and who come from the provinces, their marriage with Filipinos may “renegotiate their social status,” Valencia says.

But the husband as the primary breadwinner “is considerably lowered” as a consequence of their marriage, Valencia adds in a paper she wrote on Filipina marriages to Koreans.

CFO registration records show that the average age of the Filipino spouses is 28 and that of the Koreans’ is 35, as there are more Filipino women than Koreans who have completed college education.

Valencia said while Filipino women use tenacity and resolve to prove to Korean spouses they are no pushovers, Filipino women sometimes feel “they have to work doubly hard to have a successful marriage”.

This means not just additional responsibilities for the Filipino women; their Korean spouses and families-in-law find hope in these Filipino women.

These are women like Rita and Tricia. They were part of the nine women who said they only learned Koreans expect submissive wives during a pre-departure orientation seminar that the Religious of the Good Shepherd-run nonprofit Center for Overseas Workers organized.


BUT Rita, a 21-year-old factory worker from Nasugbu, Batangas, says she doesn’t mind if the submissiveness relates to performing household jobs.

“I won’t mind the duties at home,” said Rita, who married her Korean spouse ten days after the latter arrived September 4, as Philippine laws require prior to civil marriage.

Tricia, 22, expressed the same.

She married a 45-year-old Korean from Jeolabuk after his 16-day stay in the Philippines.

Tricia said she also accepts the role of taking care of the husband’s farming family.

“I am not against helping his family,” Tricia narrates, “for as long as my husband will help my family here.”

Tricia hopes her husband would fulfill that promise to her and her family in Pampanga, even if Koreans usually don’t give their whole salaries to their wives.

“You don’t have much of a choice” but to hope, she said.

Another potential marital problem, Valencia thinks, is that Korean husbands pressure the Filipina wives to prove “to be worth the money” the former spent in bringing their wives to Korea.

This is what Elenita is trying to prove to her widower-spouse, a 50-year-old police official who has been living with her in Manila for months already.

For the 31-year-old schoolteacher, her workaholic attitude in a different locale can be a potential source of marital conflict.

“I don’t want to stay at home the whole day,” she says.

But her husband insists she cook, as women in his country are expected to do.

Elenita is trying to find a way to address the Korean’s patriarchal hoju or head of household system.

If she continues to insist that both husband and wife cook, her marriage may go the way of some 300 Filipino women in Korea who separated from their husbands.

“God gave me this guy,” she said, “and I can only pray this married life of mine will be forever.”