Category Archives: Education & Universities

What Do Interracial Couples, Obama, and Oprah Have in Common?




What Do Interracial Couples, Obama, and Oprah Have in Common?

How often have you heard people say that racism doesn’t exist, or that race no longer matters—“Just look at Oprah.”  Interracial couples, a group experiencing a major growth spurt in the past decade, are frequently pointed to as evidence that racial borders or barriers no longer exist, or don’t matter.

The discourse that U.S. society is colorblind, or evolving in that direction, has become increasingly popular in recent years. Colorblind discourse is rooted in the belief that a persistent refusal to see differences in race, ethnicity, or color is: (1) humanistic (i.e., “we humans are all alike”; “there’s only one race—the human race”), and (2) socially and politically correct (i.e., one reduces the risk of being called racist if one does not see or acknowledge the importance of skin color in how people experience the world).

A colorblind stance dispatches the problem of race in one fell swoop, effectively taking those with race–based power and privilege “off the hook.”  Elaine Pinderhughes (1989) writes that this stance “protects those holding it from awareness of their ignorance of others and the necessity of exerting the energy and effort to understand and bridge the differences” (44). Perhaps it is not surprising that many white people believe that the U.S. has already become a truly color-blind nation, with national polling demonstrating that a majority of whites now believe discrimination against racial minorities no longer exists (Twine & Gallagher 2008). But can race be erased so easily?

Parallels exist between the meanings and interpretations made of the increasing rates of interracial couples in the U.S. and a major milestone in the American political scene. On November 5th, 2008, The New York Times stated, “Barack Hussein Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States, sweeping away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease as the country chose him as its first black chief executive.” Post (2009) summed up the discourse around Barack Obama’s election in the following way: “This narrative is all about race even as it makes various claims about the diminished significance of race: the prospect of racial healing, the ability of a new generation of Americans to transcend their own identity, and the emergence of a post-racial society”.

Much like the hullabaloo made over the increasing frequency and visibility of interracial couples and multiracial peoples, Obama’s election was accompanied by passionate, and premature, proclamations that racism was at an end in the U.S. After the November 2008 election, almost half of white voters (48%) and three-quarters of black voters (74%) said they expected to see race relations improve during Obama’s presidency. Voters were less effusive a year later, with a plurality of whites (45%) reporting that Obama’s election had made no difference to race relations, and 15% reporting it has made race relations worse (Pew Research Center 2010).

Taking the election of a black—black and white, in fact—chief executive as evidence that racial tension and inequality had been successfully dispatched was a quantum leap, with such an interpretation implying that no further work needed to be done in the quest for equality. The embracing of the notion of a “post-racial” U.S. in popular culture and mass media does not allow space for either acknowledgement of, or critical reflection on, racism as an ongoing phenomenon.

My question: In the age of Obama, are interracial couples and their children now blessed to live in a post-racial era where racial boundaries will simply vanish?  According to the narratives shared by my research participants, the answer is a definite “no”; perhaps, one day, it might become a “yes”.

The more pundits declare the arrival of a post-racial society, the clearer it becomes that we’re not there yet. After President Obama’s State of the Union address in January 2010, commentator Chris Matthews quipped that he “forgot he was black.” Asked to explain his comment, Matthews stated that he had meant it as a compliment to President Obama for rendering race a “non-issue”. Matthews went on to assert that Obama is “post-racial”, rendering racial debate no longer relevant.

Obama’s election, just like the rise in interracial couples, continues to be used as a trope by some to support colorblind discourse. And while Matthews insisted he meant well (i.e., a case of overt, unintentional racism), and had not intended to be offensive (i.e., “it’s not my fault if you’re offended”), others wasted no time fanning the flames of racist political discourse and disinformation following Obama’s election.

The perception of Obama’s “otherness” has actually intensified since his election (New York Times, August 19, 2010), partially due to a macro-aggressive campaign. The Pew Research Center (2010) conducted a poll that found that 18% of Americans believed two years into Obama’s presidency that he was Muslim, up from 11% after his inauguration, and 27% Americans doubted he was born in the US, and, therefore, saw his election as suspect. Protest signs seen in recent years include “Obama’s Plan: White Slavery” and posters portraying the President as Hitler, an African “witch doctor”, and the arch-villain The Joker from the Batman comics and films.

In fact, the number of racially offensive images of President Obama and his wife proliferated so rapidly that Google began running an apology associated with the image search results (Blow 2009).  The fact of President Obama does not allow us to rewrite history and remove race as a powerful organizing principle in U.S. society or even as a factor in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. Voting results in battleground states broke down clearly along racial lines. In the South Carolina primary, Obama won 78% of the black vote, but only 24% of the white vote (National Public Radio, January 28, 2008). Innuendos that Obama had been born in Kenya and was secretly a Muslim would never have gained currency if white persons had not experienced him as “Other”.

Vast material disparities remain between blacks and whites. The median black worker earns about $600/week, approximately 80% of the median income of white workers. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that black men are imprisoned at 6.6 times the rate of white men, with nearly 1 in 20 black men incarcerated. The unemployment rate for blacks is nearly twice that of whites across demographic categories (New York Times, November 9, 2009). The catastrophe that was, and is, Hurricane Katrina is yet another reminder that skin color and poverty remain markers of not only who can thrive, but who can survive (Agathangelou 2010).

Racial issues are very much still with us. And Keith Bardwell, a Louisiana justice of the peace, refused to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple out of concern for any children that the couple might have. Bardwell commented, “I’m not a racist. I just don’t believe in mixing the races that way.” So, post-racial is a ways off, and resistance and prejudice continue to be daily experiences for interracial couples and persons of color. How couples strategically respond to these acts of racism says a lot about their negotiation style, identities both as individual partners and as a couple system, and what can and cannot be talked about in this intimate context. More on this later.

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Kyle D. Killian, Ph.D., LMFT is a licensed couple and family therapist and clinical supervisor. He is the author of Interracial Couples, Intimacy & Therapy: Crossing Racial Borders from Columbia University Press. Connect with him at (click), or via Linkedin at Kyle Killian.

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Agathangelou, A. M. 2010. Bodies of desire, terror and the war in Eurasia: Impolite disruptions of (neo) liberal internationalism, neoconservatism and the ‘new’  imperium.  Millennium: Journal of International Studies 38: 693-722.

Blow, C.M.  2009. Black in the age of Obama. New York Times, December 5. Retrieved January 19 2010 at

Pew Research Center. (2010). Blacks upbeat about Black progress, prospects: A Year After Obama’s Election. Retrieved April 24, 2010 at

Pew Research Center. 2010b. Growing number of Americans say Obama is a Muslim. Retrieved August 19, 2010 at

Pinderhughes, E.  (1989). Understanding Race, Ethnicity, and Power. New York: Free Press.

Twine, F. W. & Charles Gallagher. (2008). The future of whiteness: A map of the third wave. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 31, 4-24.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2010).  Economic News Release, Table 2.  Accessed April 27, 2010 at

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All the Rage: Interracial Couples in the News




All the Rage: Interracial Couples in the News

In the most recent census results, it was clear that interracial couples are a burgeoning phenomenon in the U.S., continuing to contribute to the diversity of society. Among opposite-sex married couples, one in 10 (5.4 million couples) are interracial, representing an increase of 28% since 2000.  In addition, the most recent census reported that 18% of heterosexual and 21% of gay and lesbian unmarried couples were of different races. Considering the salience of skin color in society, it is surprising that so little research and training has been devoted to race, and, more specifically, to interracial couples. Recognizing this gap, my research explores how interracial couples view themselves and the social forces that implicitly and explicitly influence partners’ perceptions and experiences. What is curious is how interracial couples are, and are not, a “big deal.”

150206-kyle-book1aFor example, a regular reader of my blog at Psychology Today posted a comment entitled “What? My Wife is White?”  George wrote, “My spouse is white and I am black. I never really think about it until I read articles like this or see characters on screen portrayed in an interracial relationship.”  George echoes an important theme of my book Interracial Couples, Intimacy & Therapy, that many interracial couples do not think about race and their differences in color and power and privilege until larger social systems, their extended families, communities, and larger society, do something or say something that raises this difference as an issue.

The partners themselves espouse a stance of colorblindness, like George, who then goes on to say, “As for the in-laws and others, they had to overcome their fears, ignorance, and exposure to something that truly did not expect or see in the world in which they were raised.”  This highlights that while many interracial couples state that race is not an issue for them, it is for other people: in-laws, persons in service professions (valets, hosts at restaurants, etc.), and strangers in public situations. At the same time, occasionally a blog reader will post a comment entitled “Zzzzz”, indicating their apparent lack of interest in the blog’s theme (which begs the question of why they were visiting the blog in the first place; but in web parlance, let’s not feed the trolls).  Interracial couples? No big deal, right?  Racism? Does that still exist?

In an attempt to reality test, I googled “interracial couples in the news” to see what I’d find from the simplest, most cursory search of the internet. I wasn’t fishing for incidents or attacks; I just inserted those five key words in the search engine. Some highlights from the first page of 1,710,000 results are as follows: “Interracial couple attacked outside Queens bar”; “Interracial couple receives racist note on Atlanta valet ticket”; “Kentucky church bans interracial couples”; “Iowa cops investigate hate crime after couple’s house burns”; “Interracial couple discriminated against in Tennessee”; and “High school teacher suspended after comment to interracial couple”.

From these news stories, not limited to southern states, it’s safe to say that interracial couples across the country do not always feel safe.  I believe that there is more work to be done in the area of race, race relations, and racism in the US.  I believe that interracial couples, in embodying racial border crossings in their movement through public spaces together, are a lightning rod for negative attention in our society; they are targets of reactivity from people who consciously and unconsciously “fragment” or break apart interracial couples so that white bodies do not move through space with black bodies due to implicit and explicit racial attitudes, and prejudice.  I think we have room to improve, and I’d like to discuss which interracial couples seem to be targets for rage, and theorize why.

Interracial couples are still a lightning rod for negative attention in U.S. society, I believe, because partners in these relationships embody racial border crossings in their movement through public spaces together. By associating with one another, traveling together, and by touching and kissing one another, they defy notions of racial purity and the principle of homogamy (the idea that happy couples must come from similar backgrounds, culturally or racially). Interracial couples are targets of reactivity from people who consciously and unconsciously fragment interracial couples, and multiracial families, so that bodies with different pigmentation do not move through space together. But which interracial couples seem to be targets for rage?
150206-kyle-book2aBack in 2013, the breakfast cereal Cheerios had an advertisement that featured a black man, a white woman, and a biracial daughter. The black man and white woman were not seen together in the same room in the commercial, and yet, the outrage over being forced to see the mere suggestion of a multiracial family was so intense that Cheerios had to disable comments on YouTube due to flurry of racist comments.

In contrast, quite a few brands over the past several years have produced commercials that feature black women with white men, but these have not caused near the stir of the Cheerios ad. Did you see the Philadelphia Cream Cheese commercial where a white man and black woman make out on the elevator going up to their apartment, and touch and kiss as they prepare (and consume, with quite a bit of gusto) dinner together?  What a good-looking, and happily cavorting, couple they made. And it didn’t seem to upset anybody. We see a rising number of commercials, and television shows, with black women-white men couples. So, why does seeing a black man with a white woman raise such rancor, but not the other combination?

From the time of the silent film Birth of a Nation (1915), small and big screens have depicted black male sexuality as dangerous threat to the chastity of white women everywhere. White males may engage in romantic relationships with women of color in television and film, but rarely if ever do we see men of color in intimate relationships with white women.  Scandal features the interracial pairing of Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) and President “Fitz” Grant (Tony Goldwyn) and audiences aren’t complaining so much about their hooking up; the only issue some viewers had is with the President’s infidelity.

So, what’s this really about? Perhaps (white) audiences see white men as interracial adventurers or colonists, going where no white man has gone before, and who can blame them?  Perhaps audiences construct them as “white knights” saving black damsels from the distress of finding, or being with, a black partner. The irony is that the white male-black female couples are far less common than the black male-white female couples, according to the U.S. Census.  Black men get together with white women far more frequently in our society, but this is not represented on our TV sets at home. Maybe folks just aren’t ready to face the facts: That black men do date and marry white women, and while the walls and foundation haven’t collapsed and crumbled as a result, the interracial revolution still will not be televised.

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Kyle D. Killian, Ph.D., LMFT is a licensed couple and family therapist and clinical supervisor. He is the author of Interracial Couples, Intimacy & Therapy: Crossing Racial Borders from Columbia University Press. Connect with him at (click), or via Linkedin at Kyle Killian.

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5 most difficult hurdles I had to overcome when I left S’pore for Korea


5 most difficult hurdles I had to overcome when I left S’pore for Korea

Just because you know how to sing all the latest K-pop hits doesn’t mean Korea is the place for you.

When in Rome Korea, do as the Romans Koreans do.

Moving to a completely foreign country like Korea requires a few years of preparation, and still you can never be too prepared. Both Singapore and Korea might be Asian countries with a somewhat similar economic development story, but the similarities end there.


Korea, with its unique community, culture and lifestyle, takes a lot more to adapt to than simply learning a few Korean words and/ or K-pop ditties.

I made the decision a few years ago to head out of Singapore, and I chose Korea as my destination. I have been living in Korea for almost two years now.

Like it or not, I had to face the consequences of that choice, and there were a number of difficulties I faced when I first arrived in Seoul.

Here are the 5 of the most difficult problems I encountered and solved one by one by one, — alone — in a completely new environment.


1. Language


The very first hurdle I had to overcome was the language. Coming from a country where the majority is effectively bilingual, you’d think it’d be relatively easy to pick up another language, right? Wrong.

I started studying the Korean language in 2010, about two years before my move, and then I spent another six months in Korea picking up intermediate Korean. Basic conversational Korean managed to help me get around and order food, but that’s about it.

I needed a higher level of Korean proficiency if I wanted to live comfortably in Korea. Things got exponentially easier once I was able order food beyond bibimbap, shop for my own groceries and get around the city in modes of transportation other than the subway.

I had to deal with several important administrative matters where all information is almost exclusively in Korean — like signing a lease for a rental room, contracting a mobile phone line, and opening a bank account. A good command of the language, both written and spoken, helped greatly in navigating these matters.


2. Accommodation


The real estate market in Korea is expensive, and there was no way I would be able to rent an apartment. I searched several websites like Craiglist and some Korean websites to find a suitable room to rent, and it took at least two months in Seoul before I found a more permanent place to stay.

I soon found out that there were studio apartments called one-rooms that I would be able to rent at reasonable prices, and set up appointments to view these places. More often than not, I was disappointed with them — they looked nothing like what the pictures on the websites showed. Space was an issue, and some of these one-rooms were in such bad condition and had no windows.

I started to think out of the box and searched websites like Airbnb. Most listings on such websites would only rent to travelers or those on short-term stays, and I had to learn to convince (usually in Korean) the home owners to rent their rooms to a poor student like me for at least a year.


3. Food

There is a lot of delicious food in Korea, and for a while, I enjoyed myself trying out all the different foods the country had to offer. Everything tasted delicious and authentic, and cost only a fraction of what I had to pay for Korean food in Singapore.

But we don’t call Singapore a food paradise for nothing. I started missing the diversity of flavours I took for granted back home. You can classify all Korean food as either spicy or bland. And while I am a fan of spicy, spicy Korean food doesn’t even get close to sambal belachan.

I wanted to cook some simple Singaporean food — Yong Tau Foo, Laksa, Chicken Rice — but I couldn’t get the ingredients I needed for these dishes. No non-sticky rice, no coconut milk, no tau pok available at even large supermarkets like Lotte and E-Mart.

I had to rely on my friends coming to Korea for travel to bring some ingredients — like pandan leaves for Nasi Lemak — whenever I needed to satisfy my cravings.


4. Administrative Matters


No one likes to deal with administrative matters — they’re long drawn hassles, and you sometimes have to deal with unreasonable staff processing your documents.

Getting my D2 Visa to study in Korea seemed like a simple enough process, except that I needed a long list of official documents ready before I could actually apply for it. Certain visas qualify a foreigner to apply for an ID (called the Alien Registration Card in Korea), and without it, I would be ineligible for a number of essential services like a bank account and a mobile phone line.

Of course, tied to these services are deadlines and requirements (you need to have an eligible visa to apply for an ID — which you have to do within 90 days of entering the country — an ID to apply for a bank account, and a bank account to apply for a mobile phone line), which I had to figure out on my own, after several wasted trips to the embassy, immigration center, bank and telecom store.


5. Finances


When I made the decision to move out of Singapore, I also wanted to make sure that I made it out on my own. This was an extremely difficult issue, because higher education is costly. I saved up for a number of years before I was ready to be financially independent.

My full-time MBA course is partially financed by a scholarship provided by the school (which means I have to watch my grades), and am currently holding three different part-time jobs to help me to cover my rent, bills and expenses.

It has not been easy juggling being a full-time student with so many other responsibilities, but I’m determined to make this venture work out.

When I moved to Korea, it took me a lot longer than I initially thought it would to know the ins and outs of getting around the place. Sometimes I got frustrated and most other times I’m exhausted from the sheer effort I had to put in to make things work.

Patience and resilience became my two new best friends — and I’ve learnt to always keep them close to me whenever I encounter any difficulties living in a foreign country.

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Note: The views, services and/or experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor. This featured post was first released via on 17 May 2014, and was republished with prior consent. is a Singaporean digital news agency.

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Homer Hulbert – Man of Vision & Friend of Korea

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Homer Hulbert – Man of Vision & Friend of Korea

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Well known amongst Koreans for the words written on his tombstone, Homer B. Hulbert (1863-1949) was the famous American who said, “I would rather be buried in Korea than in Westminster Abbey.”


Homer Hulbert first came to the Kingdom of Joseon (1392-1910) — today’s Korea — on the 4th day of July, 1886 (age 23) to spend 5 years an educator for the “Royal College” at Seoul. This Royal College at Seoul was the first modern day school created directly by King Gojong for the purpose of introducing an English and western-world-oriented education system. An initiative which was based upon the recommendations that came from the Korean (a.k.a. Corean) “Bobingsa” delegation — the First Korean Embassy delegation — after their trip to the United States in 1883.

Upon his arrival, he (Homer B. Hulbert) became quickly fluent in Korean, and began his life’s journey toward becoming one of the greatest Americans to have set foot on Korean soil.

150108-hul-03-his-krAfter having served, in full, his five-year term (1886-1891) in Korea as a teacher (educator), Homer Hulbert returned back to the United States, and then came back once again to Korea (Kingdom of Joseon) in 1893 (age 30) as a Methodist Church missionary. During this period, Homer B. Hulbert would publish many of his landmark books written in English such as the History of Korea (1905) and the Passing of Korea (1906).

In addition to this, and on 28 October 1903, Homer Hulbert along with James S. Gale (1863-1937) and Philip L. Gillett (1874-1939) started the YMCA in Seoul located at Jongno-2-ga. Near, or shortly after the year 1905, the YMCA (Young Men’s Christen Association) in Seoul had begun to introduce the sports of baseball, basketball and ice-skating to Koreans for the first time.

After having become a witness to the injustice brought upon to the people of Korea (Joseon), Homer Hulbert later in his life became an active international figure who had helped, so vigorously, to protect, save and keep Korea’s Independence from the Japanese. In his own words, “Calumny has does its worst, and justice has suffered an eclipse” in reference to what had seen unfold in front of his very own eyes.

A few more words from his famous book, The Passing of Korea (1906), resonate as the truth today. These words are (were) . . . “when the spirit of the nation, quickened by the touch of fire, shall have proved that though sleep is the image of death, it is not death itself”.


During the early 1900s, not all Americans had supported the idea of America, in international affairs, as a nation which should ultimately seek to pursue an European-like Imperialism with respect to their overseas territories.

By the same token, Homer Hulbert was openly critical of Theodore Roosevelt’s view of approving Japan’s takeover in Korea (Source: New York Times, December 5, 2009), in order to create a crisp swap scenario for solidifying and securing the United States acquisition of the Philippines without hostile military threat from Japan.

Today, the content of the Taft-Katsura (Secret) Agreement – whether it was a simple memorandum, signed agreement, or an exchange of talk by ghosts, in nature – seem all to be approaching a level of truth.

Now, and all this time, without having first-hand knowledge of, and insights into, such clandestine war operatives (talks) happening in the background, Homer Hulbert agreed, without reservation, to serve as a special envoy for Korea’s King Gojong to represent Joseon (Korea) overseas during his trip to the United States in 1905 and months prior to the Second Hague Convention (1907) with the end-goal of communicating the truth and injustice, to the world, and the invalidity (forcefully fabricated nature) of the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1905 (a.k.a. Eulsa Treaty) which never obtained the consent nor the signature (stamp/seal) of King Gojong.

However, the Korean emissiary delegation was blocked from entry into the Convention Hall. Joseon (Korea) – whether right or wrong – had somehow already been stripped of the power to exercise diplomacy, as an independent nation, in the eyes of attending nations.

Shortly thereafter, word spread to Tokyo. Homer Hulbert was expelled — not permitted to return back to Korea and forced to go back to the United States — during May 1907 by the Japanese-resident General, and King Gojong (Emperor Gojong) was eventually forced to abdicate his throne. The Kingdom of Joseon (1392-1910) — i.e., the Yi Family Dynasty — forever ceased its existence on 29 August 1910 with the “Passing of Korea.”

Miraculously, it would take another 35 years — and the Liberation of Korea (on 15 August 1945) — before Hulbert’s prophecy in which he said, “sleep was an image of death, and not death itself” and in which he also dreamt that Korea would one day rise from its sleep soon became a “vision” that would eventually come true.

150108-hul-05-medalHomer Hulbert was 86 years-old when he returned back to see an independent Korea in 1949, as a honorary high-level State guest, at the invitation of South Korea’s first President Syngman Rhee. A total period of 42 years had gone by for Homer Hulbert. During this trip in 1949 to Seoul, he become ill and soon passed away.

Today, Homer Hulbert rests in external peace at the Yanghwajin Foreigner Missionary Cemetery located in Northwestern Seoul – north of, and along, the Han River.

After his death, Homer Hulbert was awarded the Republic of Korea’s (South Korea’s) Order of National Foundation (Independence Medal of Honor) on the 1st day of March 1950.  His Korean name is “Hul-Bub” (흘법, 訖法), which sound very similar to his last name Hulbert, and is so inscribed in South Korea’s national registry by using his Korean Name.

150108-hul-06-cmedalMore recently (last year), he was recognized once again on the 9th day of October 2014, (Hangul Day), by the Republic of Korea’s (South Korea’s) government by being awarded with the Order of Cultural Merit (Gold Crown Medal of Honor) – 64 years after receiving his Independence Medal.

As a great American in Korea (East Asia) — he, with grace and tremendous dignity, greatly represented his Republic, the nation under God, and a country which stood (stands) for liberty and justice for all.

In 1999, the Hulbert Memorial Society was formed by Professor Dong-Jin (DJ) Kim. He is still actively serving as the Society’s Chairman to help honor and remember Homer B. Hulbert. The Korea Society invited Mr. Kim to speak on April 6 (Wednesday), 2011. This 2011 presentation can be viewed by looking it up on YouTube, or by clicking HERE.

♦ Language Footnote ♦

  • Homer B. Hulbert, Korean Name = 흘법 (訖法)
  • Royal College at Seoul // 육영공원 // 育英公院
  • Bobingsa // 보빙사 // 報聘使
  • Jongro-2-ga // 종로2가 // 鍾路2街
  • Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery, 양화진외국인선교사묘원 (楊花津外國人宣敎師墓園)

♦ Related Outside Stories and External Links via the World Wide Web ♦

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Korea: A nation (culture) where “age” pre-determines the way you talk


Korea: A nation (culture) where “age” pre-determines the way you talk

One of the most unique and important aspects of understanding Korean society — which is too often overlooked by (and not well enough explained to) someone who is being exposed to Korean culture for the first time — is the “age” factor which is embedded into its society and language. In fact, many people get extremely offended and get caught off guard when a Korean person approaches them to ask, “What year were you born?” or “How old are you?”

To those who are unfamiliar with the Korean language and culture, the first question that comes to mind after hearing this questions is, “Excuse me?” and then after a split second; the second question naturally becomes, “hey, wait a minute . . . what’s my age got to do with our immediate conversation?” In other words, you quickly become lost. Why is this (Korean) person asking me, “how old am I?” How bizarre?

Well, the secret resides in the fact that “age” greatly impacts all Koreans during their social interactions with one another without exception. This “age” factor is so huge — and so different than any other language in the world — that it will impact (A) how you will talk, (B) how you will behave, and (C) also even pre-determine who can be your friends.

This is very unique to Korea. No other “known” language is the entire world uses your own age and your relative age to the (other) person to whom you are speaking with as a point of reference. Even though they may have a “polite” form, not even the Chinese or Japanese language has this special (unique) language characteristic which is strictly based upon one’s age.

Specifically, the way one speaks to someone who is older is different than the way one speaks to someone who is younger than himself (herself); and the language (selection of words and tone) used amongst “same” age individuals also varies when speaking the Korean language.

For instance, if you are a younger person speaking to an older person, then you would (be socially obligated to) use the “respectful” form of Korean; and if you are an older person speaking to a younger person, it would be natural to use the “plain” form of Korean speech. If one is uncertain of the other person’s age, then the “respectful” form is typically used.

There are English translations which say that the “respectful” form is “formal” and the “plain” form is “informal” but this translation is not correct because the main “cut” for determining which form to use is made by one’s relative “age” and not dictated by the situation (context) is a formal or informal setting.

♦ Value Added Insight ♦

If we further examine the “age” factor associated with Korean culture, one can easily see the reasons for why the “year” of your college “entrance” is more important than one’s “graduating” year. In other words, and for example, if you entered college (university) in 1995, this would put you in an “older” and/ or “senior” position than someone who had entered college in 1998.

Moreover, and after entering the workforce — i.e., after graduating from high-school or college — the age factor is overlaid with another important factor which is your (company) “title.” This is the “title” which is written on your business card. The person who has the higher “title” – which implicitly means that s/he has seniority — will speak differently, different tone and different way, to someone who has a “lower” (or more junior) title than s/he; and will most likely only extensively not socialize (become very close friends) with people who are of similar “title” and/or “age.”

Such underlying social factors feed into the culture of religiously exchanging “business cards” during initial commercial meetings in South Korea. To show-up at a (business) meeting without a deck of business cards (in South Korea) is considered impolite. One of the main things a (Korean) person would look at immediately after receiving another person’s business card (and probably you should too) will be the other person’s title (or rank) in the company, in addition to a name, in order to line-up with the right person – someone who has a similar “title/rank” to him (or her) for dialog.

From a human resources development perspective, the “age and title” factor become very important (sensitive) subject when promotions are being made (announced) within corporations and/or government agency settings. Under extreme examples, the “title” that one holds will become more important than one’s salary increase and/or work responsibilities (job description). This is because, if you hold a more “senior” position, all others (below you) within the company (organization) will speak to you by using the “respectful” form of Korean which is considered highly desirable under Korean culture (norms).

Even today, it is not uncommon for older people to feel offended (i.e., get pissed off) if / when a younger aged person is promoted (appointed) to a higher ranking position above them unless they are truly gifted and/or has extraordinary talent (capabilities).

♦ Food for Thought ♦

If / when you are visiting Korea and someone asks you of your age, this is a positive sign. This means (more often than not) that this person (who is asking) would like to get to know you better, and wishes to continue the discussion by addressing you and talking to you in a culturally (Korean) “proper” way. Here “proper” is determined, once again, by whether are you older (senior) than me or younger (junior) than me.

Thus, and even though it may come across as being wild and an extremely exotic thought, imposing this question of age is absolutely normal in South Korea. In fact, people when they are asked to introduce themselves in Korean will often squeeze in a few sound-bites that either directly or indirectly indicates his, or her, age. For example, a person might say that s/he had started university in 1997. This means that you can guess his (her) age from the year s/he started college relative to when (the year) you had started college. Or s/he may indicate his (or her) “title” at the end of his / her name. Typically, the more senior the title, the more “respectful” form of Korean language must be used.

Now, and if all men (and women) were created equal in a modern democratic society, does the Korean language (culture) contradicts such equality? Even though South Korea follows a democratically “elected” presidential and government system where separation of legislative, administrative and judicial branch of government exists, the language which people use today is very un-democratic.

It is arguable, therefore, that in order for South Korea to become a “true” democratic nation as in the “western” (world’s) sense, it’s language (and in turn its culture) needs to be overhauled (or so called “upgraded” which is the term used in Korea) by doing away with its “respectful” form of language which is simply based upon a person’s age, and not his (her) moral character.

The real question is whether South Korea wants to become a “western” democracy? Or will simply “resembling” a western democracy on the outside — without any major overhaul to its core aged-based discriminatory system — be good enough?

♦ Language Footnote 

  • 존댓말 / respectful (form) language
  • 반말 / plain (or normal) talk (language)
  • 막말 / extremely rude (often loud and vulgar) language


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International Students in China


International Students in China

According to 2011 statistics, the greatest number of international students studying in China came from South Korea with a total of 62,442 students. Next on the list was the United States with 23,292 and then Japan with 17,961 students.


While there has been a noticeable increase of students from the United States and Thailand over the past 5 years; South Korean students has held relatively flat; and the number of students from Japan has switched places with the United States — from 2nd to 3rd — after 2007.


As shown in the chart below, the number of students coming from Europe to China was also significant with a total of 47,271 students.


Recently, there has been a positive campaign to send a target of more than 100,000 students to China from the United States. Roughly 1/3 of all Chinese students study English whereas an estimated 60,000 students in the United States are learning (Mandarin) Chinese.

♦ Food for Thought ♦

Although 2014/2013 statistics about South Korean students have not been officially released yet, it is very likely (highly probable) that the United States will now be the country that’s sending the most number of students to China – more than any other country.

♦ Related Outside Stories and External Links via the World Wide Web ♦

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Every American Should Work/Live Abroad


Every American Should Work/Live Abroad

140801everyam03In just a few days, I’ll have been living and working in the Netherlands for 8 months, with the hope of continuing for at least another few years. This is a pretty big step for someone who never did a semester abroad, and only took a handful of trips overseas. Especially considering I moved to a country where English is not the native language, and I don’t speak a word of Dutch.

Despite what would seem like a massive list of reasons NOT to jump at the opportunity to pack up my life and move thousands of miles away from friends and family, I took the plunge and did it anyway. It was scary. It was stressful. It regularly made me ask myself “What the heck was I thinking?!”

But you know what? It was absolutely worth it and now it’s an experience I’d recommend to anyone who has the opportunity, regardless of difficulties or fears. It’s an experience that can broaden your horizons in so many ways and can make you a better employee/boss through the rest of your career.

  • Learn to Communicate Clearly

As an American, I didn’t realize how much I relied on idioms, cultural references and analogies to express myself and communicate my ideas. When suddenly faced with an office full of coworkers that didn’t speak English natively (though all spoke it well), I had to figure out how to change my communication style. Already my English has started to transform from “American” to a more International form of English, one that is stripped down to its most basic. The benefit of this is a kind of clarity to what is said. I’m a much better communicator now than I was a year ago.

  • Deal With Cultural Differences

As every industry becomes more global with outsourcing, international business deals, partnerships etc. the ability to identify and deal appropriately with cultural differences is more important than ever. In my job at Spil Games, I worked in an office with 30+ different nationalities represented, with my team alone having folks from 8 different countries. Immediately I had to learn how to navigate meetings and conversations with people from all over the world, with each requiring a slightly different approach.

A great example is Dutch bluntness. The Dutch are, by American standards, blunt to the point of being extremely rude. They value direct honesty in almost all cases. If they think your haircut is ugly, they’ll just come out and say it. They aren’t trying to insult you, they’re merely stating what they see as fact, and would appreciate the same direct honesty in return. I had to quickly learn how to receive Dutch feedback without getting angry/insulted, and I also had to learn to give more direct feedback in return. A definite change from the American approach of trying to soften everything so as to not to appear mean or rude.

  • Experience the World From a Different Viewpoint

I’m probably going to piss someone off by saying this, but I don’t necessarily think the American Way is always the Best Way in every aspect of life. This doesn’t mean I think the US does everything wrong, I just don’t blindly accept that it’s the end-all-be-all of How to Do Things Right.

Living overseas, if you approach it with an open mind, can give you a new view on the World, a different one from what you grew up with at home in a way you just can’t get moving around the US (though you could argue that living in California vs Texas is like living in two separate countries). Living in a place where things are done differently gives you a chance to view the world from a new perspective. It can challenge your prejudices and open you to totally new ideas and experiences.

Here are a few ideas I held personally before moving to the Netherlands that have been challenged and while these are small things in the grand scheme, they’re representative of the kind of new viewpoints you might encounter living abroad. Beyond the specific new ideas you discover, it opens up your mind more to the idea that maybe there are other ways to approach a particular problem or situation, and that willingness to explore is a huge advantage in any job.

I’d never want to give up owning a car  As an experiment, we decided to not buy a car immediately upon moving, giving walking, biking and the national train system a try to see if that would meet our transit needs. Turns out it does! I haven’t driven a car since November 2nd, 2013 and it’s only been an annoyance (and not even a major one) once or twice.

Mandated, government regulated healthcare is a nightmare that doesn’t work This is a huge political topic back home that has people fuming with rage, and having worked for an insurance company once I had severe doubts that a health insurance system where you’re mandated by the govt to have coverage wouldn’t be a bureaucratic nightmare that would cost a fortune. Turns out, the Dutch have found a really nice middle-ground approach to the problem I think the US could learn a lot from.

Things Should be Open 24/7  Here in Hilversum, shops close up around 5pm on Saturday, and generally don’t re-open until 1pm on Monday. Grocery stores etc mostly close up by 9pm. Regular shops are shuttered by 6pm. This is such a shock to the system for someone who’s used to pretty much everything being open 24/7 (or close to it). The first few weeks were maddening! I couldn’t just get up and go out to grab something at any time I wanted! I had to wait!

But I found once I got out of the habit of having access to stores at any time of the day or night, I found myself buying less junk. Also, I noticed the fact that everything’s not constantly open, has a slowing effect on life that manifests itself countless ways that results in what I’d consider a far more relaxed lifestyle. A lifestyle I kind of like!

  • Learn to Work With Non-US Companies & Workers

Everyone who’s ever worked with an overseas outsourced company, contractor or partner knows the struggles of trying to fit them into the way business is done in the US. In addition to learning how to better communicate, and appreciate cultural differences, there is a lot to be gained in understanding how different people from around the world work. Knowing more about these differences means you can better plan for them and how they may impact a project.

It’s often mocked in the US, how much vacation time European workers get, or how they stick so hard-and-fast to a 40 hour work week (or sometimes less). Some of it’s jealousy, some of it’s smug satisfaction (Hah! They don’t work nearly as hard as I do!), but it always results in resentment, frustration and extra work when it impacts a project.

If you know about these sorts of differences going into a relationship or project, you can save yourself a lot of pain by building it into your plans and contracts. Sadly, in my experience most US workers enter into relationships with companies and workers around the world expecting them to conform to the American way of working, and it almost always ends badly.

In many ways, living and working overseas teaches you a lot of the soft skills and tools an MBA program promises you. It equips you better to adapt to difficult situations, improve your communication, and learn to view problems from multiple perspectives. While I’ve been out here less than a year so far, I honestly feel that I’ve grown more professionally in these 8 months than I did in the preceding 5 years.

And whenever I do move back to the US, I’ll be a much stronger employee and a better manager for the experience.

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Michael Crassweller is a veteran of the video games industry with 8 years’ experience managing external relationships with global publishing and development partners, internal operational teams, and providing subject matter expertise & operational support across groups in both small and large corporations. Today he’s the Head of Platform Services at BoosterMedia in the Netherlands where he oversees Game QA, Localization, Content Licensing and more. Connect with him at


Note: The views, services and experiences expressed in this Featured Post are solely those of the contributor.


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International Students in South Korea


International Students in South Korea

In looking at figures released by Statistics Korea, the number of international students studying in South Korea first exceeded the 80,000 mark, with 83,842 students, in 2010; and peaked in 2011 at 89,537. These headcounts, however, also include “non-degree” pursuing students who came (or who are coming) to attend a Korean university for language courses and/or as an exchange students, for example. If we exclude these “non-degree” students, the international student figure stood at 60,000 students in 2010.


The Top 5 countries for students who are pursuing their Bachelor, Master or Doctoral degree in South Korea are (1) China, (2) Mongolia, (3) Vietnam, (4) Japan and (5) the USA. For non-degree students, the rank is (1) China, (2) Japan, (3) USA, (4) Mongolia and (5) Taiwan as shown in the below two (2) charts:



The total number of international students coming to South Korea from Europe is extremely low. The order for European countries is (1) Russia, (2) France, (3) Germany, (4) UK, (5) Netherlands, (6) Sweden, (7) Austria, (8) Finland, (9) Spain and (10) Poland.


♦ Value-Added Insight ♦

International students who were pursuing their Bachelor’s degree were in high enrollment at (1) Kyunghee University, (2) Sungkyunkwan University, (3) Konkuk University, (4) Hanyang University and (5) Chung-Ang University in 2010.


On the other hand, and for Graduate School the student enrollment profile favored (1) Seoul National University, (2) Yonsei, (3) Kyunghee, (4) Korea and (5) Sungkyunkwan University in terms of headcount figures.


For non-degree, students attended programs at (1) Ewha, (2) Yonsei, (3) Kyunghee, (4) Sangmyung and (5) Korea University.


Another interesting figure is in the number of students pursuing a Ph.D. in the field of Science and Engineering. Surprisingly, the “University of Ulsan” had the most number of students; and SNU (Seoul National University), which is the often quoted best university in Korea, was ranked in an unfamiliar 6th place position.


Food for Thought

Based on the statistics from the Ministry of Education and Statistics Korea, South Korea still needs to make considerable amount of investments, and implement policy change to attract more bright and talented students from abroad.

South Korea is highly dependent on student arrivals from China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Japan and Taiwan in East Asia; and the USA, Russia and Canada from overseas. Students from China are near, or above, 70% of all international students which reflects a new degree of dynamic social and academic exchange that is happening now among the younger twenty-something age group.

The total student population – number of students entering into college – in South Korea will soon start, or has already begun, to decline. Thus, some universities in South Korea will become more and more dependent on international students to maintain their size in terms of revenue and enrollment levels.

According the our preliminary analysis, and leading in the field of globalization for “full academic degree” programs – for this year – among Korean Universities are (1) Kyunghee University, (2) Yonsei University, (3) Sungkyunkwan University, (4) Konkuk University and (5) Hanyang University.

♦ Related Outside Stories and External Links via the World Wide Web ♦

♦ More information from YouTube


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International Students in the United States

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International Students in the United States

140605 intnalstdntsus01

The total number of international students studying in the United States during 2012-2013 was 819,644 students; and their net contribution to the U.S. economy was approximately $23.95 billion dollars (USD). This amount is a net contribution of roughly $29,000 dollars (USD) per student per year.

During 2012-2013, the Top 5 countries from which international students to the United States originated were (1) China = 235,597 (28.7%); (2) India = 96,754 (11.8%), (3) South Korea = 70,629 (8.6%); (4) Saudi Arabia = 44,566 (5.4%) and (5) Canada 27,357 (3.3%).140605 intnalstdnchart02

According to IIE (Institute for International Education) statistics, the number of Japanese students has been gradually declining over the past 8 to 9 years — a decline which had first started during the 2005-2006 academic year — while the number of students from China (excluding Taiwan) have been growing significantly.

Going the other way around, and during the 2010 to 2011 academic year, the United States had 273,996 students studying abroad where the most popular destinations were (1) UK = 33,182; (2) Italy = 30,361; (3) Spain = 25,965; (4) France = 17,019; (5) China = 14,596; (6) Australia = 9,736; (7) Germany = 9,018; (8) Costa Rica = 7,230; (9) Ireland = 7,009 and (10) Argentina = 4,589.

♦ Value-Added Insight ♦

Students from China are studying for, and pursuing, international university degrees in vast numbers worldwide. From Asia, it is also the students from Chinese, South Koreans and Indians who are proactively seeking academic excellence and high scholastic achievements.

Given the fact that South Korea’s population is 50 million people, the outgoing nature and percentage of South Korean students studying abroad today is an exceptional phenomenon unprecedented in world history.

140605 intnalstdnchart03

The field of international education is a field where Japan is also following greatly behind China these days.

The Chinese international student prefer to study in (1) the United States; (2) Australia; (3) Japan; (4) United Kingdom; and (5) South Korea. Whereas South Korean international students prefer (1) the United States; (2) China; (3) Canada; (4) Japan and (5) Australia. The Japanese international student prefers (1) the United States; (2) China; (3) Canada, (4) South Korea; and (5) the United Kingdom.

♦ Food for Thought ♦

If the term globalization has any meaning associated with international students, the leaders of the pack in this field are, by far, China and India. How this will impact our global society over the next 25-50 years is something which still needs to be watched closely.

The South Koreans are moving forward aggressively in the area of obtaining an international education (degree), while the Japanese are surprisingly reclusive.

The number of highly educated Chinese and Indians returning back to their home countries after obtaining their advanced degrees due to strict United States immigration and labor laws will continue to fuel debate over what type of policy is really in the best interest of all of those — both individuals and countries — that are involved.

One thing is clear, however, the economic value of total dollars spent on tuition, housing, airfare, travel, food, used cars, bikes, computers, cell phones and apparel by all of these international students studying in the United States is quite a large sum. Not all, but the majority of these international students are from well to do families who can afford to support their children’s overseas education.

♦ Related Outside Stories and External Links via the World Wide Web ♦


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University Ranking – South Korea’s Top Universities


University Ranking – South Korea’s Top Universities


The most prominent and highest internationally ranked universities in South Korea are POSTECH (Pohang University of Science and Technology, KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Technology and SNU (Seoul National University). These 3 particular schools are considered “extremely competitive” by South Korea’s general public in terms of getting accepted for attendance, and are consistently ranked within the World’s Top 100 Universities each year.

The following category of “highly competitive” universities in South Korea are Yonsei University, Sungkyunkwan University and Korea University. Next in order are “competitive” universities which are all generally accepted as being great schools in South Korea.


♦ Valued Added Insight 

Amongst those schools ranked as “extremely competitive” only SNU is what Korea technically considers as being a “comprehensive” university. The other 2 schools – specifically POSTECH & KAIST – are considered special universities geared toward Science, Engineering & Technology. Thus, these 2 universities are often left-out when “universities” in South Korea are mentioned.

As far as comprehensive universities are concerned, there is a local street term called SKY. This means “S”eoul National University, “K”orea University and “Y”onsei University which were traditionally the Top 3 schools in South Korea.

Recently, however, Sungkyunkwan University (SKKU) has joined the ranks of these 3 “highly competitive” universities. In fact, the Joongang Daily Newspaper recently ranked Sungkyunkwan University as the overall best “comprehensive” university in South Korea in their 2013 assessment even though Seoul National University still maintained their No. 1 position in terms of social reputation.

Moreover, the Global MBA Program at Sungkyunkwan University GSB (Graduate School of Business) is now the only Korean graduate business school to rank within the FT (Financial Times) Top 50 MBA schools in world ranking (2014).

The secret behind Sungkyunkwan University’s — the oldest university in East Asia (established in 1398, over 600 years ago) — rise through the ranks is the strength of the Samsung Group which runs the university. For instance, Samsung has made SKKU’s Medical School one of the best in East Asia.

POSTECH, on the other hand, was established in 1986 by the POSCO (f.k.a. Pohang Iron & Steel Company) – one of the world’s leading steel companies, and in 1998 was ranked by Asiaweek as the best science and technology university in Asia. It would as be worthwhile to mention that the Doosan Group – another Korean conglomerate group – in South Korea runs Chung-Ang University; and the Hanjin Group (Korean Air) runs Inha University. These two conglomerates, however, were not (and are not) as successful as Samsung and POSCO in terms of making notable improvements to their schools’ educational programs and international reputation.

As an honorary mention, the SolBridge International School of Business (Woosong University) is a school to watch and attractive to international students.

Even though their names do not appear as often on international university rankings, schools such as Hongik University, Dongguk University, Dangkook University and Sookmyung Women’s University are also considered “competitive” universities by South Koreans.

Furthermore, the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (or simply HUFS) is a “competitive” university and is one of a few schools in South Korea that places strong and comprehensive emphasis on learning foreign languages and culture. At last check, the school was teaching 45 foreign languages.

BUFS (or Busan University of Foreign Studies) is another respected school which places emphasis on foreign languages. For example, their school homepage is presented in 16 languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Thai, Turkish, Uzbek and Vietnamese).

To a large extent, graduates of HUFS and BUFS are pioneers who travel and go overseas to help South Korea become more internationalized (globalized) with their language skills and knowledge. This important role that they play is especially true when applied to non-English speaking nations.

Lastly, it should be noted that the Catholic University of Korea has an “extremely” competitive medical school program. The Department of English Literature at Ewha Womans University traditionally falls under the “highly” competitive category; and Hanyang University’s College of Engineering is also “highly” competitive in terms of its categorization.


 Food For Thought 

Under the GSU (Global Songdo University) program the following new breed of universities have either already opened-up (or are planning to open-up) a campus in South Korea to offer higher education and academic degrees.

  • State University of New York at Stony Brook (started – March 2012)
  • George Mason University (started – March 10, 2014)
  • University of Utah (planned – September 2014))
  • Ghent University (planned – September 2014)
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (discussions are ongoing – TBD)
  • Saint Petersburg State University (discussion are ongoing – TBD)

Many eyes are on these six-schools with respect to how the success of their East Asian campus in Songdo will unfold. It will be interesting to see how the academic programs of these schools are accepted by South Korean and other Asian students. In addition, and as the number of high-school graduating students continue to decline owing to low-birth rates, non-competitive South Korean universities will soon have to undergo severe restructuring just to survive. Thus, downsizing (in every sense of the word), school mergers, school reputation improvements (academic programs and job success for graduating students) and proactive marketing will become critical survival factors for South Korea’s less competitive schools.

♦ Language Footnote 

  • Comprehensive University // 종합대학 (綜合大學)
  • SNU (Seoul National University) // 서울대학교
  • KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology ) // 카이스트 (韓國科學技術院)
  • POSTECH (Pohang University of Science & Technology) // 포항공과대학교 (浦項工科大學校)
  • Yonsei University // 연세대학교 (延世大學校)
  • Korea University // 고려대하교 (高麗大學校)
  • Sungkyunkwan University  (SKKU) // 성균관대학교 (成均館大學校)
  • Kyunghee University // 경희대학교 (慶熙大學校)
  • Hanyang University // 한양대학교 (漢陽大學校)
  • Ewha Womens University // 이화여자대학교 (梨花女子大學校)
  • Sogang University // 서강대학교 (西江大學校)
  • Pusan National University (PNU) // 부산대학교 (釜山大學校)
  • Chung-Ang University // 중앙대학교 (中央大學校)
  • Kyungpook University // 경북대학교 (慶北大學校)
  • University of Seoul // 서울시립대학교 (서울시립대학교)
  • Inha University // 인하대학교 (仁荷大學校)
  • Konkuk University // 건국대학교 (建國大學校)
  • Chonbuk National University (CBNU) // 전북대학교 (全北大學校)
  • The Catholic University of Korea // 카톨릭대학교

♦ Related Outside Stories and External Links via the World Wide Web 

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