Ten Years in Korea: As A Filipina Daughter-in-Law

When I haven’t posted or replied to comments for a long time, it is usually because my parents-in-law are visiting us. I have been a Filipina daughter-in-law for exactly ten years. I came to Korea in late August of 2003. In this post, I’d be sharing some of my experiences and lessons I learned for the past ten years.

My MIL and SILs making kimchi for the winter season...
A MIL, SILs and a Filipina daughter-in-law making kimchi for the winter season…

Why your Korean parents-in-law may not like you *at first* as a daughter-in-law?

I remember clearly when I arrived here. My father-in-law (FIL) was civil while my mother-in-law (MIL) said that she had a headache and couldn’t stay awake longer. My husband later explained that his parents didn’t approve that he marry someone from Southeast Asia. There is a stigma attached to multicultural marriages. The Korean man is stereotyped as someone from the province, uneducated, unappealing and financially challenged that he couldn’t get married to a Korean woman. While the foreign woman is thought to be someone from a poor country, uneducated, unappealing and financially challenged that she would resort to marrying someone whom she doesn’t know very well and maybe old enough to be her father.

If your parents didn’t like you at first, this may be the reason. They don’t want people to think of their son as “undesirable”. Don’t take their initial impression negatively BUT instead work hard so that they would realize why your husband married you. If your parents-in-law truly believe that your husband loves you, they would soften and treat you like a real daughter.

Your parents-in-law always come first.

When you marry a Korean man, you become a part of his family and they become your first priority. That’s why when it comes to “myeongjeol” holidays, the wife serves her husband’s family. Unlike in the Philippines where a couple would usually decide where to spend the important holidays like Christmas or New Year’s Eve, here it is imperative that the couple celebrates with the man’s family.

Change your perception about 명절.

The two most important 명절 or festive holidays that we celebrate are Seollal (Lunar New Year) and Chuseok (Thanksgiving). We also have 제사 or ancestral offering once a year. These are the times when a 며느리 or daughter-in-law spends most time in the kitchen preparing food for the ceremony and meals. The first time I celebrated Chuseok, I truly hated it. I thought that I didn’t even have to do any household chore back in the Philippines, so why was I serving food and doing all those chores for them? Immature as it may sound, I almost cried back then. Later on I realized that it isn’t all that bad. My Korean sisters-in-law do more than I during the holidays. It is also the only time for us to bond while frying “jeons” or preparing meals. The men in our family do the “bolcho” or cutting of the weeds before Chuseok. They also make the mandu for Seollal since my mother-in-law thinks they make “prettier” mandu than the daughters-in-law.

Learn to cook Korean food.

Many elderly Koreasn have not tried non-Korean food in their lives. For them, Korean food is the best and as they say “you can’t teach old dogs new tricks”. When my parents-in-law are visiting, I always make Korean food for our meals. Even when they visit other countries, they prefer to eat at Korean restaurants. If you try to serve them non-Korean food, be prepared for the worst ~ like they would bluntly say it doesn’t taste good. Don’t get offended, as their taste buds are not used to foreign tastes. I remember when we had pizza at home (ordered from Papa John’s), my father-in-law said it was awful. One time that we ate out and had “tonkatsu”, he only had a slice and pushed the plate to my husband’s side ㅋㅋㅋ

Dress appropriately all the time.

My parents-in-law are quite conservative, and they require that we wear socks at home all the time ~ even during the summer! They also don’t like that the daughters-in-law wear shorts at home. I sometimes get away with not wearing socks, but not with the “shorts” rule. Also, when you go out with your in-laws make sure that you look presentable. Remember that appearance counts in Korea.

Learn to say “Yes” even if you don’t mean it.

I got this tip from my sisters-in-law. When my mother-in-law tells me or asks me to do something that I don’t agree with, my natural instinct would be to say “no”, but she will rant on when I do that. My second sister-in-law told me to just say “yes” to satisfy her. It felt odd at first, but I’d rather have peace. What she usually asks are mostly related to household chores.

Be prudent with your husband’s money.

My parents-in-law learned from watching “documentaries” that many foreign 며느리 send money to their families abroad. Don’t do this unless you are working. Remember that you are a part of your husband’s family and in Korean culture, they are your priority. If you want to send some money back home, try to get a job or if you’re not working send only on special occasions. Thankfully, I never have to send money to my mother and my parents made sure that their kids are self-reliant. I do send kids on occasion, though. If you want to go home from time to time, use your own money. On the few times that I traveled abroad, I never had to ask my husband for money. Saving money is important for Korean families.

If you’re working, give your mother-in-law some cash or presents even if it’s not her birthday. No matter the amount, she would appreciate it. When my parents-in-law are visiting, I try to give them money for the train tickets but they always refuse to accept but they appreciate the gesture.

Serve. Serve. Serve.

My husband doesn’t eat breakfast at home since he only has enough time in the morning for a shower. I prepare his morning smoothie of milk, green apple and yogurt powder. My son eats fried rice for breakfast before he’s off to school. He has lunch at school, too. I have brunch everyday, but when the in-laws are here I wake up earlier to prepare their breakfast. I also prepare lunch and dinner before I go to work. I spend about four to six hours preparing meals and cleaning up when the PILs are here. So I have no time for other things ~ like blogging!

When I visited my sister two years ago and her PILs were at her home, her FIL fixed his own breakfast and cleaned up his space too. They are also very candid when they talk and she calls him by his first name. That can never happen here!

Learn Korean!

I admit that I’m not as fluent in Korean as one would expect from someone who has lived in the country for a decade. I know enough Korean to converse with my parents-in-law. My FIL usually asks me about how life is in the Philippines. He is curious as he always see the Philippines featured in Korean shows. He also watches “Love in Asia” and sometimes we would talk about the lives of the women in the show. They have been to a lot of countries, but not the Philippines. They want to see the country with me. I’m quite hesitant to take them there, though. My FIL is disabled (2nd degree in Korea) and I’m not sure if it would be okay for him to travel there.

In my ten years as a daughter-in-law in Korea, I had some “hindi ako alila” moments during my first years. And I think that’s normal especially that I came from a different culture. I learned about “duty” over the years and I don’t have any baggage about my life here anymore. I feel that I’m a 착한며느리 now and my FIL never fails to thank me for treating them well whenever they visit. I tell my husband to invite his parents to live with us, but he really doesn’t want the habitual bickering that my PILs do almost every day. ㅋㅋㅋ

Remember that not all Korean parents-in-law are the same. My situation might be different from yours. I have traditional parents-in-law, but they have mellowed a bit over the years. My 큰형님 or first sister-in-law said that they were a lot stricter 15 years ago than they are now.

20 comments

  1. Wow, best article I’ve ever seen on that! You’re amazing for writing it. Thank you so much, this will be a great blessing to anyone who reads it, I pray everyone gets a chance to see it, because everyone needs this encouraging story and support and motivation in their lives. You’re truly a great person, mother, wife, and daughter-in-law with a great family! I can say that after watching my perfect wife during our 10 year marriage raise our 4 kids, and enduring our 3 sets of in-laws! Now she has a 4th set! And 5th child! I will send your article to her, she’ll love it! Koreans would scream in shock at how American families do it! Philippines is closer to the American style so you understand how it is. Love having a diverse world with so many beautiful cultures, life’s stories, and people who teach us new things about ourselves and world. Thank you for sharing yours!
    -Ben ㅅㅅ

  2. whenever i watch kdramas, i am appalled on how korean daughters -in-law are treated. they seem to be subjecting their daughters in law to some kind of hazing or initiation rites like in fraternities. how long does it last? their eating while you’re standing up, waiting on the family members etc etc do they really happen? are they really expected to do household chores even if they work? will you be as ‘cruel’ to your daughter in law if and when your son get married in the future.

    1. I don’t watch K-dramas a lot so I’m not sure how the daughters-in-law in the stories are treated. Based on my experience, I never had to stand up while the whole family is eating. AFter arranging the side dishes on the table, we all sit down to eat. At first, I didn’t want to sit down with them because I thought the table was too crowded and I would rather wait but my MIL thought it improper. I did household chores even if I had to work. If I don’t, nobody will. My husband prefers that he mops the floor. He doesn’t trust my mopping skill… I don’t see doing household chores or serving the family as “cruel”. For me, it’s more of a duty~~ like everyone in the family has a duty to fulfill.

  3. This post is very informative and helpful for many Filipinas married to a Korean, I always read stories of them running away from their husband because of misunderstanding, and problems with their MIL.

  4. Hi there. thanks for sharing your experience. I have a korean bf now and were living together in the PI. I do have a question though, just in case we marry, how do I become a korean passport holder? Thanks. 🙂

  5. Hello Filipina here in USA married to an American, but my best friend of over 30 years in Korean. This was so very informative because I get phone calls from her all the time about the anxiety she faces as a Korean woman married to a Korean man. She works tirelessly to please her PIL (especially her MIL) while her SILs really don’t do much. She really tries to keep the peace but she says she appreciates that she has a friend to talk to. Your article helps in giving me a better perspective since I sort of felt helpless when it came to advice. Most of the time I just say “hang in there” or “I am sure they appreciate you”. Thank you.

  6. hi..thanks for the informative blog about marrying a korean citizen.Can i ask for your advice,if you don’t mind? 🙂 I have a korean guy friend whom i have talked to for 2 years now and wanted to visit me in phil. He wanted to marry me and i have not yet told him what i really feel for him.I like him and i can honestly say i begin to have feelings for him cos he’s really a nice guy..never rude nor judgemental,or anything but really nice,decent and polite.I kind of hesitant to accept his proposal cos my parents are not in favor of koreans.i guess they were so annoyed of me listening to kpop and watch kdramas , watching my bias group videos or they just get mad at me spending time on my pc watching them on youtube LOL (i already lessened it since then or rather can’t let them caught me watching kpop or play kpop on my player) He’s gonna visit me in a couple of months from now (btw, I am not using him just to get to korea and see often my bias kpop group as funny as it sounds XD ) but i am hesitant and afraid of everything , foreign wives, or basically all that you’ve written,not that I hate household chores or taking care of his family but everything,new culture,new people,new language and new job.Thank God though his parents have died already so my concerns will be his siblings .kkkkk anyway, i wanted to ask you as well,what we will do when i accept his marriage.Will we marry here in phil. to get me a visa or we can get marry in korea like a fiancee visa??And i read that foreign spouses are eligible as english teacher after study or training?kindly help please..i am sooo confused so i can decide cos i don’t wanna hurt him if ever i back off ..i appreciate it so much

    1. Hi Vanessa! I know how you feel. I felt the same ~ confused ~ before I got married. It’s really scary especially that we don’t have a crystal ball to see what could our future be. Why would you marry him if ever? Why wouldn’t you? If you say no, it’s inevitable that he will get hurt. When you decide to marry him and come to Korea, you need to be more confident of yourself. Forget the small stuff and think about positive things. There are Filipinas who come here who are too sensitive that the slightest thing annoys them.

      Oh… anyway, you should marry in the Philippines. Korea does not have a fiancee visa and yes, you could work as an English teacher.

      Like what I said, you should be sure of your decision. And once you make the commitment, stick to it.

  7. Sheesh, you worked so hard to please them and I can’t help but feel kind of angry for you, even if you don’t feel that way. Like, why would you put up with them disapproving of you wearing shorts in your own house when they are visiting? Your husband and children should come first, not bending over backwards for your unreasonable in-laws’ demands.
    Do they treat your son, their grandson, well?

    1. Hi Sophie! I wear what I want to wear at home. I don’t wear socks, and my FIL always disapproves of it. When they start to complain, I just pretend I don’t understand. Yes, they treat my son well. In our family, it’s only my son who isn’t afraid of their grandfather. Thanks.

  8. Well, you’re a lot more tolerant than I’d be…lol…I just feel bad for all the Filipina women who marry into these families and have to cater to their in-laws hand and foot. I wish the in-laws, in general, were nicer to their non-Korean daughters-in-law. That’s probably one of the reasons why I’d probably never marry a traditional Korean man. Just out of curiosity, does your son (or children) speak Korean? Do they attend a regular Korean school or do they attend school for English speaking children?

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