Seoul/ Gangnam: The City With Four Tools (1990-2000) 3-3 Apgujeong-Dong, Gangnam Families’ English Pursuit

In the book “Measured Excess, Status, Gender, and Consumer Nationalism in South Korea” written in 2000 by Laura C. Nelson, Nelson conducted several interviews with middle- and upper-income women. They expressed ambivalence about Gangnam, especially Apgujeong-dong. It is an attractive place for shopping and commercial activities, but it is also a place where drinking and wild lifestyle of young people take place. One interviewee stated that, for other South Koreans, Apgujeong-dong was too westernized and that the culture encourages a selfish individualism. It topped both the list of the best and worst place to live in Gangnam.

Stated in the previous post, Gangnam District because of its prestigious high schools, newly built apartment housings, and also the promotion of government, since the 1980s has become the space of the new ruling class money, power, and academic cliques. Gangnam residents began to be recognized as wealthy and having influence in the society. Particularly in Apgujeong-dong, it is where the most expensive housing and the most luxurious shops locate. It is a place where the idea of social class is stated. It was also the playground of the infamous class of people, nicknamed the “Orange Tribe” or the “Yata Tribe.”

The Orange Tribe (Orenji-jok) refers to a characterization of rich young people in Gangnam especially prevalent in the early and mid-1990.  It was negatively portrayed as extravagant, rude and troublesome. They were infamous for their extravagant nightlife and partying, especially in Apujeong-dong. Many of them had early study abroad experiences because of their parents’ wealth. (Lee, 2014)The Orange tribe return during vacation or after graduation and giving off foreignness like expensive imported fruits. Even more outrageous were the Yata-jok who drove around in luxurious cars and try to pick up random women for casual sex with the phase: “Ya! Ta!”(“You! Get in!”). Bringing back the Western lifestyle back to Korea, they create a great shock to the rather conservative Korean society. (Koo, 2015)

Other than the Orange tribe, the fantasy of foreign language also penetrated the whole society in the 1990s.  As Korea’s fast development, English has become a sign of status and prestige. During the era, Korea entered an even more heated pursuit of English, often called the “English Fever.” Korean’s major cooperation place great importance on English in employment and promotion. University is introducing more English taught classes and regional governments have created “English villages.” (Park & Lo, 2012)This is a direct response to the intense competition of the Korean society referring to the job market and education field. Studying English became the middle-class strategy for class mobility and maintenance that responses to the demands of the market.

Early study abroad was another form of English pursuit specifically used by both the upper class and the middle-class Gangnam families. Compared to other Korean parents, the Gangnam parents pursued English for more sophisticated reasons. English becomes not only a necessitation, but English also became the key instrument used to gain both physical and psychological membership of the Gangnam community. It is related to prestige, financial superiority and related to the desire to be in the inner circle of Gangnam community. It was also an indispensable tool for handing over the parents’ current social status to their children, enabling them to match their parents’ successful Gangnam lifestyle. (Lee, 2014) The specialized education culture built up the identity of the Gangnam community and further accelerated the westernization of Gangnam, particularly Apgujeong-dong.

Even till now this pursuit of foreign languages through early study abroad still underly the Gangnam families. It is still a way to secure the membership of Gangnam and to show the self-satisfaction. Spoken by an interviewee in Lee Mun Woo’s studies, “‘Gangnam style’ English ideologies: neoliberalism, class and the parents of early study-abroad students” written in 2016:

There is an interesting story among Gangnam mothers about the class of the country for early study-abroad. The first-tier consists of America the USA and the UK. Can you guess the second-tier? The second-tier countries are Canada, Australia, New Zealand. And there’re also some other countries which can be called the third-tier, but as you can guess, those countries like India, Singapore, and the Philippines are not appealing to Gangnam mothers at all. So, if you want to be a good mum in Gangnam, you should be able to send your kids to USA or UK, not the Philippines [laughing].” (Mother 15)


Choi, M., 2011. When the Global and Local Meet: Meanings of English in ‘Post-colonial’ South Korea, Durham, North Carolina: Duke University.

Koo, S. W., 2015. When We Became Gangnam. [Online]
[Accessed 24 12 2017].

Lee, M. W., 2014. ‘Gangnam style’ English Ideologies: Neoliberalism,class and the parents of early study-abroad students. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, pp. 35-50.

Nelson, L. C., 2000. Measured Excess: Status, Gender, and Consumer Nationalism in South Korea. New York: Columbia University press.

Park, J. S.-Y. & Lo, A., 2012. Transitional South Korea as a site for a sociolnguistics of globalization: Markets, Timescales, Neoliberalism. Journal of Sociolinguistics, pp. 147-164.

1 Comment on “Seoul/ Gangnam: The City With Four Tools (1990-2000) 3-3 Apgujeong-Dong, Gangnam Families’ English Pursuit

  1. It is interesting to look at the city with their identity by foreign language. English represent international around the world. In this case, citizen feel upper class when they speak in English which influence a lot to the people over that place and even their membership of Gangnam and their self satisfactions. I believe one of the another factor of this is the economics. Korea before was not a developed country, therefore getting more international was the people hope at that time which makes them to feel ‘high-class’ when some people can speak in foreign language.

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