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Classes, cuisine and art recreate a taste of France

Feb 12,2007
Diners at Cafe la France in Seoul.
The primary goal of the Centre Culturel Francais, or French Cultural Center, in Seoul is to increase the relationships between young people in Korea and France, said Jean-Luc Maslin, the center’s director.
Sitting in an office decorated with events posters and filled with piles of books, Mr. Maslin told the JoongAng Daily that increasing cultural understanding in young minds is important because they are the decision makers of the future. Strengthening future ties between France and Korea should start early, he said.
To do this the cultural center near Namdaemun, downtown Seoul, offers a variety of services including group discussions, publications, films, language programs and contemporary and modern art events, including hip-hop dance shows.
The vast data the center offers goes beyond the books piled in Mr. Maslin’s office. Long lines of bookshelves crammed with material make the center look more like a library.
Mr. Maslin said many Korean students have visited the center to find information on studying in France. The director said approximately 1,700 Korean students go to France to study every year. Currently there are 7,000 Korean students in France.
“This is quite a number,” Mr. Maslin said. “It is the second largest student community from Asia.”
Chinese nationals make up the largest group of Asian students in France.
One of the programs the center offers is teaching French to students between the ages of 9 and 16. There is also a conversation class for those over 18 years of age. Both language programs are available for a fee.
Free programs at the center include a book club and a French singing club.
The French Cultural Center also employs a French chef to run Cafe la France, a restaurant on the opposite side of the building. Mr. Maslin said the restaurant is an important part of the center’s outreach because it allows Koreans to sample authentic French cuisine.
Mr. Maslin said the cultural center is planning to renovate the restaurant so that it can accommodate more customers starting next month.
“We’re hoping to diversify the menu and the number of French wines we offer,” Mr. Maslin said. The director said the new restaurant will offer more international recipes.
By expanding the restaurant Mr. Maslin hopes that more Koreans will be drawn to the French center.
Mr. Maslin said last year’s 120-year-celebration of the relationship between the two countries was a success.
“We have done a lot to bridge French and Korean artists,” Mr. Maslin said.
As of last month, Mr. Maslin said 450,000 visited the “A Visit from the Louvre,” exhibition since it opened in October last year. The exhibition will run until March 18. Additionally, the director said the Picasso exhibition attracted more than 300,000 people last year.
To commemorate the anniversary, the French Cultural Center organized 14 concerts and recitals; 11 art exhibitions, both modern and classical; eight stage performances, including theater; seven photo and design exhibitions; and seven dance shows.
Last year, the cultural center opened a movie theater at Daehangno where every week a French film is shown.
Mr. Maslin said the French Center is also planning to strengthen ties in the field of science. He said while science in the public sector is strong in France, especially in the development of fundamental research, the Korean science research labs are stronger in drawing private investment. It is in this area that the two countries should cooperate, he said.
Koreans often have the misconception that France is only about art, he said. Part of his mission is to correct that misconception, he said.


by By Lee Ho-jeong Staff Writer [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]


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