중앙데일리

Getting settled in a globalized world

Sept 03,2008
Cristina Confalonieri. Provided by KBS-TV
Although it’s tripping and stumbling along the way, Korea is going to great lengths to try to globalize.

A major development on this front was the opening in January of the Seoul Global Center (http://global.seoul.go.kr) at the Press Center downtown. A branch opened in April in Yeoksam-dong, south of the river and is headed up by Italian Cristina Confalonieri.

You may recognize her from a TV program that in many ways represents how far Korea still has to go in the globalization process, “Minyeodeuleui-suda.” The show is known by several awkward translations such as “Chatting Beauties,” but may just as well be called “Attractive Foreign Chicks Who Speak Korean.” It’s based on the idea that it is amazing to witness a non-Korean speaking Korean.

This idea did not come out of nowhere, however. Korea may not be the easiest place to adapt to, but surprisingly few expats take the most obvious step toward being able to settle in properly - learning the local language.

This is where the Global Center comes in. “We help foreigners live a trouble-free life in Korea,” said Confalonieri, who is married to a Korean.

The center offers help with everyday obstacles such as “credit cards, mobile phones, hospitals, pharmacies and entertainment in English,” she said.

The center is also working on the language gap. “One of our main aims is teaching Korean for free, to improve the integration of foreigners into Korea and help them understand the culture better,” said Confalonieri.

“If you live abroad, you should be able to speak the language of the host country; maybe not fluently, but at least the basics.”

On a broader scale, the center is building a bridge between an expat community that is less than enthusiastic about picking up the language, and a local culture that doesn’t mind keeping outsiders at arm’s length.

“Maybe Koreans sometimes are scared; when they see a foreigner they think they have to speak English. They think, ‘I don’t know what’s in his mind, maybe he thinks completely differently from me,’ so they just avoid them,” said Confalonieri.

“But when foreigners came to Korea [in the past], they were conquerors or invaders, so I can kind of understand the Koreans’ point of view. But now they’re very interested in getting in touch with other countries and globalization. They’re making a big effort.”

And if the efforts the country has put in up to this point are any indication, we can have high expectations for the future.

By Richard Scott-Ashe Deputy Editor [richard@joongang.co.kr]




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