[VIEWPOINT]Building paths to a wider world

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[VIEWPOINT]Building paths to a wider world

What foreign visitors experience over the next few months will help determine the national image of Korea for years to come. The 1988 Olympics was actually a celebration for Seoul only; the World Cup games will be held in 10 cities throughout the nation. We are somewhat worried about what the world will see in the relatively undeveloped areas outside our capital.

Koreans looked up to China until the 19th century. During the first 50 years of the 20th century, we were led by Japan; America has been Korea's model over the last 50 years. During the 1988 Olympics, Koreans finally had a chance to view the world from a multilateral perspective. We realized that there are many countries other than our neighbors, and ideologies can differ by country. We also learned that markets are available throughout the world.

The Olympics opened our eyes, ears and hearts. The awakening triggered an increase in overseas travel, a rise in the number of students studying abroad, a rush to learn English and a surge in the number of companies exploring the Chinese market. The World Cup games will add to this globalization.

In 1947, Korean marathoners running in the Boston Marathon departed for the United States, wearing small tags bearing the English word for their destination. Without exchanging a single word with the passengers sitting next to them, the Korean runners flew more than 20 hours to Boston, where they were too scared to step outside the hotel.

Today, Korean athletes have entered the U.S. professional leagues; we are watching them play on television in real time.

The old times are, however, still running in our blood. When Park Chan-ho moved from the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Texas Rangers, we switched the team we root for. When a Korean star skater lost in the Olympics, Korea awarded its own gold medal to him. One advertisement is based on the scenario that the Korean soccer team wins a match against the world's strongest team.

We still believe that defeat at the hands of any nation, except Japan, is tolerable. But instead of enjoying sports, we are obsessed with victories.

To the world, we are still far from globalization. Although we call Korea "the land of morning calm," Korea is still seen as one of the most unsettled and clamorous nations in the world.

Frequent man-made disasters and repeated corruption by our leaders help to pull down Korea's credibility. As we can see in the dispute over dog-meat consumption, uncountable numbers of foreigners are preoccupied with a cultural prejudice against Korea.

In the past, we thought too highly of ourselves; we joined the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and liberated our capital market. The careless opening of our markets triggered the foreign exchange crisis in 1997. After many hardships, Korea finally graduated from the control of the International Monetary Fund nine months ago, but no tangible improvement in the economy can be seen.

There are only a few days left before the World Cup finals; we should concentrate on the improvement of software to run the event. Although nice-looking stadiums have been built, the intangibles still need improvement. The government will control vehicle operation during the soccer event, a relic of the past.

During the World Cup period, safety issues, accidents and disorderliness will be aired to the world in real time.

The World Cup organizing committee, volunteers, public servants and private companies must cooperate to make visible improvements. We should try to satisfy visitors in all fields of the tourism industry; Koreans should learn to root for foreign teams, holding the finals with a mature attitude. We should provide more opportunity for foreigners to experience Korea's traditional culture.

In the past, countries stood independently. Today, we are living in a whole new world. Our walls will be torn down by outside influence. The Chin Dynasty built the Great Wall of China; Rome built roads to reach the world. The Chin Dynasty soon collapsed, but Rome enjoyed supremacy over the world.

Let us think of the real meaning of holding the World Cup finals. Through this opportunity, we will demolish the walls hindering our globalization and build roads to reach the world. Expertise gained by hosting a large international event, the dynamics of Korea aired by the worldwide media and various forms of exchanges with foreigners will help build the roads for Korea's globalization.


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The writer is executive director of the Samsung Economic Research Institute.

by Lee Eon-oh

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