[VIEWPOINT]Koreans are taking home abroad

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[VIEWPOINT]Koreans are taking home abroad

Near the front gate of Banff Park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains there is a restaurant that flies the Korean national flag. The owner of the restaurant is Korean. His combative spirit led him to put up the flag, fighting endless protests from local residents.

The restaurant is frequented by Korean tourists. Not only in Canada, but also in other countries, Korean tourists prefer to visit Korean restaurants. Korean restaurants are located in tourist areas around the world.

Convenience seems to be the biggest appeal for Koreans who join tour groups composed of people who speak their language and dine at Korean restaurants wherever they go. Some people even argue that visiting noraebang, or karaoke rooms, to sing Korean songs helps them ease their homesickness. This type of travel, which allows Koreans to enjoy their culture away from home, is possible due to the recent economic development that we have achieved. Similar types of overseas group tours were common among the Japanese in the 1960s and 1970s, and recently there has been a rush of Chinese tourists engaging in this type of behavior abroad.

However, Western travelers follow a different pattern. They seldom travel on package tours with strangers. Even though they may be from the same nation, Westerners do not like to gather together. They ditch their national habits to learn and feel something new. Western visitors try pepper sauce and use chopsticks when they visit Korea. "When In Rome, do as the Romans do" fits their travel type.

Meanwhile, travel by Koreans is often totally focused on Korean lifestyles. It is common for Korean tourists to pile into the same car, eat together and even take pictures with Koreans who might be total strangers.

Though there has recently been a big increase in Korean tourism overseas, the quality of their travel and experience with the culture of the countries they travel to do not seem to be enhanced.

The Koreans' travel style might be compared with washing your face with gloved hands. If this collective and persistent style concerning their culture is a matter of preference for Korean food or a temporary symptom found among first-time overseas group tourists that will disappear soon, there is no worry. However, there seems to be a reason why Koreans cannot open their minds even when they travel overseas. During the modern history of Korea, which was tainted by annexation to Japan, a proxy war between the Soviet Union and the United States and dependency on superpowers, we lost the chance to develop a universal view of world history and learn the wisdom of staying neutral on issues concerning a third country. As a result, Koreans have become used to a dichotomy in their thinking in which they divide their history into flunkeyism or chauvinism, patriotism or treachery, pro-Americanism or anti-Americanism. They also see other countries in terms of confrontation and competition instead of tolerance and coexistence. Korean tourism, accordingly, tends to be closed and ostentatious. We pay more attention to comparing foreign culture with ours rather than accepting the former.

The World Cup fervor is an example of this phenomenon. The success as a host and the unexpected victories of the Korean national team boosted our pride. But overenthusiasm and overconfidence in the success should be guarded. To think that the Korean team's advancement to the semifinals is the same as ascending to the ranks of elite nations is a misguided notion based on an inferiority complex stemming from the experiences of a weak and small country.

Looking back, we have latched on to international events such as the World Cup, World EXPO or the Olympic Games, and this is related with our weak international relations. The World Cup accomplishment cannot show us the way to globalization, and we cannot reach globalization by traveling overseas.

Many people can manage a business without flying a flag. There are many nations without corruption and economic crisis, even though they give a cold shoulder to the World Cup. There is no loud, vain path to globalization, such as we are following.

Our degree of globalization does not enter even the semifinals, not even the sweet 16.


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The writer is a professor of sociology at Hallym University.

by Jun Sang-in

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