Gatherings Help Nordics Break the Ice

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Gatherings Help Nordics Break the Ice

Because Scandinavian countries' expatriate communities in Korea are relatively small, these Northern Europeans often organize social clubs and activities together. Some Nordics spend only a year in Korea while others have lived here for more than two decades. Their communities serve to help each other adjust to life in a foreign country through a variety of events.

Pancakes in the Park

It's a bright, sunny morning in Yangjae Public Park in Seocho-gu, Seoul. Some 30 Finnish people, in shorts or sundresses, are gathered around a picnic table. Their children are busily shooting at each other with water pistols or climbing trees. This is the annual Finnish picnic party, known in Finnish as the letturetki nukkuvan haran vuorelle or "pancake picnic to the mountain of sleeping ox."

Spreading jam on a Finnish traditional pancake called a lettu, Ritola Ranta said, "We get together every year, usually in May or June, to catch up and talk about life in general." Mrs. Ranta has lived in Korea for 12 years.

According to Mrs. Ranta, the Finnish community, which consists of about 150 people, arranges many get-togethers in which people can share information on numerous topics.

Founded in 1989, the Korea-Finland Business Council (www. serves as a meeting point for the community. Through the council, businessmen who work at 40 or 50 Korean and Finnish companies, such as Nokia, Metso, Stora Enso and Hiab-Hana, gather once a month to talk over business matters with guest speakers. Twice a year in the spring and autumn, members play golf "for fun and to improve our skills," said Lauri Korpinen, Finland's ambassador to Korea.

Although the Finnish community itself does not have social clubs for females yet, many Finnish women belong to the Nordic Women's Club, which was organized in 1969 by nurses from Sweden, Norway and Denmark who were living in Korea. The group now includes a few Koreans. "We organize charity bazaars and spring balls to raise funds for orphans. Last year, we donated about 17 million won ($13,000) to one orphanage in Seoul," said Mrs. Anneli Haipus-Jarvinen, president of the women's club. "We also organize various cultural trips."

Finnish people mostly find their experiences in Korea "very pleasant," Mr. Korpinen said. "It is easy to get around here, thanks to a good metro system. Koreans are very hard-working people with a strong will, just like Finns.

"My only dissatisfaction," he said, "is the traffic and air pollution in Seoul. But what can you do? Seoul is, after all, a big city."

Cozy Living

Korea's Danish community, comprising some 80 to 100 people mostly in their 30s and 40s, is fairly young compared to other European countries. According to Leif Donde, the Danish ambassador to Korea, Danes are eager to go abroad, while Danish companies such as Maersk Sealand, the largest shipping line in the world, are willing to hand considerable responsibility to young people.

All Danes residing in Korea decorate their houses and apartments in Korea with a special emphasis on the Danish concept of hygge, a word that is loosely translated to mean "coziness."

"We humans spend much time in our homes and, probably due to the dark winter in Scandinavia, Danes like to build their nests in a nice, cozy way, creating a special atmosphere," said Sven Bjodstrup, an official at the Danish Embassy. "Although there is no special 'Danish' way to decorate," Mr. Bjodstrup continued, "Danes are willing to spend quite a lot of money on items like furniture, hi-fi's and various designer items, to make their surroundings nice."

The Denmark-Korea Business and Culture Forum was founded early this year to hold business lunches every two months for the Danish and Korean business community. The group plays golf once a month at Pine Creek, a country club in Seoul. "Because the forum is new, we don't have a set schedule of activities, but we're definitely planning to start one," Mr. Donde said.

Cultural Exchange

Coming from a country where people value equality and a sense of community, Swedish people engage passionately in club activities that focus on cultural education and providing scholarships to students.

"There are about 200 Swedish people residing in Korea, and we try to promote understanding between the two countries in culture, economy and technology," said Shin Kwang-sup, chairman of the Korean-Swedish Association.

Founded in 1962, the Korean-Swedish Association organizes cultural lectures, provides college scholarships for Korean adoptees and those studying in the two countries, and hosts receptions for visiting Korean-born adoptees in cooperation with the Adoption Center in Sweden.

With approximately 20 members, the Swedish Women's Educational Association or SWEA, which was organized in 1993 in Korea, helps Swedish women arriving in a new country.

According to Birgitta Shin, who came to Korea 26 years ago, members of the group hike, sightsee, hold book-review discussions and take cooking lessons every month. Through the cooking class, members exchange recipes with Korean women. "We learn how to make kimchi from Koreans while they learn how to bake good cookies and breads from us. You know, Sweden is famous for baking, such as pepparkaka, ginger cookies, and lusse katt, a saffron bread," Mrs. Shin said.

An international organization, SWEA is spread across the world. "When our members move over to China or Hong Kong," Mrs. Shin explained, "they can get help adjusting from SWEA members living there."

The Swedish community founded the Swedish School Association in the 1980s to help children keep their mother tongue.

"I teach about eight students every Wednesday at home, so that the kids won't experience difficulties once they go back to Sweden," said Sive Arvelid, the leader of the club.

"It's all about helping kids and people maintain their national identity and settle easily when they return to Sweden."

Editor's Note: Norway and Iceland will be featured in future articles.


Finland Trade Center, Embassy of Finland 02-725-2076,

Royal Danish Embassy 02-795-4187,

Korea-Swedish Association 02-388-7440~2,

Swedish Women's Educational Association

by Lee Jung-kyu

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