[NOTEBOOK]Youth’s international viewIt is easy to enjoy the cuisine of different countries around the world in Seoul nowadays. There are foods from Italy, France, Arab countries, Mexico, Thailand, Vietnam, India, Pakistan and China. It is an amazing change.
People used to cite the same problems whenever the question of how to induce more foreign tourists to visit Korea was brought up. They said that eating and drinking is a big part of tourism, and there was not enough variety in the food in Seoul. Foreigners cannot eat Korean food every day, and who would come if we did not have international food to offer?
We do not have to worry about that anymore. Seoul has all the American family restaurant chains, fast food chains, and even slow food chains. It is also easier to spot a Starbucks than a traditional Korean tearoom. A person from anywhere in the world can easily find something they like to eat, or at least something similar to what they would eat at home.
There are many reasons why restaurants that serve foods from all over the world are doing so well. A big part of it is the great number of foreign laborers that come to Korea to work. However, the majority of the customers of foreign restaurants are young Koreans. They are people in their 20s or 30s, who have been abroad many more times than the older generations. It is probably their quest for foods like those that they tasted when they were traveling that makes the international food industry continue to flourish.
The number of Koreans who left the country purely for travel in 1990 was between 200,000 and 300,000. The number decreased a little during the foreign exchange crisis in 1997-98, but soon increased to 210,000 in 2001, 300,000 in 2002 and 400,000 in 2003. The same goes for the number of students studying abroad. There were around 13,000 Korean students studying abroad in 1980, but the number increased annually to reach 160,000 in 2003. Therefore, around 7 million Koreans go overseas for one reason or another each year now.
People in their 20s or 30s have been overseas so many more times than people in their 50s or 60s, that it would probably be difficult to compare the two numbers. So does this mean that people in their 20s or 30s have a more internationally balanced and refined point of view? Oddly enough, this does not always seem to be the case.
All the young people see and hear about while they are abroad is themselves spending money, or foreigners trying to get them to spend more money ― giving them the illusion that the Korean won is mighty. An overwhelmingly large number of young Korean people seem to think that Korea is the best country in the world, and that their national pride is more important than the reality of international politics. National pride in itself is not bad. However, if pride is given too much priority it is easy to commit the mistake of considering the world emotionally, rather than rationally.
Christopher Hill, the U.S. diplomat slated to take over as ambassador to Korea in August, said in an exclusive interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, “I will talk more with the younger generation of Korea.” He means to listen more to the thoughts of Korean youth.
It sounds like something a new ambassador could easily say, but taking the matter deeper, it also implies that America thinks that Korea’s diplomacy, especially involving the United States, depends on the thoughts of Korean youth. Otherwise, it sounds like a reprimand that the older generation, for some unknown reason, is unable to tell the youth what they have to, and is being dragged by them.
Relations between nations ultimately contract into relationships between people. It cannot be good that our national image is only made up of selfish, tactless passion.
* The writer is the international news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Jae-hak