Nile’s flow takes man across the Arab worldPark Jae-yang, 47, likes to toss out a phrase from a poem by Ahmad Shauki, a famous poet from Egypt, speaking of his relationship with the Middle East.
“There is an expression, ‘If you drink the water of the River Nile, you will come to Egypt once again,’” Mr. Park said. “People in Egypt think the Nile is the center of the world.” It seems to be the center, at least, of Mr. Park’s world.
Mr. Park works for the Korean Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, and is in charge of promoting Korea to the Middle East. After studying Korean-Arabic interpretation at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, he went to Egypt in 1988, with a detour in Pakistan. Mr. Park attended Al-Azhar University, a school specializing in Islamic and Arabic learning and the oldest university in the Middle East, if not the world ― the university is more than 1,000 years old. Mr. Park studied Arabic language and history there for 13 years, receiving his doctoral degree in 2001.
Soon after that, he returned to Korea and taught at universities for the next five years. He was involved in many events related to Arab culture. “There were so few Koreans who studied Arabic, and I was awfully busy [with social activities],” Mr. Park said.
In February, however, he returned to Egypt. The Government Information Agency was recruiting professionals in various fields to promote Korea ― Mr. Park became their man in the Middle East.
“When I heard that I was the only public relations official in the Middle East and would be responsible for the entire Middle Eastern region, I was reluctant [to do the job],” Mr. Park said. “I wasn’t sure I was capable of doing it. But then I thought it was a good opportunity to let the Middle East learn about Korea properly, and I decided to do it.”
As soon as he arrived in the Middle East, he began working right away. President Roh Moo-hyun was scheduled to visit Egypt, Nigeria and Algeria in March, and to visit the United Arab Emirates in May.
“I don’t feel that my job is very hard. Because there have been few public relations efforts in the Middle East to promote Korea in the past, I’ve achieved more than I expected to,” Mr. Park said.
In fact, many reports about Korea by Middle Eastern journalists contained basic factual errors. When President Roh went to the United Arab Emirates, one newspaper there reported that “President Hyun” visited the country.
“This won’t happen again. And that is my goal,” he said.
“I was concerned that people might have negative sentiments against Korea because Korea dispatched its troops to Iraq. I want Korea portrayed accurately,” Mr. Park said.
by Seo Jeong-min