[Viewpoint]Educating SeoulIn response to my column “In a global era, Seoul trails the pack” (March 8, 2007), a foreign resident in Seoul wrote me a lengthy e-mail.
He wrote that he couldn’t help but disagree with my “terrible column” on Seoul. The writer, who introduced himself as a German who has lived in Seoul for the past four years, claimed many of the foreign nationals living in the capital that he knows do not agree that Seoul is a city where the cost of living is extremely high while the quality of life is very low.
Quoting a survey conducted by a multinational consultancy based in the United States, I expressed regrets that the cost of living in Seoul is the 11th-highest among major cities in the world, while the quality of living ranks only 89th.
I warned that there might be a time when not only foreigners but also Koreans would choose to live outside of Seoul if the big gap between the cost of living and quality of life persisted.
It was a warning that “Seoul’s competitiveness as a metropolitan city will plummet if we don’t take action immediately.”
In response, however, the letter-writer said I was ignorant of the situation in other cities. According to him, Seoul’s living cost is low enough that it could be ranked 89th in the world while its quality of living could be as high as No. 11.
He believes there are not many major cities comparable to Seoul.
Then he enumerated 16 reasons why Seoul is more attractive than other cities. They included a low crime rate, a safe and clean urban infrastructure, convenient public transportation, a highly skilled medical service, long daylight hours, various shopping opportunities and cheap restaurants that are open 24 hours.
He said it was unfortunate that Koreans didn’t seem to be aware of Seoul’s merits, and he said Koreans have failed to publicize the positive aspects of the city.
The quality-of-life rankings of major cities can differ according to individual viewpoints and tastes. There may be, therefore, people who agree with the letter-writer. It is also gratifying to know there is a foreign resident who thinks so highly of Seoul.
However, Koreans are no longer frogs in the well. More than 10 million Koreans travel abroad each year, and more than 3 million Korean passport-holders reside overseas.
We can now verify the merits and demerits of Seoul. We know that Seoul’s high cost of living is still cheaper than some European countries.
We also know that Seoul is a metropolis equipped with excellent natural surroundings, including mountains and rivers. However, in the “globalization” era, where the competitiveness of major cities has a direct effect on the competitiveness of the nation, Seoul still lacks the gravity to attract foreign visitors, both tourists and investors.
The International Herald Tribune chose 20 pleasant and comfortable cities in the world and unveiled them last week.
First place went to Munich, Germany. It was followed by Copenhagen, Denmark; Zurich, Switzerland; Tokyo, Japan; Vienna, Austria and Helsinki, Finland. Kyoto, Japan, ranked 14th. But Seoul did not make the top 20.
The paper listed 11 criteria for the evaluation, including the crime rate, level of medical service, long daylight hours, average temperatures, good Internet connections, an open-minded society, excellent public transportation and a convenient international airport. The article also considered the availability of diverse international newspapers at newsstands. The education environment was also included, as it is in every study.
To be internationally competitive, Seoul needs to focus on its traffic congestion, air pollution, lack of green areas and pedestrian-friendly roads, disorderly signboards and lack of citizens with a good command of English.
The most urgent task, however, is to upgrade the education system to international standards.
If only we have a few international schools comparable to the ones in other major cities of the world, Seoul’s competitiveness will greatly increase.
It is regrettable that we do not have any proper international school in Seoul because our mistaken educational policy takes an egalitarian approach to education.
*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok