Time runs out for venerable foreign service exam

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Time runs out for venerable foreign service exam

After 46 years of producing Korea’s diplomats, the foreign service examination system produced its last batch yesterday, marking the end of an era.

The Ministry of Security and Public Administration yesterday named the 37 people who passed its last High Diplomatic Service Examination, who will go on to become fifth-level foreign affairs officials.

The top scorer in the last exam was Lee Jong-chan, 32, while the youngest was a 22-year-old fluent Russian-speaker, Yoon Hong-sun, the Public Administration Ministry said.

The foreign service exam is being replaced by a system in which the Korea National Diplomatic Academy (KDNA) will oversee the selection and training of the next generation of foreign affairs candidates.

The foreign service exam system - which was open to anyone who wanted to take it - held its first test in 1968 and produced 1,361 foreign service officials.

While the first exam in 1968 had no women in the 18 who passed, 60 percent of those who passed the last batch, the 47th exam, were female. The first female foreign affairs official, Kim Kyung-im, passed the test in 1978. She is currently ambassador to Tunisia.

There were no future ministers produced from the first two batches passing the foreign service exam, but the third batch was notable for producing United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Choi Sung-hong, foreign minister in 2002-2003 in the Kim Dae-jung administration.

The KDNA, based in Seocho District, southern Seoul, was established last year to replace the rote-based High Diplomatic Service Examination system. The former system was judged to produce diplomats who lacked language skills and other skills such as negotiation abilities and quick judgments.

Under the new system, all officials who graduate from the new academy are expected to have expertise in at least two languages and a specialty field such as international law, foreign affairs, trade or security.

The classes will be evaluated through a three-stage process involving foreign language tests, aptitude tests, essay writing and interviews. The program at the academy is one-year. People who pass the one-year program will be appointed fifth-level foreign affairs officials.

The academy accepted its first round of applicants in April. After a second and third round of exams, it will announce its first class of 45 members in November.

BY KIM WON-BAE, SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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