Image of Korea from the International Point of View
While South Korea is growing in popularity in America and other Asian countries through the rise of “Hallyu”, South Korea is a mysterious and almost obscure country to many South Africans. It is a country that has not played a large role in South African textbooks – I cannot remember any mention about South Korea during my schooling days apart from a label on a geography map. However; as a result of the news, internet, and many South Africans teaching in Korea; the world is becoming much smaller and many more South Africans are starting to see South Korea as an interesting tourist destination. In this essay, I talk about South Korea’s Image (mainly from a South African perspective) while referring to images from textbooks, social media and travel websites.
While most schools do not typically learn about South Korea in-depth, this image is from a high-school textbook in South Africa. The short segment speaks about how South Korea came to be a highly developed and industrialized society. Yes, it is true, and Korea is one of the most high-tech and developed countries (and the number one country in internet usage rate). However, it also portrays Korea to be a country full of factories throughout the land, with an uncaring attitude towards the environment (see the section on social media below). From this, it is hard to understand that while being industrialized and developed, Korea is also a country with 70% of the land covered in mountains, with pockets of small, flat arable lands between the mountain ranges; as well as 12 UNESCO sites and 35 programs under UNESCO’s ‘Intangible Heritage of Humanity’ and ‘Memory of the World’.
I decided to do a bit of research and asked some South Africans in Korea about how their friends and family at home perceive Korea. This was my result:
The first and biggest misconception is the safety aspect. As a result or tensions between North and South Korea in the news, many people think that Korea is still unstable and unsafe. This could not be further from the truth as day-to-day life in Korea is much safer than living in South Africa. Secondly, foreigners perceive Korea as being heavily polluted while Koreans continue to have an uncaring attitude towards the environment (as a result from being highly industrialized). Yes, the air quality has been bad (especially this year) but people wear masks outside and carry on with their lives. When it comes to attitudes towards the environment, foreigners don’t realize that every household in Korea separates their trash to be recycled. Foreigners also do not know that many Koreans enjoy an outdoor and hiking culture (most popular among the elderly), and that the national parks, local parks and mountain trails are kept in a pristine, safe and clean condition – a stark contrast to the plumes of smoke that foreigners imagine.
Lastly, there are some travel sites that offer tours to South Korea.
These tours offer the highlights of Korea, but there is still so much that tourists don’t know from these adverts. They don’t know how safe and easy it is to do independent travel around Korea. There is nothing mentioned about the traditional markets, nuraebangs or jimjilbangs – very unique Korean experiences. There is also no mention of the many safe and beautiful national parks and mountains – which would appeal to the many people who enjoy being in the outdoors. And the adverts also do not talk about many of Korea’s unique and diverse festivals – which are held throughout the year.
In order to promote South Korea to South Africa, I think we should start at informing the youth about study and work opportunities. Many young South Africans would excel if given the chance to study at tertiary education (especially in the fields of science and technologoy), yet they are held back as a result of financial constraints and may not be aware of the scholarship opportunities available at many Korean universities. When graduating with a degree, there are also many graduates who are not aware that they can earn and save money in Korea, while travelling and experiencing a new culture, by teaching English. South Africans embrace new opportunities and ideas, and I think it will be a good way to promote South Korea and inform the public of what Korea has to offer. Through the rise of social media, many students and teachers who stay in Korea often share information and pictures about South Korea to their network of friends and family outside Korea.
Another way to introduce South Korea to the travelling market in South Africa would be to introduce K-dramas. K-pop is slowly on the rise, and has a small fan-base in South Africa, but that also only portrays one aspect of South Korea. K-dramas such as Good Doctor and Miss Hammurabi have excellent storylines, suitable for the family and they help foreigners understand the more everyday aspects of South Korea and Korean culture. The safety aspect needs to be highlighted more, as foreigners need to view Korea as a safe country to travel, and not one in which a war with North Korea could break out at any minute.
To end, I have discussed South Korea from a South African point of view, through textbooks, travel websites, and social media. I have also suggested ways in which Korea can be promoted more positively to foreigners.
(Country of Activity : South Africa)