Image of Korea from the International Point of View
“A Pursuit of the Korean Dream”
Once the great Indian scholar, Rabindranath Tagore, dedicated a poem to Korea as follows, “In the golden age of Asia, Korea was one of its lamp-bearers, And that lamp is waiting to be lighted once again for the illumination of the East.” What Tagore had imagined for Korea in his poem that it would ‘illuminate the East’ has indeed come quite true and a pursuit of the Korean Dream is undoubtedly transforming into reality. From IT and electronics to automobile and steel, South Korea has given exemplary products to the world. South Korea has emerged as a vibrant democracy and its per capita income has put it in the ranks of the richest countries in the world.
The spirit of enterprise of the South Korean people truly influences me in the way they have created and sustained their transformation from a war-ridden third world country to a technologically driven developed economy. However, geopolitically sandwiched in between two giant neighbors, China and Japan, South Korea’s image has often been given comparatively limited attention from international media and academic community. Moreover, learning materials and information on Korea are relatively sparse and often equally mistaken. For instance, a sense of skepticism about the prospects of peace is there, mainly due to the Korean Peninsula division.
Consider South Korea—it is a major economy and a world-class manufacturer whose products trade around the globe. It has hosted an Olympics, in 1988, as well as co-hosted a World Cup, with Japan, in 2002. Still, how many Indians can name its president? Or bring to mind a single cultural icon of this ancient civilization? Although recently, this situation has improved as South Korea is better known abroad thanks to its internationally-oriented foreign policy, active international roles, public diplomacy, and exportation of entertainment contents. Yet, there remains abundance of areas to accomplish to improve, correct and elevate the understanding of Korea in the international arena.
South Korea can and must develop its own potential—one that meets the aspirations of its people at home and competes abroad. The goal is to identify crucial and futuristic areas where South Korea can be a monopoly or leastwise in the top tier. This will be the key to raising South Korea’s image to the next level. Electronics and automobiles were and are important to South Korea, but it needs to explore new frontiers too. Through the following points below, I would like to discuss some viable strategies for boosting Korea’s international image :
1. South Korea must become more receptive to outside ideas and innovation and upgrade its education services, both to better serve its own citizens and to attract the best scholars from abroad. The nation’s leaders should encourage more collaboration between domestic and foreign universities, schools, and businesses while at the same time functioning to educate people about its vision.
2. South Korea is lacking a cohesive, differentiated brand approach in the minds of those outside the country. There is no special feeling that brings to mind an idea about the country. And yet when citizens of other countries think of South Korea—to the extent they do so at all—many suffer equivalent confusion. The so-called Korean wave did bring fame to some pop and soap opera stars, mostly from South Korea’s neighbors, but there are signs that it is waning, or even evidence of a backlash in some countries.
3. South Korea has launched the “Korea Festival” concept in some countries. It seeks to tie together in one space South Korean pop culture (Hallyu, or the “Korea wave”), language, songs, and traditional dance. This may well succeed in introducing people to all aspects of South Korea. But a more concentrated effort specifically around South Korea’s emotional and enthusiastic branding can be an effective strategy.
4. Basic offline and online materials should be published and distributed widely to capture attention of those who have rudimentary or no knowledge of Korea in order to provide a base for young learners. Seminars and workshops on Korea will further provide the scholars of Korean studies the opportunity to engage in genuine discussions and grow along with the organizations objective. Expanding diverse information channel could also help boost and maintain a healthy image internationally.
5. While a strong positive nation brand will boost perception of quality of the products exported from that country, superior product design and quality has the potential to burnish a nation brand such as “Visionary Korea”, and yet, it’s not as easy as merely improving product design and quality. South Korea’s highly educated, hardworking, service-oriented, and entrepreneurial labor force is exactly what is required to capture the opportunity.
6. It is pitiful to acknowledge that many people are still confused whether Samsung, LG, Hyundai etc. are South Korean companies. Nation Branding also needs to enlist leading consumer-product companies to support the effort so every time a consumer test-drives a Hyundai or buys a Samsung refrigerator or an LG television he or she knows it came from South Korea. This includes a country brand logo. The “Incredible India” mark even brands the immigration forms as you enter India.
South Korea is trying to position its international image in a rapidly changing world through its sense of diligence and public diplomacy. This approach, obviously, has been implemented fruitfully by various Korean institutions; however, since it is relatively recent, more assertive actions have to be put in place to ensure desirable outcomes. It is my opinion that the realization of the Korean dream will not come simply from the imitation of what others have done. The Korean dream must move beyond the reverse engineering of a previous age. It should not be an imitation rather an inspiration to everyone to further embrace it for the betterment of our society.
"Sow a thought and reap an act, sow an act and reap a habit, sow a habit and reap a character, sow a character and reap a destiny." - William James -
Decades ago, South Korea made the choices required to become a global economic powerhouse, and succeeded. Today, the country can choose to change again, to chart a new and a global visionary image.
Abhijeet Kumar Tiwari
(Country of Activity : India)