How to Improve the Image of Korea in Nigeria, Africa and Abroad
Despite Korea’s increasing economic growth and ‘Hallyu’ wave sweeping the world; it has remained a complete mystery to most of the people in Nigeria. Korea’s true identity is eclipsed by the shadows of Chinese and Japanese popularity. Most of the adults and students I interviewed strongly believe Koreans are Chinese as there is almost no reference to Korea or its culture in most Nigerian textbooks. Interestingly, Korea has far greater influence on Nigerians than both China and Japan combined but my people are totally unaware.
What is Korea known globally for?
Finland is a country known for quality education; Brazil is known globally for football, and India is known for its musical movies and medicine. Dubai an entirely unknown nation has recently joined the league of famous countries as the Paris of the Middle East. Today, Dubai is now a destination where thousands of Nigerians visit yearly for tourism despite its diverse culture, language and social settings. And this is due to its relaxed tourist visas, traditional markets, and sea-side shiny hotels. To promote its image, Korea must pick a niche or two where it can exceed global expectations.
The Gangnam Culture
Indisputably, Korean entertainment is giving its Hollywood and Bollywood counterpart a run for their money. Currently the most downloaded and watched in my country, Korean dramas are capturing the minds of the younger Nigerian generations. With growing audience, there is more knowledge about Korean way of life, cuisine as well as medicine than ever before. Quality production like Dae Jang Guem: Jewel in the Palace shares an in-depth reflection of Korean's culture and history.
Likewise, the Gangnam style which has over 2 billion views on Youtube, and other K-pop songs have inspired several dance choreography in my country. It is glaring South Koreans aren’t just creative and remarkable, but also global influencers. And it isn’t just Nigerians who are raving fans; neighbouring countries like Ghana and Cotonou have also caught the Korean entertainment fever. Most DVD stores simply tell their customers that Koreans dramas are the best-seller in Nigeria and they’re no longer stocking American and Indian movies. To magnify Korean entertainment internationally, I strongly think producing some Korean movies and songs in target locations in the world while featuring key African and international stars will give Korea greater global appeal. A movie shot in Korea, with some popular global stars will not just break the box-office, but can also emphasize more about Korea. What tells a story better than a great drama and movies? And this brings to mind productions like Lawrence of Arabia, Rush Hour, The Gods Must Be Crazy, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding to mention a few movies that gave greater insight into the countries that churned them out. Films have moved away from mere entertainment to becoming torches highlighting the social activities of a people. Motion pictures can depict what Korea was in the 90’s as well as in 2019, or even what Koreans believe their country would look like in 2099. The Korean Ministry of Culture, its entertainment industry and some international stars can collaborate and produce a film or song that can promote Korean’s image.
The African Student in Korea
There is no greater method of propaganda than a country’s educational system. Foreign universities consultants visiting my countries for admissions were mostly from English-speaking countries, but that changed five years ago when Finland, Germany, and interestingly China joined the hierarchy of schools of interest for Nigerian students due to the admission ease and scholarships. Not only are Nigerian students learning these foreign languages, but some of them after graduating had returned home to broker deals and helped with the establishment of many foreign companies.
Offering scholarship won’t just bring Korea greater popularity, but indirectly be a way of transferring their culture, language, and beliefs to Nigerians plus Africans at large. Scholarships and school exchange programs for Nigerians will spur students to explore Korean education system, and culture inside out.
Also, the Korea-Nigerian festival which holds yearly, celebrating our cultures, arts and relationships is an amazing initiative but sadly underutilized. The program which rewards students from Nigerian schools both in art and literature is only limited to the capital of the country. Unfortunately, the Nigerian capital is the tiniest in size, and only accountable for 4% of the entire population. The festival should become nationwide, and its participation expanded to universities and even businesses. This will eventually launch the Korean-Nigerian Festival into the stratosphere, and many locals can take part and thereby learn more Korea.
Likewise, the Korean-African Youth Forum is another amazing project which was given extremely poor publicity such that most students I interviewed never knew it existed. It is glaring a great idea isn’t just enough; there is a greater need to get the target audience to notice and appreciate it. The Korean-African Youth Forum should be given more publicity, pitched to students and universities. A mascot should be made for this forum, and posted on universities online forums. With the aid of social media, thousands of participants can be easily reached. Getting feedbacks and doing an evaluation on these programs should be mandated.
Also, the Korean Cultural departments should work closely with major Nigerian and African publishers to include passages about Korea and its culture in their published texts and materials so students can have better understanding about it. Students’ excursions and tours to Korean Museums and landmarks should be highly encouraged and introduced to Africans and international schools. Passages with title such as: ‘Korea and the World,’ or ‘Korea and Africa,’ should be common in Nigerian and African textbooks as this would create an early impression and maximize Korean popularity among Nigerian kids and youths.
It is glaring Korea is doing more than several western countries joined yet getting very little attention about her great contribution to Nigerians and Africans. The Korean government and its concerned institutions should open more cultural channels and strike advertising deals with social media influencers to promote the Korean culture abroad. It can also organize more cultural activities and festivals majorly for Nigerian students and entrepreneurs. Learning the Korean language and culture should be copiously rewarded in ways that make 'learning about Korean Language' the next big thing among African students and business men until it becomes a norm. Educational competition with titles such as the ‘African-Korean Challenge’ where rich aspects of Korean tradition are learned should be a yearly soirée. Who doesn’t want to win a free trip to Seoul or scholarship to study in one of the greatest nations on earth? Africans are learners, and it’s a matter of time before we will know as much about Korea as we know about America and Britain. I can speak four languages, and still in my early thirties and could easily add a fifth and even sixth.
'It's me and my Samsung...Samsung…Samsung.'
That is the chorus to one of the most popular songs in my country. The Korean brand is an obsession with Nigerians and Africans. There are millions of KIA and Hyundai vehicles zooming on the Nigerian roads while we have few from the Chinese. Similarly, nearly every single Nigeria home has either LG or Samsung electronics while we have extremely few from the Japanese. Several chaebols are setting up shops in my country and other African countries where they find relaxed and non-restrictive market.
In addition, my government had over the years signed more agreement with Daewoo and Hyundai Heavy Industries Group than any contractors when it comes to seaport and power infrastructures. The Korean brand has been one of the best in the world can also be its greatest selling points. Inscribing a slogan like ‘Proudly South Korean,’ should be made in a fashionable way by South Korean companies. And a strategic partnership should be formed by the top exporting Korean manufacturers and the departments involved with selling Korean image to the world. Also a trendy Korean mascot or flag decal can be placed on these products to tell the world about its origin.
‘I don’t know if Korea is in China, but I know…Son Heung-min and Park Ji-sung.’
One of my students ignorantly filled this into a questionnaire I gave him. The first time I also heard about Korea was during the Korea-Japan 2002 FIFA World Cup. Getting a ticket to go to Korea and Japan then was like a dream come true and hundreds of Nigerians who got the privilege returned home to share excitement about the spectre of the South Korean stadiums in Daegu, Seoul and other cities. And South Korea battled valiantly to emerge 4th. Football and some sports are becoming global addictions, and I strongly believe Korea can compete with the best in the world. Nearly every Nigerian and global football enthusiasts know these Korean footballers: Son Heung-min, Park Ji-sung and Ki Sung-yueng to mention a few among many. We knew how Son Heung-min brace help defeat the strongest English football team, Manchester City in a dramatic Champions League semi-final.
To blow up Korean image in sports and internationally, these sports ambassadors, with the Korean Ministry of Culture can form a strategic partnership and create an annual international tournament they can call ‘the Korean Cup,’ one that can be contested by top football clubs in Africa, Europe, Asia as well as America. Tourney like this should be played on national holidays with invites to many heads of government and dignitaries. And this shouldn’t just be limited to football; it can also be extended to other popular sports.
The Korean cultural ambassadors should be sportsmen, actors, and educational icons with great media team working with them as well as the Ministry of Culture while selling their country and its brands to the world. Korea should aim to become the center of Asia by relaxing its visa requirements, and give easy access to its cultural monuments and sites. It should seek to host the world in annual galas that celebrate global leaders and youths. These vision and concerted effort will ultimately elevate Korea’s status higher than ever.
(Country of Activity : Nigeria)