In Homogeneous South Korea, A Multicultural Village Hints At Change

Interesting article on change in South Korea:

“There is real immigration going on that is supported, facilitated, advocated by the South Korean government,” says Katharine Moon, the SK Korea Chair at the Brookings Institution. Her research focuses on the impact of a changing Korean population.

Immigration is a fairly new concept in South Korea, where foreigners make up only about 3 percent of the population. Bars and restaurants can ban non-Koreans from entry because no anti-discrimination laws exist. Foreign workers in Korea are subjected to mandatory HIV testing.

“It has been a homogeneous society linguistically, culturally, for so long. It has prided itself on the purity of the bloodline, the so-called bloodline,” Moon says. But because the birthrate has fallen to such low levels — South Korea has the lowest fertility rate among developed nations — immigration policies are changing. Government figures show the number of foreign residents living in South Korea climbed by about 50 percent between 2009 and 2014. Moon says attitudes will take a little longer to adjust.

“Right now, [integration] is about fitting into the Korean context, learning Korean language and not teaching your kids Vietnamese or Tagalog or some other foreign language,” Moon says. “True multiculturalism would involve mixing and blending and fusing of different languages, cultures, customs. We don’t see much of that — except in places like Wongok Village.”

A food stall in South Korea’s Wongok Village sells Chinese flatbreads and other snacks popular in China. Two-thirds of Wongok’s residents are not ethnically Korean, and many of them are from China. Elise Hu/NPR

Outside, on what’s known as “Multicultural Street,” people from different backgrounds mix. In front of the banks, there are signs in four or five different languages. Food stalls sell a lot of Chinese food, and there are Chinese markets and Chinese karaoke joints. You can hear Vietnamese as you walk up and down the streets.

As more people like Okoye seek opportunities in Wongok, their kids fill the classrooms of teachers like Kim. She says the children have taught her about dropping prejudices.

“Multicultural people are people that Koreans have to work together with to make Korea into a better country,” she says. “Wongok Village is what Korea will look like in the future.”

Source: In Homogeneous South Korea, A Multicultural Village Hints At Change : Parallels : NPR

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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