ONE might assume that many Slovaks see Korean culture as distant or exotic, but the two countries’ strong economic ties, as well as the Republic of Korea’s physical and cultural presence in Slovakia, illustrate how many aspects of Korean life are increasingly felt and embraced by Slovaks.

While elements of traditional Korean culture have piqued the interest of Slovaks, the country’s more recent cultural phenomena, like taekwondo, films, rock music, karaoke and comics, are also resonating with local audiences.

“The 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Slovakia and Korea in 2013 was a particularly significant occasion for promoting and intensifying cultural exchanges between the two countries,” Sang-hoon Park, the Korean Ambassador to Slovakia, told The Slovak Spectator about the jubilee marking the establishment of mutual official ties after the Slovak Republic was founded. “Our aim was to highlight the uniqueness and excellence of Korean culture, and at the same time respond to the specific demands of the Slovak audience.”

The ambassador added that the cultural events organised by the embassy on the anniversary included a Korean chamber music concert in May, a Korean tourism photo exhibition in Hviezdoslavovo Square throughout June, a spectacular Korean dance performance at the Slovak National Theatre and a Slovak-Korean Friendship concert with the Slovak Philharmonic, both in October, 2013.

Last year’s traditional Korean dance event on October 1 featured the Sin Kyung-Soon Yeajon Dance Company performing a host of dances, mostly traditional, but also a jazz-modern dance fusion. Although the opening piece was slightly static and unusual for central-European viewers, others were spectacular and offered insight into the range of dance styles, varying according to historical period, region and occasion.

The fifth Slovak-Korean Friendship Concert on October 30 featured the Slovak Philharmonic conducted by Rastislav Štúr, with Won Kim on piano, Yoon-Hee Kim on violin and tenor Ho-Yoon Chung singing not only the famous aria Nessun Dorma from Puccini’s opera Turandot, but also Korean folk songs, which were richly harmonic and likeable, even for Slovak ears.

Cuisine and more

A Korean cooking competition, co-organised by the Secondary Vocational School of Hotel Services and Trade in Bratislava, has already become a much-anticipated tradition. In June 2014, student Radovan Baláž won the Slovak round and will proceed to the Korean finals, along with 14 winners from other countries. The competition had cooks preparing soup, one of three choices of main dishes and a dessert.

As for future plans, a Korean-Slovak friendship concert of classical music in Hviezdoslav Theatre on 30 September was mentioned, as well as a contest in spoken Korean language in October and a Korean fashion show in December. In November, a traditional Korean dance performance will be repeated, possibly in cooperation with the Slovak Government, to celebrate the Slovak presidency of the Visegrad Group and the new channel of dialogue between Korea and the Visegrad Group launched in July 2014.

“The cultural dimension of diplomacy is crucial for us and thus we consider cultural exchange to be one of our priorities,” Sang-hoon Park said. “We indeed believe that intercultural exchange plays a crucial role in bringing people together and contributing to mutual understanding and cultural enrichment. And that is what we all strive for.”