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Seeing the shared traits
11 Aug 2014 Beata Balogová Foreigners in Slovakia
SLOVAKIA remains attractive to foreign investors thanks to its strategic geographic location, political and economic stability, and high labour productivity. However, in the context of the competition presented by the neighbouring countries, there is room for improvement, “especially in such areas as reducing the tax burden, infrastructure development and efficiency of law enforcement,” said Sang-hoon Park, the ambassador of the Republic of Korea, in an interview with The Slovak Spectator.
The Slovak Spectator spoke to Ambassador Sang-hoon Park about education challenges, the status of teachers in Korea, links between his homeland and the Visegrad Four, the impact of the free trade agreement, the differences in working habits and corporate culture between Koreans and Slovaks, and Slovaks’ openness to Korean cuisine.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): South Korean students traditionally perform well in international testing, and Korea’s education system has been applauded for helping the country achieve economic progress. However, the system is also described as very demanding and in Korea there is already a discussion on rethinking the education system. What are the current challenges of the education system in your homeland?
The proportion of high school graduates attending university is the highest among members of the OECD. Korean students spend most of their time studying and nearly 80 percent of them attend cram schools. The average family spends 10 percent of its income on private tutoring, which contributes to a heavy household burden. There have been growing voices for the reform of the education system and it has become one of the top priorities for policy makers in Korea.
TSS: Over-qualification is a new phenomenon in your country. What are the reasons behind this development and what challenges does it bring?
The Korean government is committed to strengthening vocational education in order to lower youth unemployment. But more fundamentally, a shift in the perception of higher education should occur in society, as a university degree no longer guarantees social success.
TSS: In Slovakia, the social status of teachers has often been described as declining in the past decades. What is the status of teachers in South Korea?
TSS: The Visegrad Group and South Korea held their historically first ministerial meeting in July, and Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Yun Byung-se visited Slovakia on that occasion. What were the specific outcomes of the meeting?
TSS: In mid July, countries of the V4 and the Republic of Korea also agreed to deepen cooperation in the fields of the economy, science, knowledge-based economy, education and culture. Why is the V4 region of interest to Korea?
TSS: The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the EU and the Republic of Korea has been effective since 2011. What has its impact been, either positive or negative, on Korean-Slovak trade or economic cooperation?
TSS: What are the biggest differences in working habits or corporate culture between Koreans and Slovaks? Do these differences have any influence on the investment decisions of Korean companies?
Slovak people share many more common traits with Koreans than it might seem, such as natural warmth, friendliness, hospitality, politeness and respect for others. These qualities undoubtedly contribute to the success of Korean companies in Slovakia.
TSS: The presence of Korean companies has contributed to opening a department of Korean Studies at Comenius University. How do you assess the interest of Slovaks in studying Korean? Are there any fellowships or opportunities for Slovaks to study in Korea?
I had a chance to meet all the students studying at this course and was impressed by their genuine interest and strong motivation in learning Korean language and culture. The Korean Embassy tries to involve the students in its events and activities whenever possible in order to bring Korea closer to them.
For those who are interested in studying in Korea, the Korean government runs a scholarship programme to provide international students with the opportunity to conduct advanced studies at higher education institutions in Korea. From 2004 to 2013, there were 16 Slovak students chosen to participate in this programme. This year four Slovak students are given the opportunity to attend the graduate programmes.
TSS: Your embassy also traditionally organises Korean cooking competitions. How have the locals responded to these events? Do you feel that Slovaks and Koreans know enough about each other? What aspects of Korean culture do you perceive as the most attractive for Slovaks?
I am pleased to know that Korean cuisine is becoming popular in Slovakia, as more and more Slovaks are nowadays exploring different culinary styles. However, there is still wide room for mutual learning between Slovaks and Koreans. I firmly believe that cultural events such as the Korean cooking competition will enhance the mutual understanding between the peoples of the two countries.
TSS: Has the tourism potential between Slovakia and the Republic of Korea been fully explored? What should Slovakia do to attract more Koreans to Slovakia and spend more than a few hours here?
We are also equally interested in attracting Slovak tourists to Korea in order to promote mutual exchanges. I am sure that travellers from Slovakia will treasure the diverse aspects of Korea, from the bustling energy of the city of Seoul or Pusan, to the majestic mountain ranges, picturesque villages, splendid beaches and island resorts, the gastronomy, and the historical sights, among many others.
TSS: In the recent past, three Slovak doctorates joined the nuclear research at the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI). Can you share any details about this initiative?
This is an excellent example of bilateral cooperation between our two countries in the field of science and technology. As the Korea-Slovakia Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement, signed last year when the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Miroslav Lajčák visited Korea, took effect in April this year, I expect that more exchanges of researchers and sharing of technology will follow suit.
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