Foreign students key to successful globalization of Seoul
By Kim Young-jin
Foreign students will play a key role in shaping Seoul into a global city where all cultures live comfortably together, representatives of an international student forum said.
The assessment came out last Friday when some one hundred international students kicked off a summer-long program organized by Seoul City aimed at forging policy suggestions for the metropolitan government.
“This forum will serve as a conduit for foreigners to express their grievances without fear or favor,” said Kaymi Ng, a Malaysian serving as president of the forum, on the sidelines of its opening event in southern Seoul.
“We will channel the problems to the relevant parties so they can be addressed as soon as possible. At the end of the day, Seoul needs to be globalized and this is a good way for that to happen,” said the 31-year-old law student at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.
Tens of thousands of international students currently reside in Korea and are considered a key part of the nation’s effort to become more globally-oriented.
The Seoul International Student Forum, now in its fourth year, aims to harness student creativity to brainstorm new ideas to improve the city’s conditions for foreign and Korean residents. At the conclusion, a panel will award distinctions to the best proposals which are then relayed to local officials.
Past suggestions have helped the city improve its multilingual signs in the transportation system and provide better information regarding dietary choice, which often poses problems for those with religious or cultural restrictions.
Affan Alkindi Rahman, a 23-year-old Indonesian and vice president of the forum, anticipated dietary concerns would be a focus this year as well. As a Muslim, he knows all too well how difficult it can be to find meat prepared in his religious tradition.
“Most of my friends don’t eat meat here because it is not ‘Halal,’” Rhaman, who studies Korean language at Yonsei University, said. “Some buy food from Itaewon. But for us in the dormitories, it’s very hard to cook.”
The students said they would push for measures to increase the number of Halal restaurants given a recent influx of students from the Middle East and Muslim countries. Other areas of concern, they said, included health, hygiene, the immigration system and education.
The students agreed that the program would also give them a chance to network and experience a truly multicultural setting including over 30 different nationalities while becoming well-versed in local government.
Alan Timblick, head of the Seoul Global Center, the government body that organized the program, said the students’ participation impacted the entire society.
“Students have always been an important part of Korean life, whether it’s political or social life,” he said. “Today, a significant proportion of them are represented by non-Koreans.
“In fact, we expect to see more and more come to Korea; it’s part of the globalization process. The city of Seoul is becoming more active in seeking new ideas from foreign residents and students are probably the most creative in that group.”
For Irina Simeonova, a Bulgarian studying at Korea University and a vice president of the forum, the effort boiled down to that one desire so communal to university students worldwide – the ability to affect positive change.
“I hope we can gain a sense of hope to be empowered to change some things in our lives here,” said. “Even though we are far away from home perhaps we could feel at home.”