Foreigners wanting to participate in Seoul's cultural experience programs will face more competition this year after the city's council slashed the programs' budget, officials said Monday.
The programs will be available for 1,740 foreigners through 30 events this year, down from a total of 2,591 slots for 37 events last year, according to the officials at the Seoul Metropolitan Government. This year, the government will combine existing programs with lower-budget ones to accommodate the reduced budget, according to the officials.
In 2009, there were 41 events for 2,301 participants.
The city government initially planned to maintain last year's level, but the opposition-dominated city council slashed last year's 198 million won ($177,000) budget for the program to approximately one-third, 64.6 million won, to allocate money to free school lunches at elementary schools starting this year.
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, affiliated with the ruling Grand National Party (GNP), filed for a court injunction against the execution of the school lunch budget.
The city government decided to introduce in lieu a lower-budget program, named "Seoul Exploration," in which participants will walk more and use mass transportation rather than using chartered buses as in the original programs.
The new program will be offered to 1,300 foreigners, including diplomats, soldiers, university exchange program students and teachers, on 20 occasions this year, while the existing one will be available for 440 people through 10 events.
In the new program, participants will be given missions, including visiting temples, art museums and traditional Korean marketplaces using tickets for free public transportation, officials said.
Despite the budget cut, the city still has high expectations for the new program, officials said.
It will have foreigners "explore Seoul's street corners on foot and by public transportation," one official said. "We plan to expand the course if it receives a positive response and prepare various other programs to show the real beauty of the city," he said.