SANTIAGO ― With Korean pop culture fast spreading among young Chileans, the Korean Embassy in the Latin American country is setting its sights on student exchange programs as the focal point for its public diplomacy.
Korea has been exploring ways to sustain the Korean Wave around the globe and to make the most of the knock-on effects on its national prestige and cooperation with partner countries.
The exchange programs allow participants to better understand Korea and experience firsthand its culture, society and people, leading to closer a relationship between the two countries and peoples in the future.
“Student exchanges may not have an effect in the short term but they are an extremely important strategy for public diplomacy in the long term,” said Hwang Eui-seung, Korea’s ambassador to Chile.
“Even in the short run, students can bring home a vivid picture of Korea or Chile, which is why we’re trying to lay the greatest emphasis on them.”
Chilean students queue to watch a K-Pop contest hosted by the Korean Embassy in Santiago in August. (Korean Embassy in Peru)
Seoul and Santiago clinched an accord in late 2009 to expedite people-to-people exchanges. Since 1984, nearly 20 universities in the two countries have formed sisterhood relationships or signed bilateral academic exchange agreements.
There are around 70 Chilean students in Korea, up from 50 from early 2011. The embassy aims to triple it to 200 over the next five years.
To that end, diplomats are stepping up efforts to reach out to youngsters here, meet officials from Chilean universities and help cultivate partnerships between schools in the two countries.
“Tuition for a national university here is about $10,000 a year. If you can afford it here, you can afford to study in Korea also,” said Park Sun-tae, counselor at the mission.
The Chilean government offers scholarships to about 2,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students to study abroad every year.
Recipients are primarily dispatched to some 150 of the world’s most prestigious educational institutes, including Seoul National University, KAIST, POSTECH and Yonsei University in Korea. But nearly 90 percent of them have opted to go to the U.S. or Europe so far.
With its interests in science and engineering education, the Chilean government has been nurturing a partnership with Hanyang University, one of the top colleges in Seoul, which is strong in architecture, applied science and medicine.
Hanyang struck a personnel exchange deal with Chile’s National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research in December 2011, paving the way for scholarship winners to apply for the school. Its president Lim Duck-ho visited Universidad Mayor in Santiago to receive the sister school’s first ever honorary doctorate.
“The study abroad program is not a one-off thing but fosters ties for life,” said Lim Jong-seon, the embassy’s minister.
“Cultural understanding lays the foundation for deeper mid- and long-term bilateral cooperation whether in trade or industry. Most scholarship winners are in the upper middle class, meaning that they will probably occupy important posts someday.”
To size up the possibility, the embassy hosted its first university fair in September in Santiago. Some 1,000 students turned up and consulted with officials from the five institutions and other leading universities such as Korea University, Sungkyunkwan University and the University of Ulsan.
Buoyed by the unanticipated reaction, it conducted a three-month tour down the country through December with briefing sessions and Korean film screenings on campuses. Hwang led the delegation and met with the heads of the schools and spoke with students there.
“Given the geographical distance, there are not many universities and businesses in Korea that know about and interact with their counterparts in Latin America,” the ambassador said, stressing the role of the Foreign Ministry.
“Our embassy is trying to do more than we have to because we see students as a key player in bridging the gap.”
By Shin Hyon-hee, Korea Herald correspondent