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High-spirited school tour draws young minds to ASEAN

“This program is very important and useful, because when we talk about country-to-country relations, they cannot be solely based on meetings between leaders. People-to-people exchanges from the grassroots are essential.”

Middle schooler Park Ah-reum has renewed her passion for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations through the ASEAN School Tour Program in mid-June.

As a first grader in Ansan, a growing multicultural city in Gyeonggi Province, she comes from a multicultural family, her mother being an ethnic Philippine and father a Korean.

“I learned about various countries of ASEAN and now really want to go Vietnam to try original ‘pho’ rice noodles and Indonesia to wear the traditional national dress,” the 13-year-old told The Korea Herald at Ansan Arts Center, where the event was held, on June 15. “There are many students in my class who come from multicultural families, and we play together a lot. Some have become more interested in Southeast Asia and the Philippines playing with me.”

The image of the Philippines, Park’s “second home,” is not so positive in Korea, with people thinking of crime and terror, she said, adding “I hope my friends will discover positive aspects of the Philippines, such as beautiful beaches, delicious foods and warmhearted people.”

ASEAN ambassadors and diplomats and staff of the ASEAN-Korea Center in Seoul participate in the ASEAN School Tour at Ansan Arts Center on June 15 to raise awareness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations among young Korean students. (ASEAN-Korea Center)
ASEAN ambassadors and diplomats and staff of the ASEAN-Korea Center in Seoul participate in the ASEAN School Tour at Ansan Arts Center on June 15 to raise awareness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations among young Korean students. (ASEAN-Korea Center)
The ASEAN School Tour raised awareness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations among young Korean students at Ansan Arts Center on June 15. (ASEAN-Korea Center)
The ASEAN School Tour raised awareness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations among young Korean students at Ansan Arts Center on June 15. (ASEAN-Korea Center)

Park was one of some 700 students and teachers who participated in the annual tour that takes place throughout the country, designed to raise awareness of ASEAN among Korea’s young students. The ASEAN-Korea Center -- an intergovernmental organization established in 2009 to promote two-way exchanges in trade and investment, tourism, cultural and people-to-people relations -- co-organized the event with Gyeonggido Ansan Office of Education and Ansan Cultural Foundation.

Students participated in a talk show, a fashion show wearing traditional national costumes, a golden bell quiz, interactive activities at country booths and folk music performances, titillating their senses with action-filled, pompous exercises. They learned about the 10 ASEAN countries -- Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam -- through musical instruments and national wears, traditional games, art and food.

“Ansan is Korea’s most representative multicultural city with some 77,000 resident foreigners, including many Southeast Asians and foreign women who married with Koreans,” said the center Secretary-General Kim Young-sun, who served as Korea’s ambassador to Indonesia from 2011-14. “I hope that through this program the middle school students in Ansan would develop better understanding of ASEAN cultures and play a bridging role between the two sides.”

Ambassadors of Indonesia and Cambodia took part in the program alongside representatives of the ASEAN diplomatic missions, communicating with students about careers in foreign service and international organizations. A writing contest on ASEAN was also held prior to the event, with various awards handed out by the center secretary-general, Ansan mayor, Ansan education superintendent and Ansan cultural foundation director. 

The ASEAN School Tour raised awareness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations among young Korean students at Ansan Arts Center on June 15. (ASEAN-Korea Center)
The ASEAN School Tour raised awareness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations among young Korean students at Ansan Arts Center on June 15. (ASEAN-Korea Center)
The ASEAN School Tour raised awareness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations among young Korean students at Ansan Arts Center on June 15. (ASEAN-Korea Center)
The ASEAN School Tour raised awareness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations among young Korean students at Ansan Arts Center on June 15. (ASEAN-Korea Center)

“This program is very important and useful, because when we talk about country-to-country relations, they cannot be solely based on meetings between leaders. People-to-people exchanges from the grassroots are essential,” Cambodian Ambassador Long Dimanche said in an interview.

Noting this year marks the 20th anniversary of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cambodia and Korea, the envoy said he is working to promote Cambodia’s tourism and culinary offers here, particularly tropical fruits. Korean tourists make up the third largest national group to Cambodia after the Chinese and Vietnamese, with 192,000 visiting last year.

The ambassador also highlighted that many young Koreans come to Cambodia to volunteer through nongovernmental organizations, city government agencies and the embassy.

“As life is fast-paced and high-strung in Korea, many youngsters take time off from their busy lives, ranging from two to three weeks up to a year, to do meaningful social work and help poor people in Cambodia,” he said. “They teach English and Korean, provide medical services, educate rural children and teach them art. Jobseekers and entrepreneurs can also peer into economic opportunities in the country as well as linkages with other ASEAN countries.”

The ASEAN School Tour raised awareness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations among young Korean students at Ansan Arts Center on June 15. (ASEAN-Korea Center)
The ASEAN School Tour raised awareness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations among young Korean students at Ansan Arts Center on June 15. (ASEAN-Korea Center)
The ASEAN School Tour raised awareness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations among young Korean students at Ansan Arts Center on June 15. (ASEAN-Korea Center)
The ASEAN School Tour raised awareness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations among young Korean students at Ansan Arts Center on June 15. (ASEAN-Korea Center)

Kim I-hyeong, local education officer for Gyeonggido Ansan Office of Education, said the education authorities wanted to instill hope and dreams in the students, who have been hurt by the Sewol ferry disaster in 2014 that took the lives of some 300 high school students from Ansan.

The city is home to some 77,000 foreigners -- roughly one-tenth of its population -- and the number of students from multicultural families is on the rise, according to the office of education. There are currently 3,550 students from multicultural families, comprising over 4 percent of total students, and their number increased by 20 percent from last year. Over 52 percent of them are from China, 16 percent from the Commonwealth of Independent States, 10 percent from Vietnam, and the rest from around the world.

As most of foreign students face difficulties in one form another, due to their lack of parental care, education in Korea, linguistic proficiency and cultural savviness, the Ansan municipal government, Gyeonggi Provincial Office of Education and Ministry of Education are finalizing their discussions on creating a special zone for international education for multicultural families, Kim said. He added that the plan -- centered on providing creative, flexible, multicultural and multilingual tailor-made education -- is to expand the program to the whole city of Ansan.

“I feel confident our model will be successful over the long run, as a linchpin of Korea’s evolution toward a multicultural nation,” the officer argued. “The number of Korean students is dropping, while the number of foreign students is rising. Education should reflect the reality. The ASEAN school tour is an excellent case in point.”

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com) 

The ASEAN School Tour raised awareness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations among young Korean students at Ansan Arts Center on June 15. (ASEAN-Korea Center)
The ASEAN School Tour raised awareness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations among young Korean students at Ansan Arts Center on June 15. (ASEAN-Korea Center)
The ASEAN School Tour raised awareness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations among young Korean students at Ansan Arts Center on June 15. (ASEAN-Korea Center)
The ASEAN School Tour raised awareness of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations among young Korean students at Ansan Arts Center on June 15. (ASEAN-Korea Center)
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