Celebrating Cultural Diversity Week: How diverse is South Korea?
Celebrating Cultural Diversity Week: How diverse is South Korea?
  • Park Sae-eun, Ahn Hye-jun
  • 승인 2021.06.06 00:12
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The Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism celebrated the Cultural Diversity Week for the 7th time from May 21. This was in concert with the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, an initiative by the United Nations that began in 2002.


For the event, the ministry invited 11 professionals in the fields of art and culture to give lectures on four topics revolving around cultural diversity: digital environments, films, publications, and languages. The lectures were held virtually via Naver TV.


Additionally, this year, the ministry launched a campaign that encouraged people to design, what they called, diversity forests, online. Participants were given virtual seeds to create a forest of their own, each being unique as each user would choose how to nurture their forests. Participants were also able to name their trees.


The ministry’s aim for this virtual event was to illustrate and reflect a culturally diverse community once the forests were put together as one on a design board. Around 7,000 forests were grown to spread the idea of cultural diversity on social media platforms by the end of the week.


In a separate initiative during the same period, the Chungcheongbuk- do International Education Institute hosted a Global Parents Online Forum. Parents from six countries gathered on Zoom to share how culturally diverse their countries are and how they should educate their children to create a culturally diverse society.


Impressions from abroad


Sakshi Kanase moved from India to Korea in 2018 as she was accepted to Ewha’s Division of International Studies the following year. Kanase expressed that almost all interactions with Koreans were positive as they made efforts to overcome the language barrier and speak to her first in English.


Kanase said her roommates were curious about what Indian festivals were like and wanted to celebrate the event together. Some of her roommates actually joined festival dinners with Kanase’s Indian friends.


“Koreans have gone a step beyond tolerance toward diversity and are trying to engage in that diverse culture,” Kanase said.


Kanase believed that Korean society is rather homogenous in terms of numbers with foreigners making up only 3.4 percent of the Korean population. But she suggested that cultural diversity is represented by more than just numbers.


“Cultural diversity means the acceptance and representation, the society’s incorporation, and celebration of different elements of various cultures,” Kanase said. “In those terms, although I am not sure about Korea as a whole, I consider Seoul to be culturally diverse.”


However, not all foreigners in South Korea would agree with Kanase, and some have had different experiences. Olivia MacDonell, a freshman from the United States studying in the Division of International Studies, believes that what is portrayed in the South Korean media differs from reality.


“A couple of Koreans have already been racist and homophobic to my own friends, and I’ve only been here for three months,” MacDonell said. “Of course, Koreans are informed, especially the younger generation. It is just that, in my opinion, they are not as open-minded as shows try to portray them.”


To her surprise, MacDonell says she rarely sees foreigners on the streets, except in culturally diverse neighborhoods like Itaewon in central Seoul.


Despite their differences in thought, Kanase and MacDonell both agreed that cultural festivals are necessary to introduce the idea of cultural diversity to more South Koreans. According to Kanase, festivals celebrating the idea are an effective way to help create understanding between cultures that foster a sense of respect for one another.


“Promotion of cultural diversity should be a two-way conversation that targets people regardless of their ethnicity or nationality,” Kanase said. “In that sense, I believe the festivals are an enjoyable, informative, and interactive way of promoting cultural diversity.”

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